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Speed, altitude, tracking, sharing. Tell us: how much does surfing need this data shit?

Speed, altitude, tracking, sharing. Tell us: how much does surfing need this data shit?

Alex Dick-Read

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Wiki Help!
We want to know what you think about this emerging tilt towards data-gathering and sharing in surfing.
For anyone who hasn’t encountered it yet, scroll down and check out this Kickstarter Project for a new product called Trace. It’s the most advanced example we’ve come across yet, but quite likely just the tip of a ‘social surfing’ iceberg.

In short it goes like this: a device attached to your board has GPS and other info-gathering functions (speed, length of ride, height of jump, etc). It records all this while you surf. Afterwards, you can download the data and look at it, add it in to your monthly/yearly dataset or whatever; and then share it with your friends. It’s “measurable, shareable and comparable”.

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You can therefore see where your friends surfed, how long their rides were, etc. etc. etc. It’s info-tastic!

So does this get your juices flowing? Will you be donating? Buying one? If so, why?
Why do you want to know how fast you went on the waves you rode this morning, or how high your airs weren’t?
And seriously, are you interested in your friends’ sessions? Why? Hey, maybe this is the future of the surf contest …

You’ll see this Kickstarter Project is aimed at skaters and snowboarders, too. Maybe it suits them better – or does it suit surfing equally well? Or none of them?

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We don’t want to put a downer on these guys’ Kickstarter project. They’ve invested time, money, stoke and considerable genius into it and … who are we to judge that? Plus, it’s clearly got some traction, as the … err … tracking data at the time of posting shows: 233 backers; more than $32,000 of the $150,000 already raised; a full 42 days left to go before their appeal ends.

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Truth is, we’ve pulled it out because we literally don’t understand the attraction and we’d love to know. Maybe we’re just a little bit too … last century. Back then surfing was in the thrall of philosophies and motivations mined in the acid-dipped 1960s and escapist ’70s – a huge chunk of the surf attraction was Nature, submersion in it, solitary oneness, escape from the madness of the modern world, etc., etc.
Is this data stuff some kind of progression from that? Or is it just appearing because … well … because it can? Is it, maybe, the future of surf competition – a kind of democratization of the competitive instinct, pulled from the hands of surf corporations and placed firmly on the decks of We The People?

Leave us your thoughts on this here website or social media page, and maybe share this post with your friends so they too can add their voice. (Yes, yes, we know – the ironies abound!)
But seriously, surf people, this cuts through to the fundamentals of our culture: where the fuck are we at right now, and where are we headed? We’re feeling a little lost, so please, help!

PS: If you write us something really good – for or against this stuff, and no longer than 800 words – we’ll publish it in the magazine and reward you with a wonderful wooden bodysurf hand plane by Otter Surfboards – complete with no data device whatsoever!)

Here’s da link, brah:

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  1. Seppo

    I think it’s a bad idea. Only insecure people need to show off how much they surf. Surfing was supposed to be an escape. Just another way big brother can keep tabs on you. I imagine this company will then use your data to share with the surf industry so they can peddle you more stuff you don’t need. Commercialism on steroids. This stuff needs to be stopped! There are already too many people who expect surfing to be served to them on a silver platter.

  2. Paul Hill

    What a load of bollocks…

  3. MacLaren

    I’ve recently addressed the issue of “what constitutes a good wave?” here: and here: and there’s a hell of a lot going on with people, waves, and the interactions between them, jointly, severally, and multiply.

    Bottom line: The masses will gobble this stuff up, and then plaster it all over the internet, every chance they get, in a mostly futile effort to gain some kind of cool guy points or credibility, for whatever legitimate, illegitimate, or flat out deranged reasons.

    It’s not about riding the wave anymore. It’s about what you said about riding the wave, the pictures you took, the stories you get to tell, the ….. come to think of it, nothing’s really changed at all. I find myself addressing an entity, relating as to the arcana of surfing, and neither one of us is wet, are we?

    Obviously, the show must go on.

