Alumni & Community Surf Camp 2014

Posted: August 6, 2014

What does it mean to share a place?

Where is Guilford College?

Does it count as a place?

If it does, how can it become a place with a thriving, broad community of engaged stewards, energized and buoyed by their continuing connections to both Guilford and one another? And how could surf camp possibly help answer those questions?

One faculty member had a thought. “Let’s go surfing!” said Maia Dery, instigator of the college’s new interdisciplinary place-based education initiative, the Cape Fear River Basin Studies Program.

So surf they did. A group of faculty, alumni, students and friends spent four days on an embodied learning adventure, immersed in the lower reaches of the Cape Fear River Basin. Some of them learned to surf gnarly waves, all of them heard from activists and scientists, spent an afternoon building rain gardens at the N.C. Coastal Federation Education Center, and shared a lot of laughs as they reconnected with one another over great meals, a sunset cruise upriver, and crystalline mornings on the white sands of the Cape Fear coast beaches.

Fresh off their first morning of surf lessons, the group assembled riverside in historic downtown Wilmington, to learn from Kemp Burdette, the Cape Fear Riverkeeper. “I was always a nature guy, an outdoorsman, but not always an environmentalist. It took me awhile to understand what was at stake.” Now Burdette makes his living advocating and educating on behalf of the lower stretch of the river. It holds species found nowhere else, an unusually high concentration of biodiversity, a glut of factory livestock farms owned by American and Chinese corporations, and recently famous coal ash ponds filled will heavy metals and carcinogens. The Cape Fear is a microcosm of global issues and challenges. Upstream is no less complicated, with development, industry and, now, fracking on the horizon.

“No matter where students are from or where they move as alumni, they’ll be in a watershed. What better reason to engage both students and alumni in connecting to and learning about place?” asks Dery. “Some of the stories are pretty grim, and they’re our stories. About us” she continued. “Most of us working and educating ourselves near the river’s headwaters, where Guilford sits, we get ours from the river. It’s in us. It is us. And everything we put down a drain or allow to run off into a storm drain, it’s all visited upon our downstream neighbors. It’s the best metaphor I’ve ever found for energizing undergraduates about their education, because it’s not just a metaphor. It puts Guilford College squarely in the real world. There is a downstream in life, a hydrologic one as well as a temporal one. But you have to have some fun! Why not make the water more than just a resource, a commodity when it can be a medium and metaphor for understanding stewardship? A reason to feel grateful? Why not surf a few waves on the other end of the basin to get an embodied dose of just why and how water can become as central to your thinking and feeling as it is to your continued existence.”

Last Updated: August 6, 2014