There are some things that surfers know they want, and some things we haven’t even realised we want. In 15 years we’ll look back and say, how did we ever live without this or that new surfing invention that every future surfer now takes for granted?
Just look back to the seventies and wonder: how on earth did surfers surf without legropes (leashes)? It seems insane. We watch vintage clips of guys going over the falls at heaving Pipeline while their boards flail in the air like twigs, free to bounce their way back to shore, completely detached from the rider. Legropes were a great invention, as were wetsuits. Imagine going surfing in a woollen jumper? That’s what adventurous surfers did pre-neoprene days. I daresay we’re a softer breed than our predecessors.
Dreaming up a list of 10 things that surfers really want is not difficult. You just need to start with the basics and work from there. You may not agree. Every surfer has different wants and needs (these are two very different things). A need for a surfer is a surfboard, and an ocean (or wave park) with waves. A want is an action camera, or a smart wetsuit that provides adaptive biofeedback.
Let’s get started, with 10 surf product inventions that could change surfing forever.
1. A collapsible, modular surfboard
Imagine a surfboard that can be assembled in a modular way, like Lego, or Ikea furniture. This surfboard can be collapsed down into component modules, small enough to fit inside a bodyboard bag, or standard suitcase.
Travel suddenly becomes so much easier. You check in one extra suitcase, which happens to contain component parts for three different boards. Airlines report massive year-end revenue losses.
When you reach your destination, you simply reassemble your board by clicking the segments into place. Of course performance will not suffer, because the materials are strong, lightweight and the connectors are reinforced and locked, like fin systems are today.
But let’s not stop there. The surfboard can be modified to suit conditions. You can alternate the tail and nose, converting a performance shortboard into a fish. You can add volume panels by clicking them into the bottom deck.
Each board can be customised to suit the rider and, if you damage a segment, you simply replace it, or print out a replacement in your local 3D printshop. This ease of repair and localised manufacturing will be commonplace in a few years.
2. Second skin
Slapping sunscreen onto your skin is going to be viewed as supremely primitive someday in the future. They’ll look back on the practice as a quaint habit, like we think about the 17th Century upper classes, who sported powdered wigs to conceal thinning hair caused by venereal diseases and lice. Rubbing chemicals into your skin, and then exposing your skin to sunlight sounds dumb even now.
The solution: second skin. A nanotechnology dermal layer that attaches to your natural skin, and functions like the name says. It breathes, perspires, reacts to your own biology and adapts to your particular needs. You might not even need to take it off. Second skins for beauty will be normal, but for action and outdoor sports they’ll be essential.
Simply apply your second skin as a kind of paste and it ‘sets’ into place, activated by your body temperature and bioelectricity. When your second skin wears out you simply deactivate it, peel it off and throw it away. How will humans get enough Vitamin D from necessary sun exposure? The second skin operates like normal skin, allowing light through, then hardening to the sun after a certain amount of exposure. It is smart skincare, protecting you from the elements, and from pollution.
3. Spider thread legrope
Legropes (leashes) have done a great job of evolving to where they are today. While the technology has improved dramatically (swivels, stronger ropes), the basic premise has remained the same. Tie your leg to your board. You can’t argue with this functionality, but you can consider further evolution.
Enter the webbed legrope. Hundreds of super fine threads connect from your leg to the outer rail of the bottom of your board. They are secured by a permanent fixative and are extremely difficult to break. The bonus is that if a few strands are severed, you have plenty more still attached. No more broken legropes, lost boards, drownings, etc.
Another benefit is that the legropes would be extremely elastic, so that when you are standing on your board they contract to a few inches in length.
This solves one of surfing’s most frustrating problems: getting your foot tied up in a legrope. When you are paddling the spider rope expands, yet with minimal pressure on your ankle; when you lose your board the spider rope stretches away with your surfboard, gradually easing it’s way back to you.
4. Augmented reality helmet
Virtual and augmented reality will not be limited to your media room (or bedroom, depending on your choice of content). Augmented reality will transform sporting performance. You will wear goggles, or a modified gath helmet, or, eventually, smart contact lenses, that enable you to see a digital layer transposed over the natural environment.
Want to surf like John John Florence? You run the JJF simulation and the artificial intelligence coach will provide immediate real-time instruction, based on the wave, your skills, the wind direction, etc.
Just imagine it: the augmented reality layer shows you a target on the spot you need to aim for. A voice in your ear tells you to apply pressure with your back foot. As you reach the lip you’re told whether to boost or turn, based on your trajectory.
