KPU Professors Host PHILOsurfer Convergence

Academics from all over the world came to Tofino to talk about their love of philosophy and surfing
Braden Klassen, Contributor

KPU Professors Patrick Findler and Colin Ruloff stand with Dr. Aaron James at the PHILOsurfer Convergence in Tofino, B.C. (Submitted)

A pair of philosophy professors from Kwantlen Polytechnic University have combined their love for philosophizing with their love of surfing by organizing and hosting an academic conference that united the two.

Dubbed “The PHILOsurfer’s Convergence”, the gathering was held in Tofino from June 15 to 18 and was conceived by professors Colin Ruloff and Patrick Findler as a way to get like-minded academics to come together in order to share papers, discuss philosophy, and, of course, go surfing.

“Two summers ago Patrick and I were surfing a local break, and it was one of those perfect days and it was just the two of us and in between waves I think Patrick paddled up to me and said something like ‘Hey, we’re philosophers that surf—I guess that makes us philosurfers,’” says Ruloff. “One thing led to another and he said, ‘Why don’t we just see if there are other people out there like us—philosophers that surf, [and] put out a call for papers?”

The conference was partially funded by KPU, and was sponsored by Long Beach Surf Shop, Tacofino, and Matunas, an organic surfing wax company. After securing philosophers Jefferey King and Arron James as guest speakers, Findler and Ruloff found several more people interested in participating.

However, attendees were met with an unexpected problem on the first day of the event, as a tanker truck carrying jet fuel crashed on the highway to Tofino, blocking road-access to a section of the island. Undeterred, some of the guests managed to get around the blockage by way of floatplane.

Findler and Ruloff are also working on what they call a “creative side project” for creating custom surfboards and various kinds of merchandise with the brand-name “Doppelgänger”. This title was somewhat inspired by the occasional use of doppelgangers as theoretical parts of classic philosophy thought-experiments.

Ruloff, who has been surfing for decades, says that he enjoys the clarity of mind that he experiences when he surfs.

“For me, it’s a form of escapism and being immersed in nature. It’s the best way for me to combat the stresses and pressures of daily life. All of those worries, all of those cares, all of those things just get washed out to the ocean,” he says. “It’s like a quasi-zen-like state that’s almost a form of meditation for me…and it just helps me do philosophy better and be a better person.”

Findler has only been surfing for a few years, but he says that he appreciates the sport for the same reasons, and adds that, “as philosophers, we kind of live inside our heads a lot, and we spend a lot of our time sort of being in deep thought about things, and surfing is a very powerful way of putting you back in touch with your body.”

“The best lived life,” says Findler, “is going to involve development of not just mental capacities, but also physical capacities. There’s a tendency among academics to disregard their bodies, and view their bodies as essentially vehicles for toting their brains around. I’ve always admired philosophers who weren’t like that.”

So, are there any famous philosophers who would’ve enjoyed surfing?

“The Greeks might’ve been all over surfing,” says Findler with a laugh. “Maybe Sartre would’ve been a surfer.”

“Probably not Descartes,” says Ruloff. “He thought his essence was to be a mind.”

Due to its success, the duo has decided to make the PHILOsurfer Convergence an annual event, and are currently entertaining the idea of bringing it to Mexico next year.