Class Act: Students catch a wave of business insights in surf industry class

The course schedule can’t list everything you need to know about the classroom experience. So come looky-loo with us in “Class Act,” a feature that takes readers into the classroom. This month we visit The Surfing Industry, taught by Amy Hurley-Hanson. Please send more Class Act suggestions to

Growing up in Arizona, surfing just wasn’t part of the scene for Darby Brown ’17.  So she was thrilled when she paddled out into the Huntington Beach surf and caught a wave on her first try as part of a field trip for her Freshman Foundations course.

“I was scared to go because I had never surfed before. But I actually stood up on my first try,” Brown says. And now she’s smitten. “I really love surfing.”

Chapman University students enrolled in FCC-100 The Surfing Industry take a professional surf lesson as part of the class requirements.
Chapman University students enrolled in FCC-100, The Surfing Industry, take a professional surf lesson as part of the class requirements.

As are many others. Surfing is an $8 billion industry in the United States and $15 billion internationally, and touches everything from footwear trends to action sports and ocean environmentalism. The entrepreneurial spirit is keen among these sandy-toed movers and shakers, whose annual reports and flip-flops are the envy of their button-down counterparts. All of which is why Amy Hurley-Hanson, Ph.D., associate professor in the Argyros School of Business and Economics, created FCC-100, The Surfing Industry.

“I want students to think outside the box about starting their own businesses” says Hurley-Hanson, who researches leadership and management styles. “They really can follow their passions. They can become entrepreneurs if they have enough business acumen.”

Word of the class has spread throughout the surf community, Hurley-Hanson says. She receives calls from outside students and surfers “just dying to get in.” But she has to explain that not only is it only for Chapman students, it’s exclusive to Freshman Foundations, which is a roster of unique classes from throughout the schools and colleges offered only to first-year students.

There’s more to the class than surfing, though. In fact, only one surf lesson is planned into the semester. Hanson’s lectures and assigned readings cover the history, culture, economics and traditions of the industry. During one recent class students discussed a documentary about legendary African-American surfer Nick Gabaldon and compared his experience to those of other minority athletes of the era.  There are papers and a group project. And the class schedule includes guest speakers from industry leaders ranging from Quiksilver to Volcom.

Such insights are invaluable, says Corey Plaster, who hails from Stockton but spent summers surfing at Huntington Beach while visiting an aunt there. He was no stranger to the sport, but the insiders’ views of the business sparked an interest with the industry’s approach to branding.

“I really love surfing, and what better way to learn about the industry?” Plaster said. “It’s more than a career, it’s a lifestyle.”

And while the surfing is fun, mastery is not required, even for the professor. Hurley-Hanson (no relation to the founder of the surf apparel manufacturer, by the way) confesses that her students excel in the waves, while she struggles.

“I still haven’t been able to get up,” she admits.

One of these days, though, she says. Because there’s always another wave on the way.


Dawn Bonker

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