Top 10 Surf Colleges

The Queen of the Coast is just a short jaunt from the UCSB campus. Photo: Curren
After poring over university pamphlets, surf reports, and statistics—taking into consideration surf proximity and quality, academics, cost, and lifestyle—we narrowed down America’s surf-friendly four-year schools to this hallowed bunch. And while UCSB came out the victor, we’ve also provided a list of other options custom-suited to you.

Overall Winner
University of California Santa Barbara
Isla Vista, CA

The Surf
With the Channel Islands situated off shore blocking a portion of incoming swells, Santa Barbara is often looked at as the fickle sister of the wave-rich regions of Central Cal to the north and SoCal to the south. But where Santa Barbara lacks in consistency, it certainly makes up in quality—one good session at the Queen of the Coast will certainly remind why she’s worth the trouble.

While Campus Point, Devereux, and Sands provide waves just steps off campus, Rincon and Sandspit lie within a 20-minute drive. And, if you’re open to travel a bit further, Ventura, a half-hour away, offers a host of south-swell spots, while the open coastline north of Point Conception a half-hour north is a magnet for wind swells nearly year-round.

The Education
Offering over 200 majors, degrees, and credentials, UCSB is ranked among the top public universities in the nation. Likewise, as the school gains popularity and prestige, it’s become progressively more competitive, cultivating a high academic standard and attracting renowned faculty, including five winners of Nobel Prizes. Plus, UCSB is one of the few universities in the nation that offers courses in surf, including Geography of Surfing, History of Surfing, and Field Studies in Surfing.

The Town and Campus
The coastal community of Santa Barbara, located an hour and a half north of Los Angeles, is nestled between the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific. Home to 13 colleges and universities, it features quaint shops, dozens of restaurants and bars, and an array of newly added national chain retailers. UCSB’s campus, 15 minutes north of the city center, accounts for 1,055 acres of beachfront real estate, with oceanview dorms steps from the sand.

The Lifestyle
Though most students choose to live in the University-adjacent community of Isla Vista, Santa Barbara offers a host of living options from rural mountain reclusion to urban downtown living. Isla Vista—a square-mile of college kids packed into houses and apartments situated on the bluff above the ocean—is the ideal locale for surfer and the primary reason why UCSB consistently ranks among the top party schools in the nation. And with wetsuits draped over nearly every balcony, a top surf team, and the consistent stream of surf films and events in the area, UCSB comfortably finds itself the best place in America to be a college student/surfer.

Annual Cost (Including tuition, fees, books, room and board): $30,000 in-state/ $50,000 out-of-state

Enrollment: 21,000

Avg incoming freshman GPA: 4.01

Male/Female Ratio: 47/53

A Word from an Alumnus: “One of the best waves in the area is called Campus Point. That’s pretty much all you need to know.” —Steve Hawk, former SURFER 
Editor Sidenote: 
For Non-California Residents
Nearby Santa Barbara City College is one of the leading community colleges in the nation with the highest transfer rates in the country, so students can gain residency and essentially save thousands by transferring to UCSB junior year as a California resident.

Best University for Surfers Who…

The campus at Point Loma Nazarene overlooks some of the best surf in San Diego. Photo: Johnson
Want to Surf Between Classes
Point Loma Nazarene University
San Diego, CA

Located on the bluffs above wave-rich Sunset Cliffs, Point Loma offers the closest dorms to the warm Southern California surf of San Diego. As a religiously affiliated university, the school can be pretty strict, requiring that freshmen attend chapel and live on campus without a car for their first year. But, with world-class surf just a few steps away, who needs to go anywhere?
Annual Cost: $36,000
Enrolled: 2,400
Avg Incoming Freshman GPA: 3.7
Male/Female Ratio: 49/51
Perks: 86% of students receive financial aid. Close proximity to Downtown San Diego.
A Word from an Alumnus: “It doesn’t get much better than checking the waves on the way to class and having dorms overlooking great waves. As long as you respect the local crew, PLNC can be one of the best places to get an education and surf some classic waves. The hard part is just making yourself go to class everyday and not cut school to surf.” —Rick Irons, Dragon Global Brand Manager

