Surfing the Landscape with Richard Hindle
by Avi Salem, External Relations
26 June 2016
Image: row of surf boards beach side. Photo courtesy Richard Hindle
Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture & Environmental Planning Richard Hindle is known for his courses in site design and ecological technology as an instructor at the College of Environmental Design at UC Berkeley. He’s also a familiar face to surfers and swimmers of the Monterey Bay. While much of his research and academic work focuses on the convergence of natural and built landscapes, his affinity for the ocean – particularly his longtime hobby of surfing – has further driven his understanding and curiosity for coastlines and how we can improve them.
Below is a Q&A with Professor Hindle on how his love for surfing has influenced the scope of his work as an academic and researcher.
When did you start surfing?
The first time I ever surfed was actually in England – where my family is from. But I grew up in Long Island, New York, and that is where I started boogie boarding at an early age. My friends and I would go out to the beach in the summer together in middle school and the lifeguards would always surf, so that is how we learned about it. We even built a surfboard ourselves one summer. I think we bought an old junky one, and then tried to make one out of foam ourselves. The first wave my friend caught on it made it break, but it had fins and everything. I stopped surfing all through high school, college and grad school, but got back into it again after graduating. Surfing was the one hobby I really loved – I always wanted to be good at it and I always enjoyed it. When I moved to Oregon after grad school I got back into it.
Where do you surf now that you teach here at Berkeley?
Santa Cruz is the most convenient to the East Bay, and the most consistent in terms of waves. I have a vintage camper that I drive around, and it’s my primary escape. I do a lot of writing (at CED), and I also do a lot of writing when I am traveling, so I like to get on the road quite a bit. It’s a 1978 camper and a lot of fun. Sometimes I work here on the weekends and go down to Santa Cruz on weekdays even. I really love surfing at Pleasure Point in Santa Cruz. It’s a really magical spot. The weather is usually good there. If you look at the way the coast is organized, (Pleasure Point) is fairly protected—even when there are crazy northern winds or southern swells, the waves are still consistently pretty good there.
Do you surf on a longboard or short board?
I prefer to ride longboards. They ride better and just feel better to me. They have more of a slower curve to them, their pace is more interesting and riding them is more technical in a way. It’s more about subtle moves instead of showing off, and the style is a little more relaxed. But it still has a good amount of technical components that make it exciting. It’s hard to ride a longboard while in big waves, or conditions that are meant for short boards. Pleasure Point is made for longboards.
How has being in the ocean as a surfer affected your research or work?
I’ve always been interested generally in the water, from fishing to swimming to sailing. It doesn’t really matter what, as long as it’s water-focused. I guess that in itself raises your awareness about the landscape. As a landscape architect, a lot of what I do deals with water, such as rising sea levels and other ocean issues that are coming to the fore. People are really discussing it in landscape architecture, so it’s really a natural fit. Landscape architects seem to be addressing a lot of coastal issues resulting from storm surges, sea level rise and urban resilience, and all of this has to do with our relationship to the coast. So that is very fortuitous for me. But I do pick project sites that have to do with water. When I taught at (Louisiana State University), we did studies on the Long Island beaches I used to surf at because they were some of the ones most affected by superstorm Sandy.
I have also been studying patents for a long time, and a lot of them have to do with how we build coastlines. The technological aspect of controlling nature is something I’m interested in, from how to control sediments to how to protect against storm surges and create habitats. This has been the nexus of what I’ve been focusing on. I’m now working on an article on hard habitats and coastal armory, which is specifically related to how we build coastlines. In California for example, 110 miles of the 1,100 mile coastline is armored. In Southern California specifically, 29 percent of the coastline is considered naturally rocky, and 30 percent is actually anthropogenically rocky, meaning it’s armored or hardened so that it’s commensurate with the scale of the naturally rocky coastline. Historically we’ve built on cliffs that are naturally eroding or in sandy areas with dynamic sediment processes happening, so that’s the reason why so much of the coast is armored. It’s interesting because it’s kind of about landscape and kind of about the ocean—this interface is interesting to me. I think surfing ties into it because you better understand the coastline. I spend a lot of time in Santa Cruz, Bolinas or even further down the coast, and the beauty of surfing is that it’s something that’s accessible to do if you’re living here in the Bay Area.