    But the show has very little to do with surfing, and very much to do with things that employ surfing to achieve other ends.

    The above notwithstanding, when I’m out in the water, I don’t want to hear about it.

    The ride is the thing, after all, and everything else is just noise.

  4. Roddster

    I hate show offs but I love hydrodynamics. Animals, watercraft, airplanes and anything else that moves through a fluid and depends on physical laws to do so is fascinating to me. You don’t need to measure it to be stoked on the result but it IS all quantifiable like it or not. A case of science describing art in the case of surfing maybe. These numbers have a point other than vanity. Driving board design evolution forward. Short boards thrusters. Quads: numbers were always in the mix. Now we can all access them. Or not!! Your choice, purist.

  5. Steve L.

    Hey guys, Creative Director @ ActiveReplay here. I just happened across this post via Reddit and I wanted to chime in real quick.

    First and foremost, we respect everyone’s opinions here and understand this product might not be for everyone.

    We grew up surfing, we’ve done it all our lives and it’s (for me at least) the one thing I truly love doing, and I’ll do it till I can’t stand up anymore. We created Trace simply because it was something we wanted growing up. Our idea has never been to disrupt the natural connection we have with the ocean, or surf culture in general. Hell, we’ve been deeply apart of it for the last twenty years — I spent my summers in surf shops, taught taught surf lessons every summer for ten years, had letters published in Surfer, etc. We know surfing, we respect the culture, and we love doing it.

    Our idea was, if I could go out in the water, do my thing, and someone came up to me afterwards and said, “Hey, I have a piece of paper. On this piece of paper, it says how fast you were going, how long your waves were, how sharp your turns were, how big your airs were, how many Calories you burned, even a visual breakdown of your wave. Would you like to see it?” I would say “Yes.”

    That’s what Trace is like. A tiny device you forget is there that simply tells you some cool stuff about your session.

    The competition aspect is just one part. It’s not so much, “Hey lets compete bro!” and it’s more, “Hey take a look at what all these people are doing on waves all over the world.” It’s the most popular feature on AlpineReplay. And me personally, I’d love to see what the waves like in Hawaii in real time. Not surf reports, mind you, actual information collected from the surfers who were out there. And if I could see that information in real time coming from all these breaks in my area, I could see where guys are getting the longest waves, or going the fastest.

    Our goal is to add to the our experience in the water, not detract. Hopefully, you guys will give it a chance before you write it off as “blasphemy.” We’re not a giant, money-grubbing corporation, hell-bent on destroying the world of surfing, we’re just a couple of guys who thought this would be cool to create something like this.

    Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you in the lineup.

    1. Alex Dick-Read

      Steve L. Thanks, that’s a great read-out on where you’re coming from. Like I said in the post, I actually don’t want to put a downer on your project, which looks insanely well done. I just want to get a debate started for two reasons. One, I simply don’t share the desire to know all that info – or at least I never have up to now. I might be curious about my speed on a wave, or whatever, but have never given it much thought. It’s always been about ‘feel’ and ‘instinct’ for me, not numbers.
      And two, I’m interested in the ‘sharing’ aspect because it’s an offshoot of a broader cultural phenomenon that’s new since social media and smartphones and this is its deepest penetration into surfing that I’ve seen yet. Sharing and comparing is something that seems almost antithetical to my own surfing philosophy up to now. I really think this is interesting in terms of surfing’s historical arc, especially in the light of its culture being so rooted in the ’60s counter-culture and escapism. So mine’s a kind of a general interest, you could say.
      As I also mention, I couldn’t possibly object to anyone wanting to know all that stuff and if that’s what people are into, good on ’em. Don’t want you to think TSP fancies itself as some kind of guardian of purity or any shit like that. We’ve always been the opposite – surfing is done by so many people that we think diversity is something to … do a magazine about. How often do you see KS or AI or all those same old faces in the mag? They’re rare, because we’re all about the real people we meet in the lineup, not the industry-led hologram you get through other surf media.
      So, thanks for your explanation. It’s certainly made your angle a little clearer. Good luck with what you’re doing – I’m really curious to see how this all unfolds.

