Google Earthspots - Surfer's Path

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Google Earthspots

Words by Antony ‘Yep’ Colas

Images by Google

Searching the world from the comfort of home… Is this the grooviest, easiest, safest and most eco-friendly way to explore the planet? Or is Google Earth’s immense power a sanitised, slightly spooky sign of our demented times? We’re not sure, but we know this: our planet’s shorelines make for some fascinating and often beautiful viewing, even when seen from cyber space.


Kiribati is one of the least known archipelagoes of Micronesia. It’s extremely difficult to get there except by cruise liner, sailboat or Google Earth.


Southern Maldives pass with well-known left, Tiger Stripes and the right, Antiques.

I recently became a father and, alongside the usual congratulations from my friends, I’ve also had a ton of sarcastic feedback along the lines of: “Hey man, say goodbye to your travel addiction. You’re a homeboy now!”

But no! While being ‘stuck’ at home doing nappy changes, I’ve had my laptop on and, managing to catch the Wi-Fi signal from my neighbour, have been travelling thousands and thousands of miles on Google Earth, flying by fingertip to wherever I want in the world and finding new spots every few minutes.


Among Bali’s Bukit Peninsula worldclass lefts, Belangan plays second fiddle. But a major set was breaking when the satellite snapped the shot, and, well, it doesn’t look that bad.


Desert shots are often really sharp as lack of humidity makes Sat-images perfectly clean. You can see a lot of details on land like houses, surfers cars… Those world-class lefts south of Lima have been threatened many times by a coastal road.

In case you aren’t familiar with it, Google Earth is an internet-based composite of millions of satellite photographs of Earth. It has been available for free for anyone with a computer since June 2005. Since then I’ve been much impressed by its capacity to trip around the planet’s shores with incomparable speed and accuracy and it is an awesome feeling to be able to go back to the off-the-beaten-track places where I’d actually been looking for waves in the past – Pakistan, Madagascar, Maluku and India – and get right back there, like you’re on a flying carpet, but without the
hassles, dangers and uncertainty of the real life trip.


Namotu is such a tiny piece of paradise in a vast wave field. Swimming Pools (the right) and Wilkes (left), where you can clearly see surfers in the lineup.


Swell magnet, Almadies Peninsula, Dakar.

Travelling this way you can really know, within a couple of clicks what’s around the headland, beyond the next point or over the hill. That is, most of the time: as long as Google’s photo of the shore you are exploring has good resolution. Many of the world’s most enticing stretches of coast either appear in low resolution and are too blurred to see, or had cloud cover on the day the photo was taken.

Meanwhile, the US magazine Surfing has launched a ‘Google Earth Challenge’: you find a spot, capture an image of it, send it in and if you choose the place with the highest potential for good surf, they take you there with a whole crew.


Cap Skirring near Toubab Dialaw, probably shot the same.


It’s unfortunate that the Superbank wasn’t firing when the Google Sat came around. Swell must be southwest because next door Duranbah beachbreak looks much bigger.

There is now a fourth version of the software that has killer technological updates and a new image bank which is constantly being fed, so your mosaic of images is always less than three years old. You can zoom in and out, go left or right, high or low and change the vision angle, which produces that mindblowing 3D effect. Sometimes the surface gets a bit awkward and superimposing two different images onto each other leads to some inaccuracies, but such patches are rare.

Of course, the image accuracy depends on where you are. Europe and Africa are kind of lame as is much as East Asia, but North America, Australia and some places in the Americas are fairly well covered. In the hi-res zones (whose number is growing every day), you can easily go down below 5000ft, flip the angle and fly over the shoreline like an eagle.


One of those places where the Satellite images have been updated recently and swell conditions are not as good as before. It’s pretty likely that the new images won’t be as good because generally when visibility is good it means a high pressure rules the area, which usually means flatter conditions.


Famous North Sydney beach, looking good, but with countless surfers in the lineup.

Of course the high points are the high-res zones shot on a day when there was swell and an offshore wind (New Zealand’s Taranaki area, for instance, is great, but sadly onshore). Try places like Southern California (Blacks, Trestles, etc.) or Rincon in Puerto Rico, Sumba in Indonesia or Sydney beaches where you can clearly see the wave lines, count the surfers and even recognise cars in the parking lot.

Once you’ve checked a surf spot, put a place-marker, type text or add your own custom pictogram, so you can come back there with a double-click. Besides altitude, your control panels give you accurate latitude/longitude (you can plug it into your GPS) with a visualisation tab going from 0 to 100% (updating, to help you see when the image is fully loaded).


Another sign of the times: that spot is already gone, born artificially and killed in its infancy.


You’ll have to really look hard for this spot. With Google Earth, the concept of a ‘secret spot’ has been changed, but I don’t think this place will ever
get crowded.

This is undoubtedly a major revolution in the quest for new surf spots. It makes me wonder if our children will ever actually find the desire to face the hassles of travelling around? On the other hand, only 10% of the world shorelines are covered, and some coastlines will be shot when it’s flat or cloudy. So, even though I’m having the trip of a lifetime here at home, I still believe in the old adage that if you don’t go, you don’t really know!

Antony “YEP” Colas is the author of the World Stormrider guides (Volume 3 coming early 2008) as well as French books Lexigliss and Oceans.Vagues.Spots. Also an inveterate traveller, he has been on 80 surf trips since 1985, including groundbreaking explorations of Pakistan,
China, Egypt and the Black and Caspian seas. He is 38 years old, lives in Guéthary, Côte Basque, France and rides a 6’8” most of the time, when not
bodysurfing, bodyboarding or longboarding.


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