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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 so 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 start.

Just as unique as the class's setting, is its 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 has its own customs, values and beliefs passed from generation to generation and that makes it a culture. He's says surfing traces its roots back a thousand years from Polynesia. Much of that culture has transferred to Southern California.

But there's one tradition that hasn't been passed on to Southern California from the Polynesians and the Hawaiians. And that's one of the reasons Hall wanted to teach the class. Hall calls it the tradition of aloha.

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.

A key part of aloha is respect for elders.
On this day Woody Eckstrom, is the class's 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 crashing ocean waves.

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.

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.

Class ends in May, but Professor Hall hopes to hold another surfing class semester, next year? Beth Ford Roth, KPBS News.

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