How Technology is Changing Surfing

How the machines are changing the face of surfing as we know it.

A funny story came out of a very unfunny situation earlier this year. On January 13 a false text message was sent to phones in Hawaii about an ‘imminent missile strike’ that was going to hit the centre of Aloha in one hour. The story goes that some guys were surfing and one of them received the message on his Apple Watch (Series 3). The guy thereafter received a phone call from his wife, and he refused to pick it up, stating that if the missiles were coming he didn’t want to spend his last moments getting moaned at by his wife.

How true this is, is anybody’s guess. The very message of the missiles was fake, or an error, but the ideology is clear – technology now invades every single part of our lives.

Surf Forecasting Technology

A few years ago I was in Hawaii, living at Waimea. There was a big swell, that was on the push, and Waimea started breaking properly. It’s a helluva thing to see it break, and I was excited to see a crew of the best big wave surfers paddle out and hit it. Instead, there was hardly anyone out.

“They’ll come for the peak of the swell,” said a surf photographer who was staying on the point with me at the time. I could not believe it. The waves were pretty giant and pumping, and there was no one out. It was contrary to what I expected and believed.

About an hour later I could see a few guys in the Waimea car park, and within half an hour there were suddenly thirty guys out the back, jostling for a few scraps. On cue, the horizon went dark, and relentless, big black sets started arriving. “Swell’s arrived,” said the photographer, with a smile. He then went on to explain to me that the local surfers, big wave surfers, in particular, have the forecasts so dialled that they don’t really bother to paddle out until the swell has arrived, meaning they are at their freshest and most amped just as the biggest part of the swell hits. This is not always the case – big wave surfers are big wave surfers – but in this situation they waited for the the swell to just about peak before paddling out, deeming the growing swell not enough to warrant a paddle out.

Those two incidents demonstrate the biggest technical disruptors to the surfing world as we know it – communication, and information.

Prior to these influences, surf forecast phone calls were made the night before, on landlines, and it was usually after watching a synoptic chart weather report and making a decision based on knowledge and experience. Now you can arrive a few minutes before a swell peaks, paddle out and take a phone call on your watch while in the tube.

Wave Pool Technology

Another massive technological advance is obviously the advent of wave pools, taking surfing away from the ocean. The Kelly Slater Wave Ranch is the pinnacle right now, but we have the Waco Pool changing the game, The Cove system available to anyone with the funding, and the much-awaited Webber model that has been spoken about for ages now, but has yet to turn around into anything of value except words. Those in the know still think that Greg Webber has the key to the future when it comes to wave pools, but that remains to be seen.

Shark Deterrent Technology

Shark deterrents have also come a long way since the original Shark Pod designed by the Natal Sharks Board in South Africa, and while there is also much hype about this technology, there is no deterrent that has proven infallible thus far. Surfers have been bitten while sporting anti-shark wearables, so it is tech that still needs further refinement.

The best example of shark mitigation from technology, however, comes from the sky. Drones now do an excellent job of shark spotting, as witnessed from the Corona Open JBay surf contest this year and last, with four sharks spotted over the two years, and safety procedures implemented each time.

Surfboard Technology

Surfboard tech is another realm that has seen remarkable advancements over the last decade, mainly in the area of EPS foam cores, making surfboards more buoyant and strong. Some manufacturers are focused on renewable tech for surfboard production advancement, and this is admirable and possibly the direction of surfboard tech in the future.

Renewable Energy

Finally, in this very short list of technological advancements that have influenced surfing, we have the solar and renewable segment. We know that the Surf Ranch is powered by mixed energy – both conventional and green energy combined – with various areas of the Ranch adorned with photovoltaic panels to harvest solar. There is more than this though. Available now are wearable solar panels, where photovoltaic technology is sewn into jackets and transferred to output jacks sitting in pockets. There are backpacks available with similar technology sewn in, enabling access to energy for those long walks into inaccessible surf destinations.

There are also tiny, mobile photovoltaic panels that you can plug into your cellphones while off the grid, or while working remote, or while heading down to the beach to that secret, kelp-infested reef break that only works on a south swell and that no one knows about. Just don’t phone out, and tell anyone where you are, or post your GPS readings by mistake.

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