Ok, so you lose the creativity of human surfing, but you can always disable your A.I. coach if you like. I don’t think you will, though.
Life becomes a game, and the game becomes life.
5. Wetsuit dryer
Cold, wet, wetsuits. The man who enjoys putting on a wet wetsuit in the dead of winter, is a masochist, who needs to be locked up – in the depths of a giant grey barrel somewhere off the coast of Ireland. Wet wetsuits are torture, despite knowing one will soon be immersed in even colder water.
Bodies hate being wet, it’s a human characteristic. So why can’t we have a device that blows hot air up the interior of a wetsuit, drying it out in 20 minutes or less?
Of course, future smart wetsuits will be made of water repellent material, so you’ll have nothing to worry about, but lets take baby steps here.
6. Paddle assistant
Paddling is difficult and inefficient. As boards get smarter, the need for paddling might be diminished but, until then, how about a paddle assistant device that attaches to your shoulders. It looks like the shoulder pads an American footballer wears, with additional clamps that lock over your upper arms.
This surf invention basically gives you extra shoulder strength, power and speed. You are a bionic, supercharged paddling machine. No more need for jetskis, because you’ll paddle faster than them anyway.
7. Pressure jets
Tiny pressurised compartments could be built into the bottom deck of your board, ready for deployment at your command. Need a paddle boost to get under and oncoming set wave? Deploy the jets. They hiss like a streetcar expelling nitro, and then off you go.
Want to use your jets on a wave? No problem, hit the ignition button, which is probably a button on the knuckle of each forefinger, activated by your thumbs, and you get your boost. Sure, the likelihood of serious surfboard related injuries does increase, but with great risk comes great… fun.
Jet propelled surfboards do exist, of course, but they’re dorky. We want discreet jets that slot into the channels of our modular surfboard (see above).
8. Silicon wax dots
Wax sucks. It’ll be viewed as a nostalgic relic of surfing history. Can you imagine dripping candlewax onto your surfboard today? Future surfers will think the same of rubbing cakes of bubblegum-scented wax onto surfboard decks.
Traction pads are cool, especially for the back foot, but front foot traction is a personal affair. Some surfers like a little foot-shaped wax job, while others wax from tail to nose.
The solution: tiny adhesive silicon dots. Paste them onto the deck of your surfboard in your preferred configuration and you’ve got your permanent traction sorted. Being silicon they’re comfortable to paddle on, and they provide natural-feeling grip beneath your toes. Permanent, eco-friendly, paraffin-free grip… sorry Mrs Palmers, but your daughters can go free.
9. Surf steroids and performance enhancing drugs
Other athletes have performance enhancing drugs, so why can’t surfers? We need drugs to get us expelled from the 2020 Olympics. But can any particular drugs really enhance your surfing performance?
I’d venture to suggest that, yes, they can. Anabolic steroids can make you stronger. Used carefully, they could give you a competitive edge when it comes to paddling and high-speed movement. Obviously you don’t want to get too muscly. Kelly weighing 100kg (220 pounds) aged 54, on ‘roids surfing a 6’9″ Banana would be scary. Imagine the aggro and broken boards around the competitors area. Imagine the teeny wieners.
But what about mental performance? Cognitive enhancement can come from any ‘stack’ designed to increase alertness and mental processing speed. One drug that could improve surfing performance is Modafinil. These little white beauties formed the basis for the film Limitless (gasp, I can learn everything), and they do give you extra co-ordination and faster reflexes. They’re banned from the Olympics for making dudes run faster.
Of all the drugs, Modafinil is the one I imagine would benefit surfers most. Of all the prescription drugs, that is. But who knows what the future holds in terms of cognitive and physical performance enhancement.
10. Night surfing for everyone
A third to a half of every day is brimming with wasted surf potential. Night hours. Sure, it’s when Mr Big comes out to feed, and the ocean becomes the abyss, triggering our most primal fear. But when perfect barrels are reeling off then why wait for full moon?
LED surfboard lights are already here, but they don’t really solve the problem of seeing the wave ahead of you. Of all the surfing inventions that could change our lives, night vision goggles designed for surfers could have the biggest impact.
These would ideally be complemented by a significantly improved shark deterrent system. Or a miniature shark repellent aquatic drone that follows its owner from below.
Imagine the reduction in day crowds if all of the students and the unemployed surf through the night. Or you’re having trouble sleeping, so you head out for a 2am paddle. Bliss. Come on surf technologists. Call me. I’m ready.
Bonus: Night Surfing at Mundaka with Aritz Aranburu.