  6. SupportBones

    Well, I’m the one who linked to this article on reddit (I sent a link to the thread to your twitter) and as a result I’ve been banned from r/surfing. I posted this article because, like the author, I don’t think the device has an obvious place in surfing. Perhaps it’s a sport vs. lifestyle thing, perhaps it’s generational. But I was curious to see what the, largely younger, surfers of reddit thought.

    The mods decided I was a stealth marketing shill for the company and banned me from the sub/r.

    I have NO affiliation w/the product or its makers. And as I said in the post, I don’t see the point of it. The irony, I do know (did know) the author/editor/intern/teamaker here. We went to school together. I had no intention of disclosing, I’ve just recently found the site and have been lurking/admiring.

    (Alex, use the email if you’d like to know)

    1. Alex Dick-Read

      Ha! … Mysterioso … No email on there so hit me up through one of the mag emails (info@ or alex@) Thanks!

      1. SupportBones

        Email bounced back :/ check your Twitter.

  7. Steve+L.

    I’m really sorry you got banned. We had a guy (also no affiliation with out company) send out a ton of links to the campaign and he got banned too apparently.

    I def knew the rules of r/surfing and know the mods can be…unpleasant, thus would never dream of linking a kickstarter to solicit funds. I kind of hoped it would stay off reddit to be honest, because I imagined it would get trashed.

    So again, I’m really sorry the campaign got you banned, I do appreciate the discussion it did start. We love to here from everybody, even those who vehemently disagree with it.

  8. Steve+L.

    I just sent a message to the mods telling them you have zero affiliation with our company. Again, really sorry.

    1. SupportBones

      That’s kind. It’s not going to make a difference – and that’s fine. I didn’t plan on spending more time on a sub/r where the moderation is so reactive.

      No one wishes you or your campaign ill, and I think the discussion it prompts about what different people want from surfing is an interesting one. (It’s why I posted in the first place)

  9. _kernowfornia_

    I love gadgets & stats, but surfing is my escape from all that. A great wave isn’t always one that is technically surfed the best.

    I can see how it would be fun to find out how far that really long point break wave really went, and for groms in training it could be useful to monitor progress, but for me I’m happy not knowing.

  10. Tony, NY

    Gathering data is one thing, using it is another. For example, I can see that a device like this might be very useful to an aspiring professional who could use it as a tool to track various aspects of performance and use the information to design training regimens that target weaknesses. As for the recreational surfer, if performance data is important to you (like a golfer), go ahead, but try to remember why you go surfing – to disconnect from all this rubbish.

  11. Lee K.

    I wish we could all go back to a more simple time when we woke up and brewed a cup of coffee and walked out onto the beach to see what nature had in store for us today. Brought us more in tune with and closer to the pure life elements. I’d give up the surf report and my leash in an instant, but would love to be able to keep my modern boards. No need this selfish stuff. ALOHA, LK.

    1. Grimmer

      Agree completely.

  12. Chucky...

    Uhhh…for pussies and/or dweebs?!

    …for people who listen to Miley Cyrus and/or Kelly Clarkson?!

    …for people who think “selfies” are cool and/or de rigueur?

  13. Luke Williamson

    I think you are going down the right track with the change of generations angle. When you grow up and have children, you have to keep reminding yourself that they have experienced a very different world to you as a parent. Electronic devices that tell you everything that is going on is normal for them. There’s not actually a discussion to be had about that for our children because it is just the way it is. They have grown up with crowded surf most of the time, aerials, sub-6 foot surfboards and a device like this that gives you all your surfing data is neither a big technological nor philosophical leap for them. I don’t think they experience that gap between “nature” and “technology” because it has all been wrapped up together for them since birth. For old hacks like me, however, I wouldn’t touch it. It is of no interest to me. Sitting and listening to the birds, the wind, the ocean, and mucking around catching a few waves with as few people around as possible is my idea of progress. But, for all of that, I wish these guys and gals all the best with their project and this discussion might just lead them off on tangents for the product that they hadn’t foreseen.

