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When Surfing and Technology Meet

Surfing hasn’t escaped the technological revolution which is sweeping the globe at an exponentially increasing rate, with all kinds of new contraptions – both good and bad – popping up on the market in recent years. Certainly, some great developments have been made in terms of surfboard and wetsuit manufacturing, something we’ll discuss in detail in the next piece, but for now, we’re going to start off taking a look at some of the most interesting new gadgets that you can add to your surfing arsenal. These vary in their practicality – some are pretty gimmicky and probably don’t add a whole lot to surfing, but others have the potential to take the sport to another level. 

Samsung Galaxy Surfboard

This is one of the most interesting creations to hit the surfing world, though not necessarily for all the right reasons. A few years ago, Samsung manufactured a surfboard of their own which resembles the offspring of a smart phone and a regular board. The deck of the board is a display screen which provides information about the surf conditions, and also enables other people to send you messages. Gabriel Medina was the face of the advertisement, with the board being posited as a way for pro surfers to escape the solidarity which comes with being in the ocean alone, and to allow him to get advice in real time from his stepdad and coach, Charles.

Of course, the major issue here is that most surfers enjoy being alone in the ocean. I know I’ve definitely craved a little solidarity while sharing a peak with 40 other surfers. The marketing reeked of a tech brand trying to branch out into a field in which they have little experience, and was received as such by many. That’s not to say there’s no merit to the idea; the concept of being able to easily communicate with people on land while surfing is one which many would be receptive to, and one which will probably be the norm in a few years. The look of the board and the way it was advertised, however, meant this one fell a little short. 

Samsung is not the only company exploring this area; a handful of other companies have also tried their hand at creating an ‘integrated surfboard’, a ‘connected surfboard’, or whatever they decide to call it. But while there’s no doubt the technology in them is impressive, none have really taken off just yet. 

Rip Curl Search GPS

Rip Curl’s Search GPS is one device which actually hits the mark, and is probably the best example which has been conceived to date of a gadget which can really benefit surfing. It comes in the form of a watch (a waterproof one, obviously) which tracks your movement throughout a session while also providing you with information about the conditions. The latter can be useful enough and isn’t exactly unique to this watch, but it’s the movement tracking which really sets it apart.

Details about every wave that you catch is recorded by the watch; this includes a map of where you started and where you ended, the total distance you covered, and even the speeds that you reached. At the end of your session you can check out how many waves you caught and monitor info about each of them. It has the potential to be a valuable tool for both novices and professionals, but most importantly is a relatively non-invasive way to just add a little bit of fun to your session – nothing about your actual surf has to change.

As with the Samsung Galaxy Surfboard, this isn’t the only device of its kind. Numerous similar GPS devices exist, though the Rip Curl variant is undoubtedly the most complete.

The Drone

Ah, the drone. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard a fellow surfer complain upon hearing the loud, mosquito-like buzzing of a drone approach the line-up I’d be a rich man. And in fairness, it can be pretty irritating. 

But drones aren’t all bad. While most everyday surfers probably don’t want to be filmed by an obnoxious flying object during their session, drones do bring us plenty of incredible surfing images that we wouldn’t otherwise have access to. They can also be an invaluable resource for improving safety; they can, of course, spot any big fish which might be swimming a little closer to the line-up than anyone would like, but they’ve also been used to drop floatation devices to struggling swimmers in the past. The latter of these isn’t necessarily so useful for surfers, but if someone’s leash snaps in half in the middle of a big swell it could certainly come in handy. 

Drones are and will likely remain a polarising device. Certainly the safety component they bring is important, and many of us also enjoy the ability they give us to get up close and personal with talented surfers in far-flung locations mid-wave. Perhaps they’d be a little more popular among the surfing community if they stuck to these two things and left the run-of-the-mill surfer trying to get a wave in during his or her lunchbreak alone. 

The Artificial Wave

Without doubt one of the biggest contributions that technology has made to surfing is the development of artificial waves, and with an exponentially growing number of wave pools appearing around the globe, that doesn’t appear likely to slow down anytime soon. A few weeks ago we did a series on this polarising phenomenon, talking about both its history and its future, its impact on surfing, and the various different artificial waves already in existence. It’s a fascinating subject and one which most surfers have an opinion on; for some they’re a great way to surf in a different environment or hone your skills, for others they take away from the authenticity of the real thing. 

Regardless, they’re here to stay, and will only get better as the industry develops its understanding of the best way to produce an artificial wave. At present, virtually every company which has tried its hand at creating a wave pool has done so in a different way, be that via a machine running alongside the pool or one of the many variants of a giant water displacement device. Presumably there will be more new approaches to come, and eventually something is bound to stand out from the crowd as the most effective way to do it. 

As a general rule, when technology is used to create something new, the initial versions aren’t nearly as good as what comes next. If that’s the case with artificial waves, expect a boom in popularity in the coming years. 

The above list, of course, excludes the most obvious part of surfing which has been impacted by technology – the equipment itself. From the boards to the fins to the wetsuits, the things most fundamental to surfing are continuing to evolve courtesy of technology, and in our next piece we’ll go into some detail about the ways in which this is happening.