At Duke University, surfing is not a career. Period.

Nor should it be. On the surface, it makes no sense. Blame geography. Durham overflows with charm, intelligence, and ambition, but shrivels raisin-dry when it comes to opportunities associated with riding open-ocean swells. If I wanted to ascend the ranks at Goldman Sachs, steer the ship at Apple, or direct policy in the White House, Duke offers a time-tested launchpad. If I hoped to make a meaningful contribution to the eccentric tapestry of surf culture, I’d be best served combing the California coast.

About halfway through my undergraduate journey, though, I discovered that building a life and livelihood that revolves around the ocean was a distinct, magnetizing possibility. Traditional? Linear? Safe? On all accounts, no. Achievable? Very.

I grew up surfing in the Outer Banks each summer, where I was fortunate enough to toss pizzas and wash dishes by day and obsessively hunt for surf every moment off the clock. I vigilantly monitored the mercurial confluence of swell, wind direction, and tide required to produce ideal conditions. Those summers also served as an intoxicating counterpoint to the athletic endeavors that secured me a spot at Duke: wrestling.

Wrestling is the opposite of surfing. It’s an ascetic lifestyle where I learned the value of discipline, hard work, and sacrifice. In reductive terms, I’d starve myself and wake up at dawn to fight people for most of the year. If I eliminated the satisfaction derived from succeeding (read: winning), it was mostly insufferable. That voluntary misery came to a screeching halt in the summer. During the year’s hottest months, I was surfing.

When compared with the oppressive demands of wrestling, surfing truly represented freedom. I realized surfing might also afford a career path when my D.U.D.E. degree (Duke University Department of English...they even make T-shirts!) fit my unpaid summer internship at Surfer magazine like a glove. Before I drove across America, my boss joked that as long as I was cool washing his car a couple times a month, we wouldn’t have issues. I never had to wash his car. But I did write twenty pieces for the website and got a byline in “The Bible of the Sport” that summer. When he offered me fifty dollars for each piece I wrote, I was shocked. I felt like I just tricked the world. It’s possible to get paid to write about surfing. I entered the “Magazine Journalism” class with a puffy chest my senior year. After all, I had a byline in Surfer magazine.

My peers had returned from internships at The Economist, The New Republic, and The Atlantic. They seemed none too impressed. Maybe they didn’t hear me right. I said, “Surfer magazine.”

After that summer, I had no question as to what I wanted to do. I only needed to decide if I had the audacity to do it. My decision felt binary: follow a path to join the ranks of a tribe cast largely as derelicts and misfits, or do what Dukies do and ace that LSAT.

LSAT just wasn’t in the cards. After graduating, I zipped back to California to accept a position as the online editor at Surfer. After three years internally championing the impending virtual revolution with no success, I left to start my own digital media outlet, The Inertia, and I haven’t looked back. Last September marked its tenth anniversary; Surfer didn’t survive the digital revolution.

I often struggle with how trite and self-indulgent surfing is (at its worst) when compared with the world-changing opportunities available to me at an institution like Duke. Consequently, I attempt to infuse everything we do with a greater sense of purpose. We approach the natural world with curiosity, optimism, and respect. I take great pride in finding opportunities to elevate the stature of surfers and outdoor enthusiasts wherever possible. The Spicoli stereotype of the surfer in Fast Times at Ridgemont High is a fallacy. Ask William Finnegan, who won a Pulitzer for writing about his relationship with the ocean. Famous bodysurfer Barack Obama loved his book Barbarian Days.

I was mistaken. Our paths aren’t binary. Few things are.

I did pick up this quote from Thoreau, a fellow admirer of the natural world, in an English class at Duke, and it has always guided me, in a sense, toward freedom. “If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”

I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished at The Inertia in the past decade, but I know better than to take any of it for granted or resist innovation. We’re a long ways from our potential.

The ocean has been an excellent teacher, indiscriminately doling out its lessons. Like most surfers, I just try to observe and appreciate the conditions for what they are, make the best decisions I can, and enjoy each moment of the ride while it lasts.

Weisberg ’07 is founder and publisher of The Inertia and a former editor at Surfer.

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