By Gordon Govier

Soul Surfing in San Diego

B.J. Carter, an InterVarsity campus staff member at the University of California—San Diego (UCSD), is the only InterVarsity staff member who offers surfing lessons. And because of that, he’s a popular guy with students. “They want to go every morning,” he says. “They are texting me at midnight to go before their 8:00 a.m. class.”

Surfing is a big part of the culture of southern California. “It permeates everything,” he says. It attracts a lot of students to enroll at the campuses that are near the ocean. It’s also a great way to meet people and develop relationships with them. “It is a lot easier to meet a student on campus and say to them, ‘We have this surf group,’” he reports. “They are a lot more apt to say yes to that then if you just invite them to a Bible study.”

Jeff Pearson, InterVarsity’s associate divisional director for San Diego, agrees. “Many of these students won’t walk into a large group meeting on their own; so it is important that we reach them in their world,” he says. “Surfers at UCSD are a strong sub-culture on campus. As part of reaching all students on campus it is important that we reach surfers.”

Although surfing is an individual sport, it is not something that people can easily pick up on their own. “If you don’t know what you are doing, it can be kind of difficult,” B.J. says. “It’s good to have a companion.”

The same thing applies to those who are spiritual seekers. It’s good to have a mentor who can speak with some spiritual authority. “That’s my passion,” B.J. says, “to be that person for students, a person they can trust and ask questions.” Jeff adds, “Surfing has a spiritual aspect to it for many surfers; so they are open to spiritual things.”

B.J. grew up in Boulder, Colorado, and got his start in action sports through snowboarding. He came to the University of San Diego (USD) to play football, but after one season he gave up football for surfing. He dropped in on an InterVarsity meeting because the name sounded like a sports ministry, but when he found out it wasn’t he decided to stay anyway. He joined a discipleship group, and before he knew it he was playing bass guitar with the worship band. And now he is involved in a sports ministry.

He started Bible studies with surfers as a student. It was a natural outreach among his neighbors in the beach community where a lot of USD students lived. After graduating from USD in 2004 with a degree in Biology, he came on staff with InterVarsity and continued the Bible studies. Last fall he switched his focus to UCSD in hopes of reaching an even larger surfing community.

“What I tell students is that ‘we love to surf and we love God,’” B.J. says. “It can feel intimidating for a student to go to a large group meeting with a lot of Christians. It’s not very intimidating to go surfing with a bunch of Christians.”

B.J. would like to see more InterVarsity staff involved with surfing ministry, presenting the transforming gospel of Jesus Christ to a unique community of people. “It’s a big party lifestyle,” he says. “It’s very easy to get so self-absorbed in surfing and lose out on a lot of other things.”

InterVarsity staff members use a creative variety of tools to connect college students in their culture with the Good News of the gospel.