Bond University and World Surf League partnership

A young woman walks down the beach along the edge of the water holding a surfboard

June 13, 2023

So, you want to work in the surf industry?

Long days on the beach trading witty banter with the world’s best surfers, exotic travel on film and photo shoots with pro teams, wild nights blowing off steam at the end of another surf and sun-drenched day with fruity cocktails. Right? Wrong.

Surfing today is big business as well as high stakes professional sport, even while millions of us do it for pure, unadulterated fun. And the task of landing a plum job in the surf industry is almost as competitive as the earnest battle for ratings points and prize money on the pro tour. So, how do you get a toehold?

Thanks to an innovative partnership between Bond University and the World Surf League, the governing body for pro surfing’s world tour, some of the mystery has been taken out of that question.

Bond students are granted the opportunity to step behind the curtain and witness the inner workings of major world tour events, are treated to guest lectures from senior WSL staff and other industry leaders and an intern program give many the opportunity to gain valuable work experience within the WSL. Some Bond students have gone on to paid positions with WSL.

Associate Professor Dr Danny O’Brien, Head of Sports Management at Bond, has played a guiding role in the program and couldn’t be more delighted with the opportunities it’s given his students.

“We’ve had students who have come here specifically because of the relationship with WSL,” says Danny. “We have highly motivated students who are pumped to get into the industry. We’ve tried to make it a really aspirational thing. It’s highly competitive to get into the internship program, but even if they miss out it’s good for them to go through that experience, interviewing with the WSL’s HR department in California.”

Associate Professor, James Furness, undertaking surf-specific fitness testing at Bond University as part of the WSL partnership. Image credit: Cavan Flynn.

Rachael Tilly was able to combine her competitive surfing career and her studies at Bond University thanks to the WSL partnership.

Harrison Crammon, Bachelor of Business student at Bond University, has benefitted from the opportunities the WSL partnership provides.

“The Bond/WSL partnership is mutually beneficial in the truest sense,” says Cheryl Jolliffe, Bond’s Vice President Future Students. “It helps us to provide Bond students, academics, and researchers with tangible opportunities to get involved in the surfing industry, and to build or enhance their skills in their chosen area. In turn, the WSL has access to this great talent, and to research that has the potential to enrich their day-to-day operations.”

And not even a global pandemic could prevent the collaboration from progressing. “The WSL and Bond University partnership was forged at the end of 2019 and kicked off in 2020 just as Covid struck,” says WSL general Manager Andrew Stark.

“Bond Uni were terrific partners throughout Covid and stayed true to their commitment to professional surfing even though the sport was unproven to them from a partnership point of view. Once we were able to run events again Bond started to see the benefits of being aligned to an aspirational global sport that’s truly part of the Gold Coast’s identity. From there the partnership gained momentum off the back of the student intern program which started to attract international students looking to study at Bond because of the alignment to the WSL and opportunity to work within the WSL.”

Collaborations between sporting bodies and universities are not uncommon. But Bond’s position on the Gold Coast, with its world class surf and beach lifestyle, and proximity to major WSL events staged here, as well as the enthusiasm for surfing among Bond’s international students, has given rise to a particularly close working relationship.

“Today the partnership has many layers across the student program, video content, media, event activations, behind the scenes tours of our events to name a few. Importantly there are real world opportunities for Bond students to work within the WSL business,” says Andrew Stark. “The student program has been an amazing asset in terms of talent ID for the WSL, but we value all aspects of the partnership and look forward to the relationship building in 2024 and beyond.”

Bond is able to run promo spots during WSL’s live webcasts of their events and geo-target them to Bond’s prime markets in the US, Brazil, Asia and Europe. And as the partnership has matured, they’ve had great stories to tell about the inspiring case studies of their students. Some Bond students have gone on to work full-time at WSL and intern opportunities extend across Bond’s courses, beyond sports management to business, physiotherapy, sports science, event management, film and television.

“It’s also been incredible to see just how synergetic our offering here at Bond is with the WSL’s mission, and to find innovative ways to combine study and surfing,” says Cheryl Jolliffe. “For the past few years, we’ve had surfer health checks and research demonstrations set up at some of the key WSL-run surf events here in Australia, such as the Boost Mobile Gold Coast Pro. This has provided a unique opportunity to hero our impactful research, and to show future ‘Bondies’ and the broader Gold Coast community alike that it is possible to combine your passions with an academic career.”

One of the program’s star alumni is Rachael Tilly, 2015 world longboard champion, who travelled all the way from her home in San Clemente, California, to study sports management at Bond.

“I first visited the Gold Coast for a WSL event. I’ve seen the work that goes into organising athletes and making competitions happen. It inspired me to go into sports management,” says Rachael. “I didn’t think it would be possible to chase my dreams on tour and start my professional career, but Bond has made it happen. I’ve learnt that like surfing it’s all about balance.”

“Rachael went from a student to working there. She structured the management of the intern experience from the other side,” says Danny, proudly.

Another star student, Manuel Calve Sastre, from Argentina, began his studies at Bond remotely on-line during Covid despite a sometimes brutal time difference. “He was doing classes at 2-3 am, and never missed a class. He just smashed it,” says Danny. When Manuel eventually made it to Australia, he joined the intern program and found himself running a World Qualifying Series event at Burleigh Heads. “He did an internship with the WSL and Surfing Queensland. At the end of his degree both were offering him full time work,” says Danny.

For Arturo De Baudringhein, from Belgium, the partnership was the reason he came to Bond. “He said, ‘You’ve got a relationship with WSL. I want to be part of it, I just want to work in the industry’,” Danny recalls.

Belgium might seem an unlikely place to launch a career in surfing, but Arturo wasn’t about to be deterred by mere geography. He completed a Bachelor degree in international entrepreneurship and decided to do his Masters in sports management at Bond after visiting the Gold Coast for a holiday and learning of the WSL partnership. His graduation project was a business and marketing plan for a wave pool project.

Arturo landed an intership with WSL after Danny noticed his wetsuit tan and figured he was a committed surfer with the academic chops to match.

“It was funny how Danny presented it to me. I had an internship subject, but it was two semesters away. One class I came in from the surf, hair still wet, with a wetsuit tan on my neck. He said, ‘You surf’. He told me. ‘We’ve got an internship opening coming up with WSL, would you be interested? He fully picked me out in the crowd. It pays to have a wetsuit tan.”

That led to a paid role with the WSL during the Australian leg of the tour, managing the Red Bull Athlete Zone. “That was one of the best experiences ever… I didn’t know how big an event it was behind the scenes.” Now, Arturo is interested in pursuing a career in the technical end of the pro surfing tour. “I’m interested in policies, competition formats, judging criteria, more about the surfing,” he says.

Not all students end up working in the surfing industry, though the skills and experience gained are easily transferrable across sports and industries. Another alumni Andy Cannon has moved on to a position managing partnerships for the Gold Coast Suns AFL team.

Along the way, all students get a front row seat to experience the realities of their dream jobs, and the opportunities and challenges they offer. “This is a business, it’s a for profit organisation. You dress professionally, you fit with the culture of the organisation. It’s a really maturing experience,” says Danny. “Event ops, it’s from dawn to way beyond dusk, and that might mean putting zip ties on fencing. They learn it’s not all beer and skittles.”

Learn more at Bond University – The Official Higher Education Partner of the World Surf League Australia.