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Meet Surf Philosopher And Educator Maia Dery

Courtesy of Nicole Zelniker
Maia Dery is a surfer, educator and philosopher. She is the founder of 'Waves To Wisdom' a surf trip and coaching program.

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.

Surfer and educator Maia Dery takes a left wave into shore.
Credit Courtesy Enric Coromina
Longtime Guiford College professor Maia Dery learned to surf at 40. The sport has since become an integral part of her teaching and philosophy.

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.

Photo of lone surfer lying on their board.
Credit Courtesy Maia Dery
Photograph of lone surfer by artist and educator 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.

Note: This program originally aired on June 11, 2018. 

Laura Pellicer is a digital reporter with WUNC’s small but intrepid digital news team.
Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.
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