  14. Grimmer

    It’s not my place to say whether this is good or bad for anyone else.

    I regard surfing as an exercise of physical and mental involvement. It comes from water, the wind, the waves, and the reaction of the board under your feet. These are things that I cannot equate to numbers (latitude, longitude, g-force, or time), regardless of how accurately they are recorded.

    My only experience with electronic add-ons was a surfboard camera. I was stoked when I bought it. It’s rarely on my board because it doesn’t seem to capture what I remember most. It’s not that my memory is particularly poor… it’s just unable to capture the really important things that get seared into my brain during each session.

    Maybe my attitude will change when I’m too old to surf. Perhaps recorded events will become the only thing that remains. Or maybe I’ll just take my old stick down from the rafters and feel its weight in my hands, close my eyes, and take a deep breath and hold it until the feeling of surfing returns.

    1. SupportBones

      Exactly. The *feeling*. Hard for me to understand the interest in collecting data on something I think of as entirely visceral/sensual.

  15. Mark D

    Of course, this gimmick holds little more than a passing curiosity for 98% of the surfers out there. Yes maybe I’d like to check it out on the odd occasion, although doing so would almost always end in disappointment. The 10 second tube reduced to a quantifiable 2. The cold hard data that shows you just spent 3 hours paddling 2.5 km to catch 4 mushy 30 meter long rides. Data wont make that one wave any more special, try show that GPS track to your girlfriend, gushing at the turn radius and the smooth lines and see how much more feigned interest you can inspire from her.
    But there is an area this device might be useful to us. While few out there still wax lyrically about how shaping boards is an art, the cold reality is that it is fundamentally a science. a fusion of ergonomics, hydrodynamics and material technology. Science is driven by observation and data, the more useful data you have, the more you can refine and improve, refute and disprove.
    Tracking the average speed with different fin setups, or different boards. Who knows really what innovations it could inspire.
    I doubt I will be paddling into the lineup with one on my deck, but maybe the next board I buy will have been designed along some scientific, data driven principles.

  16. Zac

    In the last few months, my idea of what it means to be a surfer has taken a beating. It started with the official opening of the Wave Garden, making it possible for people to call themselves “surfers” without ever stepping foot in the ocean. Then there was the whole Roxy Pro promo video debacle, which managed to damage the already shaky credibility of professional women’s surfing. Now we have Trace, a new technology that promises to make action sports “measurable, shareable, comparable.” Trace allows users to share all kinds of “interesting” data like board speed, aerial height, and length of a ride. Instead of actually watching our friends surf and hooting them into waves, we can check their online database for detailed statistics – how fun!

    Following in the footsteps of technology and devices like GoPro cameras, Trace is the latest gadget perpetuating the “look at me!” era of surfing. No longer are surfers content with a fun, solitary session in the water. What we have seen is a drastic change in goals and values from surfers of the 1960’s and 70’s to surfers today. Young groms would rather share the height of their blown aerials from a morning session at their crappy local beach break than go on a feral surf trip in search of empty, untouched waves. To those who say that Trace is part of the progression of surfing, I pose the following question: what pain point is Trace addressing for surfers? How will this device actually make surfing better? In my opinion, Trace is it just another unnecessary device intended to capitalize on the multi-billion dollar surf industry.

    What happened to the simplicity, solitude, and individualism that were once core values of surfing? Is it not enough to just grab your board and paddle out without the intention of sharing each and every detail of your session? In my opinion, Trace and the proliferation of social sharing in general are leading surfing to a place free of mystery, discovery, anticipation, and excitement.

  17. Jason

    I think this is about improvement. Being an avid cyclist and I am on Strava, I ride for the same reasons you surf, to get out and explore, one with nature etc. However, I still want to ride up a hill faster and make sure I’m getting all the benefits of the moment. This device does that for surfing. You only have a limited time to surf and to optimize your experience you use the feedback so you can continue to improve.


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