Surfers of UC San Diego: Garth Engelhorn ’03

Garth Engelhorn ’03

Garth Engelhorn ’03
▪ College: Marshall
▪ Major: Geology/Marine Science
▪ Hometown: Encinitas, CA
▪ Currently Lives: Encinitas, CA
▪ Career: Senior Project Manager Water Resources – NV5|Alta Environmental

Why did you choose UC San Diego?

I applied to a few different colleges–I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do. It came down between a college where I was accepted in chemistry and UCSD as undeclared. At the time, I was doing some serious amateur and semi-professional surfing. UCSD was so close to home that I could pursue surfing and go to college. The good waves in San Diego and the prestige of UCSD made me decide to go there. But sure enough, my pursuits in the professional surfing world just went to the wayside. I didn’t have the drive for that, but I loved school.

When did you learn how to surf?

My dad (Sheldon Engelhorn ’72) taught me how to surf when I was seven. It’s been a passion that we’ve shared since. Surfing has always influenced our vacation or travel decisions. We’ve spent many, many a weekend with the goal of getting some good waves and spending time together.

Why did you join the surf team?

I lived on campus my first year, so I heard about it pretty much right off the bat. I went to a meeting, where there were some folks I already knew, so I tried out and was part of it for four and a half years. I was captain of the surf team for two years. With that came a little slush fund to travel and organize different events. Every year, we’d travel up to Ventura and Huntington Beach for contests.

When I was at UCSD, surfing was sort of like an off-campus community. The surf team and surf club were our social networks. Both the surf team and the surf club were pretty closely aligned culturally and socially back in the day. I wasn’t really part of the club, per se, but I know they held different events and had surf video screenings on campus. It’s a culture thing to watch a surf video on the big screen while everyone’s hooting and hollering; we had so much fun.

What does Black’s Beach mean to you?

 Black’s is a really unique place. It’s a journey to get there, so that requires you to make the commitment to surf. You are committing to walk down, either with your thoughts or with some friends. And once you get down there, you see that it’s a giant amphitheater–the lighting’s always changing. And of course, it is a bit of a magnet for waves. So generally speaking, the waves will be better and larger there than most other places in San Diego. For that reason, there’s a lot of camaraderie with the different people that surf down there. Being able to master that wave is something that everyone would strive to.

It’s a well-known spot outside of San Diego, and internationally as well. But the surf team holds a really special place there and, of course, even the actual key to drive down there. That’s something you’re on the fringes of when you first join the surf team–when you eventually make it up the pecking order, you might get the “golden key.”

What do you do now?

For the last 15 years, I’ve worked in environmental consulting. My experience and education at UCSD allowed me to pick a career that I feel passionate about, and be able to give back, and be successful.

For the most part, I support local municipalities in Southern California to comply with Clean Water Act regulations. We do water quality monitoring, modeling, and assessment of the urban and natural watersheds. Then we look at the impacts of pollution and urbanization on water quality with the end goal of protecting not only the ecology and habitats of our waterways, but also protecting the water quality for swimmers and beachgoers. I’m thankful to be a part of protecting the recreational uses of the ocean and other waterways.

How did your time on the surf team influence your education and lead you to your career?

My passion for surfing, the natural world, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and the choices I made all melded together into this greater understanding of what I wanted to accomplish at UCSD. I wanted to earn a degree, find a career path, but also continue surfing and being part of surf culture.

Surfers generally have a passion for travel, seeing new places, surfing, and having a connection with the natural world. And, whether people know it or not, they are doing scientific research by monitoring the wind models and weather systems that create the waves. That’s just the natural interest we all had. I studied earth science, which was a really neat program because it combines all the higher-level sciences like physics, chemistry, and biology. But the real focus is geology. 

There were a few undergrad professors, but primarily all our classes were taught by professors from Scripps. So we were getting graduate-level teaching for an undergraduate degree. Through that, I was able to get a paid internship at Scripps in my sophomore summer. Throughout the rest of my undergrad, I worked at Scripps for a number of different professors and had the opportunity to go out on some of the research vessels off the coast of the Northwest, such as Oregon and Washington. I was really fortunate to have this working experience while I went there. Obviously, I was drawn to Black’s, the ocean and oceanography, so I took my degree and ran with that.

What would you share with someone thinking about joining the surf team?

If you’re a surfer and you’re going to UCSD, you are going to be a part of that culture of surfing at Black’s–so in my opinion, it’s really a no brainer to get involved in the surf team, whether you like competition or not. Those are your peers and that’s going to be your social network, at least in some part.

Fact is, if you’re a surfer at UC San Diego, that’s where you’re going to go in your free time. It’s a place that will challenge you. It will humble you. It’s just a gorgeous, beautiful place. It amazes me that more students don’t go down there–because really, what a gem to have at your doorstep right outside of campus. 

Read more Q&A’s with UC San Diego surfers here.

And reach out to us with your answers to have your own! –