Blacks is one of the best beach breaks in California, and just a stone's throw from the UCSD campus. Photo: Ghiglia
Want to Be One with Mother Ocean
University of California San Diego
San Diego, CA

UCSD’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography is one of the oldest, largest, and most important centers for ocean and earth science research, education, and public service in the world. And not only does UCSD rank as the No. 7 public university in the country, but it is also located on the cliffs overlooking Blacks. An added perk: UCSD offers a 1-unit course called “The Physics of Surfing.”
Annual Cost: $28,000 in-state / $50,000 out-of-state
Enrolled: 29,000
Avg Incoming Freshman GPA: 4.0
Male/Female Ratio: 48/52
Perks: Walking distance to one of the best beachbreaks on the planet, and Baja’s only an hour south.
A Word from an Alumnus: “UCSD is the best school to be a surfer because it’s the perfect cover-up. People take you seriously because you’re going to a ‘smart’ school. In the meantime, you get to learn Blacks’ most intimate curves for at least four years.” —Evan Slater, Hurley VP of Marketing

In the world of consistency, Santa Cruz reigns king among California's surf destinations. Photo: Burkard
Want to Surf At Least 300 Days A Year
University of California Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz, CA

Surrounded by some of the most famed (and diverse) surf spots in the world, UCSC may be cold, but it’s also the capital of consistency. The campus, situated among the redwoods in the hills overlooking the coast, is just a 5-minute drive to the breaks on the west side and just a few more to dozens more on the east side. Though locals are notoriously anti-Slugs (UCSC mascot), skill and respect go a long way.
Annual Cost Cost: $29,000 in-state / $52,000 out-of-state
Enrolled: 15,200
Avg Incoming Freshman GPA: 3.6
Male/Female Ratio: 47/53
Perks: Steamer Lane, Mavericks, Pleasure Point. If you really need more than that, consider that UCSC is a little over an hour from the metropolitan city of San Francisco.
A Word from an Alumnus: “UCSC is a good school to attend for a surfer. The consistency of swell, diversity of breaks, and proximity to the surf are all perks of attending the Surf City University. However, it takes a dedicated, adventurous spirit to endure the cold water, crowded, localized point breaks, and abundant sea life that the Monterey Bay Canyon provides.” —Kim Mayer, professional surfer

Living in a skyscraper jungle doesn't necessarily mean you're far from surf. Photo: Nelson
Want to Live an Urban Surf Life
New York University
New York, NY

Alright, so the Tri-state area isn’t exactly known for its consistency, but when the swell is right, Rockaway and Casino Pier (both about an hour away) can produce overhead barrels. You’re not going to be able to swing surfing every day, but you’re in Manhattan, which is full of other things to do: museums, concerts, bars on top of bars, models…The downside is, unless you’re loaded, you’d better get used to existing on Top Ramen.
Cost: $56,000
Enrolled: 22,000
Avg Incoming Freshman GPA: 3.6
Male/Female Ratio: 39/61
Perks: The best city on Earth for art, food, and culture. Lots of surf events are happening in New York lately–check out the New York Surf Film Festival.
A Word from an Alumnus: “Being based in NYC is great for an hour shot out to Long Island or NJ, or three hours up to New England. You have a nice range of coastlines for varying swell/wind directions. Not to mention two international airports — just in case you need to escape!” —Mike Machemer, Co-Founder New York Surf Film Festival

The pointbreaks near Pepperdine are the kind that longboarders dream about.
Prefer Boards of the 9′+ Variety
Pepperdine University
Malibu, CA

Pepperdine students are treated to (or tormented by) views of First Point—the epitome of longboard perfection—while sitting in class. But Malibu is not just a logger heaven, as it also offers a solid half-dozen breaks within a 10-minute drive that are ideal for those who prefer their boards short. Plus, you can take surf classes for PE credit.
Annual Cost: $50,000
Enrolled: 3,400
Avg Incoming Freshman GPA: 3.7
Male/Female Ratio: 45/55
Perks: 75% of Pepperdine students receive financial aid, meaning they can blow their savings in the urban mecca of LA, which is only a 40-minute drive from campus.
A Word from an Alumnus: “The campus sits just above Malibu and you can see the waves from the library. Plus the whole Malibu area has fun surf year round. Small campus, great education, cool people and country living…what more do you need?” —Richard Woolcott, CEO Volcom

