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Techno Surfing
How Technology Changes
the Way We Surf

By Bill Polick, Editor

Dave using cell phone

Our trip to Costa Rica was a step back to the 60s.  None of our dozen surfers brought cell phones or lap top computers.  The hotels we stayed in did not have 21st century comm centers like you find in Hiltons or Marriott's or Sheratons.  What we had was a tide chart and, occasionally, CNN International for weather.
When we wanted to know what the surf was like at Tamarindo, we walked across the street and through the trees to look at it.  When we anted up the money to charter a boat to haul us to Witch's Rock and Ollie's, we took our chances that we wouldn't be skunked.


In the 1950s or 60s we went to our favorite beach and rode what was there.  If we were on a "Surfin' Safari," we drove up or down the coast looking for a spot that was breaking.  At best, we called a friend who lived near some beach or other and asked if it was going off.  When I lived in Puerto Rico, we thought nothing of taking off Friday after work, driving late into the night, to see if there were waves 100 miles away at the other end of the island.  Sometimes there was, sometimes not. 

That changed, especially in urban coastal areas around the world, as technology developed.  The development of affordable facsimile machine and improvements in computers created a new way of predicting the surf  at Cape St. Francis, Pipeline, Gold Coast or Malibu from your living room.

By the mid 1990s, dozens of Internet sites joined subscription services such as Wave Fax in providing surf forecasts based on real- or recent-time marine science.  Research facilities such as Scripps Institute of Technology in San Diego, CA, and  Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts,  were offering links to swell models and satellite images of coastlines around the world.  

This information makes planning a surf trip either (A) easier, or (B) extremely more complicated.  Easier if you understand what the swell models, buoy reports, tide charts and other information mean.  Extremely more difficult if you don't know what they mean.

With miniaturization of cellular telephones also changes surfing patterns.  With palm-size units carried in a pocket or on a belt, one set of surfers heads in one direction, another in the opposite direction.  When the waves are good at one of the spots, the call's made and the group rejoins.

How much technology is left?  Will GPS devices or mini computers be mounted in surfboard decks to predict set intervals or wave periods.  Will they measure hydrodynamics to tell a rider how efficiently he or she is paddling for the wave and how many more strokes/minute are needed to catch it?  Will surfers want these?  

Maybe.  Maybe not.