The Reset Button: Two Half-Baked Surf Ideas

Clark Franklin explores two slightly-unfeasible, but totally-radical, surf-related musings.

Jamie Sterling running for it at Mavericks.
Jamie Sterling at Mavericks © Frank Quirarte

A big-wave contest you’d actually watch, plus a popular running app tweaked for surfers.

Idea No. 1: WQS Big-Wave Contest

Frankly, I wouldn’t watch a big-wave surf contest for any amount of money or power. Watching big waves is dull. It’s beyond me how something so impressive can make for such a confoundingly lame viewing experience. But it certainly finds a way. To me looking on, big-wave surfing is just someone going straight for very brief periods.

However — and here comes the half-baked idea — there’s one big-wave contest I’d probably follow, and closely: If the ASP put a big-wave stop on the World Tour or the Prime Series, and points and careers and qualification were on the line, and all the regular non-big-wave pros had to paddle Dungeons or Mavericks at 25 feet, I would probably tune in hourly. I think a lot of people would.

It’s just train wreck voyeurism mostly. I’d want to see heroes fall, literally. I’d want to see who cried, who faked injury, who plainly refused to paddle out, and who among the Top 34 actually has stones enough to go over a ledge. By the end of the day there’d be cowards exposed, but there’d also be new heroes. Remember how Jeremy Flores surprised at Teahupo’o in the crazy 2011 contest? It was fully worth watching.

Rio, maybe not so much.

Idea No. 2: Nike+ Session Tracker

Two years ago at the Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast, organizers sewed a GPS device into the contest jerseys. They were used to calculate each surfer’s maximum wave speed and broadcast that number (in kilometers per hour) to the web audience. They even offered a $2,500 prize to the “fastest surfer.” Announcers talked endlessly about it.

At some point, someone must have thought this was an interesting idea. But it wasn’t.

I’m not convinced any surfer had ever before wondered how fast he was going on a wave or about his distance traveled. I’m not sure any surfer has wondered since. It’s just not something surfers care about. But that same GPS technology, along with the type of accelerometer that’s in every iPhone now, could be used for things surfers do care about. Things that might be worth knowing.

For instance, this half-baked idea is for an app to track your session: time in the water, waves caught, time spent paddling versus time spent sitting still. It’d use the accelerometer to know when you were moving slowly (that’s paddling), moving fast (riding a wave), accelerating quickly (indicating a wave caught), or not moving at all (probably waiting for a set). The GPS could even orient you to shore and track your breakdown of rights ridden versus lefts.

So at the end of a session you’d know you’d been in the water 52 minutes, paddled for 36 of those minutes, sat waiting for 15, and caught four lefts and nine rights.

Basically this is surfing’s version of the hugely popular Nike+ running app that tracks pace, distance and calories burned. Not everyone would use it — in fact, most surfers wouldn’t use it. I wouldn’t use it. But I’m sure more people would care to know their wave count than their average surf speed. And it could be gamified — 100 waves a week for 10% off at Swell.com, or some such thing. Zynga might buy it. We’d all get rich.