Around the Pier: A Swell Time


Oceanographers and surfers gathered in February at a conference held at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego to share a love of waves and an interest in predicting their behavior in.

The 11th Annual Surfing Arts, Science and Issues Conference hosted by surf organization the Groundswell Society, was entitled, “Modern Oceanography and the Future of Surfing.” Local surfer, artist, and event co-organizer Cher Pendarvis, who planned the event with fellow local surfer Glenn Hening, described the relationship between ocean scientists and surfers as “a natural connection.”

Pendarvis credited family friend and Scripps Research Professor of Geophysics Emeritus Walter Munk as the catalyst for the gathering after a conversation she and Munk shared in years past.  Munk asked, “Why is the oceanography community not more connected with the surfing community?” Pendarvis recalled.

The society describes itself as being interested in establishing “a values-based influence on modern surfing supporting education, research, and community involvement in the arts, sciences, and issues of the world of riding waves.”

The weekend’s events included a full conference on Saturday hosted at Scripps and a day of surfing Sunday.  Besides Munk, Scripps Associate Research Oceanographer Falk Fedderson participated in the event as a speaker.

The conference began with the film “Waves Across the Pacific,” narrated by Munk who described the work he and collaborators conducted in 1963 to identify waves that traveled from New Zealand to Alaska.  Munk followed the film with an in-person presentation in which he spoke of his early years living in La Jolla, his work with former Scripps director Harald Sverdrup in predicting waves during World War II landings, and noteworthy big swell events in La Jolla in 1969 and 1982.  In the discussion that followed, conference attendees elaborated on their experiences as surfers during those big swell events.

Following Munk, Fedderson presented research that he and collaborators have conducted on surfzone pollution, which Hening noted is a “very serious issue” for surfers.  Fedderson identified several challenges to quantifying health threats as a result of coastal pollution and presented his research in mapping the transport and dilution of pollution in coastal Southern California.  Conference attendees were particularly interested in Fedderson’s research demonstrating how pollution moves along shore as well as learning more about the microbial content of coastal waters, data that Fedderson presented on behalf of collaborator Kelly Goodwin of NOAA.

When Munk took the podium, he began jokingly, “The waves aren’t very good today so you’re not missing very much right now.”  Conference attendees certainly seemed happy to be inside on this Saturday.

Emily Kelly is a 5th year student in the laboratory of Scripps marine biologist Jennifer Smith

Related Image Gallery: A Swell Time

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