If you can defeat your hangover, the waves around San Luis Obispo can prove to be as much fun as the nightlife. Photo: Burkard
Want to Major in Booze
California Polytechnic State University
San Luis Obispo, CA

We’re not talking keg-stands. Cal Poly actually offers a B.A. in Wine and Viticulture. And with lots of uncrowded (albeit a bit cold and rumored to be sharky) surf, it’s the perfect option for surfing sommeliers—especially if they also happen to appreciate agriculture, since that’s what CPSU is known for.
Annual Cost: $22,000 in-state / $28,000 out-of-state
Enrolled: 18,300
Avg incoming GPA: 3.8
Male/Female Ratio: 56/44
Perks: Vino. Shaping classes. Hip downtown scene with plenty of bars (for non-accredited partaking) and live music.
A Word from an Alumnus: “There are so many empty lineups close to the school that you can pretty much surf by yourself every session. Cal Poly is a very wave rich area if you know where to go. Plus there is always a party going on with tons of girls.” —Shawn Dollar, big-wave surfer

Oahu's South Shore offers ample rippable waves nearby in the summer, and you already know where to go in the winter. Photo: Heff
Want to Trunk it all Year
University of Hawaii Manoa
Honolulu, HI

UHM may be situated in the middle of a city, but it’s a city on Oahu. Students here have access to all Town spots and it’s just an hour to get to the North Shore. The water’s warm, the swells are prolific, and you can take courses that cover surf history and forecasting.
Annual Cost: $17,000 / $31,000
Enrolled: 14,000
Avg Incoming Freshman GPA: 3.4
Male/Female Ratio: 46/54
Perks: You’re in Hawaii. Also, you can use your meal card to buy beer on campus.
A Word from an Alumnus: “You’ve got Ala Moana Bowls about 15 minutes away, Sandy Beach about a half hour away, and the North Shore is only an hour away. Plus, the National Weather Service forecast office is on the UH Manoa Campus, so you have all of this really detailed swell information right there on campus. And then, of course, Hawaii is such a beach-minded place, so there’s a whole surf community right there at school.” —Guy Hagi, Hawaii News Now weather anchor

Although SDSU is located a few minutes inland, a short drive will get you to some of the most consistently fun surf in southern California. Photo: Ghiglia
Want to Get a Complete College Experience
San Diego State University
San Diego, CA

SDSU is slightly easier to get into than the UC schools, and whole lot less expensive. It’s the oldest and largest institution in the city and it’s close to all of the San Diego breaks.
Annual Cost: $22,000 in-state / $27,000 out-of-state
Enrolled: 27,500
Avg incoming GPA: 3.5
Male/Female Ratio: 43/57
Perks: Playboy-rated party school.
A Word from an Alumnus: “Why is SDSU a great school for a surfer? Really, there is just too many list, but I would say the accessibility of northern Baja—it takes as long to go surf in Mex as it does Cardiff. I would also say in the social side of things is a plus: if you rip, the chicks dig you.” —Nick Greeninger, Rip Curl Team Manager

When the swell is up, there may be no better place to be on the East Coast than the Outer Banks. Photo: Lusk
Just Can’t Leave The East Coast
University of North Carolina Wilmington
Wilmington, NC

UNCW’s surf team snagged fourth place at this year’s NSSA Championships. As with other East Coast schools, there’s not a constant swell, but when it’s on, it’s pretty spectacular. UNCW is close to a bunch of local breaks and about four hours from legendary Cape Hatteras. UNC Wilmington boasts one of the best marine sciences program in the nation, and the nearby Outer Banks surf community is certainly a strong one.
Cost: $17,000 / $28,000
Enrolled: 11,200
Avg incoming GPA: 3.8
Male/Female Ratio: 42/58
Perks: Fall shacks all by your lonesome.
A Word from an Alumnus: “UNCW is a great school: It’s close to the Outer Banks, there are affordable rentals in Wrightsville during the school year, plus dollar beers and girls — you wont find hotter girls with southern accents at a ‘surf school.’ Plus, it’s a school you can be proud to have graduated from.” —Jerry Ricciotti, surf filmmaker

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