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USD Professor passionate about surf history course

For many San Diegans surfing is simply a great way to spend a sunny day. But for Jerome Lyn Hall, it's much more. Hall is professor at the University of San Diego, and is teaching an undergraduate anthropology course on surf history and culture. KPBS reporter Beth Ford Roth recently sat it on a class, and brings us this story.

It's an overcast day at Windansea Beach near La Jolla. Gray waves crash on the rocks. Seagulls cry overhead. Class is about to begin.

As unique as the class's setting, is the professor. No elbow-patched blazer and rumpled khakis for Jerome Lyn Hall. Instead, he wears a Hawaiian shirt, shorts, and flip-flops. And a necklace made of kukui nuts.

Hall: One of the things that the ancient Hawaiians did was they revered their boards, they cared for their boards, so the kukui nut, was something, the oil they would use from this to treat their board after surfing, and then they would wrap it up and put it away.

Hall says surfing traces its roots back 1000 years to Polynesia. He says the sport has its own customs, values and beliefs passed from generation to generation and that makes it a culture, which is now pervasive in Southern California.

But Hall says one tradition that hasn't reached California's shores is the spirit of aloha. And that's one of the reasons hall wanted to teach the class.

Hall: It's a sense of pride and self respect that emanates outward to others, to the environment, and this is what we're trying to teach, and of course this originates with the Hawaiians, the Polynesians even before them, but it's something that we've forgotten in modern surf culture, respect for the other, respect for self, respect for the tradition.

And respect for elders.
On this day Hall invited Woody Eckstrom to be the guest speaker. He is one of San Diego's surf pioneers. Eckstrom has gray hair and a weathered face, and speaks hesitantly into a megaphone so the students can hear him over the surf.

He tells students about the 150-pound surf boards he and his buddies used to use in the 1940s. About the shack they built with bamboo and palm fronds that still stands at Windansea, so they could sleep on the beach and catch the morning's first waves.

Despite the scenic background and out-of-the-ordinary topic, Professor Hall's class is serious stuff. There's lots of required reading. Students must do a research project. The exams test knowledge of history, marketing, and geography. Student Simone Muzquiz:

Muzquiz: A lot of people laugh when I tell them about this class, they don't take it serious, but it's a hard class, it has a lot of academic to it.

And the real essence of what Professor Hall is trying to pass on to the young men and women in his class the spirit of aloha does seem to soak in, too. 20-year-old Shawn Johnson is Santa Cruz native and life-long surfer. He says the class has inspired him to look at catching waves, and maybe life, in a whole new way.

Johnson: All the little things that I took for granted, find out that they extend a long time in the past, and there's a lot more to this idea of surf culture than I ever knew.

USD's first-ever surf culture and history class ends in May. The class has attracted so much interest, Professor Hall plans to offer it next year, too. Beth Ford Roth, KPBS News.

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