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UC San Diego Awards Its First Surf Scholarship

As a global academic powerhouse with an iconic ocean backdrop, UC San Diego is known for making waves in research, athletics and beyond. Recently, the university awarded the first college surfing scholarship ever recognized by the National Scholastic Surfing Association (NSSA).

Makena Burke holds her Surf Team Scholarship certificate.

UC San Diego student Makena Burke holds her Surf Team Scholarship certificate.

Tyler Callaway, head coach of the UC San Diego Surf Team, says the goal of the scholarship is twofold. “Firstly, championships are won by having a depth of talent in the roster, and the creation of the first-ever surf scholarship will help us attract the top surfing scholars from high schools and junior colleges across the country and the world to compete for UC San Diego. The goal is to have a surf team that is always in the conversation to win a national championship,” he said.

“Secondly, we want to attract attention to the surf team from both inside and outside the university and celebrate the heritage of surfing at UC San Diego,” added Callaway. “The surf team has a long history of incredibly successful alumni—some who have gone on to make an impact locally and globally—through their career paths and the businesses they’ve built.”

Makena Burke, a first-year student studying public health, has been named the inaugural recipient of the $5,000 scholarship award ($2,500 per year for two years). She is the president of the UC San Diego Surf Team, which competes in the NSSA college league. The NSSA, which governs youth surfing competition in the country, requires its members to maintain good grades as well as serve the community.

A competitive surfer since age 11, Burke was honored this March as the college women’s champion at the 2022 NSSA Interscholastic State Championships. This June, she also took home first place in the NSSA Nationals at Salt Creek, with the UC San Diego Surf Team placing third overall.

A ‘swell’ school for surf and scholars

UC San Diego Surf Team.

The latest cohort of the UC San Diego Surf Team.

Burke is among the many talented Tritons who have found community as part of the UC San Diego Surf Team. Since its start over 50 years ago, the Recreation sports club has built a legacy as one of the most successful sports organizations in university history, winning seven national championships.

Offering access to both a great education and great waves, UC San Diego has been home to a roster of impressive surfing stars. Among former surf team members is Holly Beck ’01, who studied psychology while competing in the NSSA all throughout college. After becoming a professional surfer after graduation, she spent the next decade traveling the world to places like Australia and South Africa. Beck now lives in Nicaragua, where she runs a women’s surf yoga retreat business called Surf With Amigas.

For Evan Slater ’94, a sociology graduate and surf team alum, his passion for surfing and love for writing informed his early career. After graduating, he worked in surf media, going on to serve as the editor in chief for Surfing Magazine. He then transitioned into working for brands. Today, he is the vice president of global marketing for Billabong.

Makena Burke holds her trophy alongside fellow student surfers at a surfing competition.

Makena Burke holds her trophy alongside fellow student surfers at a surfing competition.

Other notable surfing alumni include Rusty Preisendorfer ’78, the founder and CEO of Rusty Surfboards, and Shaun Burrell ’13, a professional surfer who competed on the world tour before transferring to UC San Diego.

Some of surfing’s most reputable news sources have recognized UC San Diego as one of the nation’s best schools for the sport, including The Surf Channel, Surfer Magazine, Sports Illustrated and more.

Paired with the university’s proximity to the popular surf spot Black’s Beach, UC San Diego has continued to foster an appreciation for the sport through unique workshops, extracurricular opportunities and more. At the UC San Diego Craft Center, campus community members can learn the craft of surfboard shaping under the supportive guidance of an experienced shaper. For beginners, UC San Diego Recreation offers a class on surfing fundamentals hosted right at Scripps Pier.

Coach Callaway emphasizes that many members of the larger UC San Diego community are also passionate about surfing, intertwining elements of the sport into class curricula as well as innovative research ventures on campus. For example, UC San Diego biology and chemistry students and faculty developed the world’s first algae-based, sustainable surfboard, in an effort headed by longtime surfer and professor of biology Stephen Mayfield. “Some of our surfers have even taken these boards out on the water, and we plan to bring them out to competitions as well,” said Callaway.

Makena Burke catches a wave while surfing.

Makena Burke catches a wave while surfing. Photo by Blair Austin.

The Surf Team Scholarship was funded through donations from alumni, parents, staff, community members and other supporters. A current-use fund was created to be able to allow the scholarship to be awarded immediately. The “Smith Surf Team Scholarship Endowment” was also recently created by parents of a current UC San Diego student, which qualified to be matched as part of the Chancellor's Scholarship and Fellowship Challenge, which provided $1 match per $2 of gift up for eligible gifts. The gifts also counted toward the Campaign for UC San Diego, the university’s comprehensive fundraising campaign, which concluded on June 30, 2022.

The plan is to offer at least one $2,500 scholarship per year at first, with the hope of awarding a $10,000 scholarship annually in the future.

To help support the surf scholarship endowment, please visit the donation webpage. More information on the UC San Diego Surf Team is available on the UC San Diego Recreation webpage.