Meet Surf Philosopher And Educator Maia Dery

Jun 11, 2018

For Maia Dery, sitting still has never been much of an option. Her teacher had her sit out in the halls to not disturb other students, and as soon as she had her precious drivers license, Dery routinely skipped school to escape to Duke Forest. As Dery says, she never did well in boxes.

[Surfing] puts you in an environment where regardless of your belief system, you are engaged with a higher power. And it's unpredictable and it demands your attention.

Her awe for the natural world led her to a career as a photographer and later as a award-winning professor at Guilford College where she subverted the education system by forcing students to learn outside – sometimes in wind, rain, or snow. She developed the Cape Fear River Basin Studies Program at Guilford College, a curriculum that helped students understand how North Carolina waterways are inextricably linked to race, class, and broader economic systems.

Longtime Guiford College professor Maia Dery learned to surf at 40. The sport has since become an integral part of her teaching and philosophy.
Credit Courtesy Enric Coromina

At 40, Dery’s life started anew when she took on a lifelong dream. She hopped on a surfboard, paddled out, and with her first waves discovered a new kind of connection to nature.

I suddenly realized that despite all of my expectations, I was - like everybody else - going to die someday and I better think about what I wanted to do. And I didn't have to think very hard. It was this eminence, it just came up out of me: you need to surf.

Today, Dery’s love of water and her unrelenting commitment to connect education to tactile natural spaces drove her to found “Waves to Wisdom,” a program that combines surfing with deeper critical and philosophical thought.

Photograph of lone surfer by artist and educator Maia Dery.
Credit Courtesy Maia Dery

Dery speaks with host Frank Stasio about her upbringing, her podcast that captures probing conversations about surf culture, and about the transformative effects of plunging your feet in the water.