Skip navigation
Surfing to Academic Success


Nats wave sounds


Many students in Southern California like to
catch a wave between classes. But only at UC San Diego can they learn more about the physical laws behind their favorite sport.

Sandwell speaking: "We're going to do two experiments. We're going to see how fast people, a normal person, paddle on a long board and a short board."

Professor David Sandwell has offered the class called "The Physics of Surfing" for several years at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego.


The class is part of the university's freshman seminars program, which introduces students to research.

"We talk about some aspects of the physics of surfing, we talk about waves, how waves propagate across the ocean. It's sort of like an introduction oceanography-earth sciences class."

For their first hands-on experiment, Sandwell's students meet at the Scripps Pier.

Sandwell: "Today, we're doing experiments with two types of instruments. We're putting an accelerometer on a surfboard and a precise GPS receiver on a surfboard."

Then a student rides the board into the waves.

Natural sounds of waves

The devices record precious information about how fast a surfer goes and his position in the water.
Later this quarter, students will analyze the data and see what it reveals.

"I think what they get out of it is that they learn how to do a lab and collect real data."
Back in the classroom, they've already learned how waves are created and that surfboards follow the laws of fluid mechanics.

Students also interact with special guest speakers. Recently, renowned oceanographer Walter Munk shared with them his research and his life-long quest to better understand the oceans.

Students say the class is interesting and fun, but it's not always easy.

"The physics behind it [is definitely, um, it is] pretty complex. It's interesting to learn about, so I think it does have relevance."

"So far so good. I've learned about how waves progress in the ocean."

"The physics can get pretty complex sometimes, but it's definitely worth it."
Sandwell: "Yeah, it's a very popular class, there's always a waiting list."

Nats wave sounds

Click Here for more information.