New Innovations and Technology in Surfing 2.

Welcome to the second installment in our ongoing series looking at the impact and influence of New Innovations and Technology in Surfing. This article is in 4 parts:

· Man-Made Surf Breaks

· Wetsuits

· The Claw

· Foils

Man-Made Surf Breaks

A scientist might call them “submerged surfing topographies.” What they mean is, the different ocean floors topographies affect the way waves break. While beach breaks tend to be somewhat unpredictable, with many small peaks that shift with the sandbars, reef breaks are very consistent. A wave breaking off a solid rock or coral reef looks very similar today as it did 20, 50 or even hundreds of years ago.

When a wave rolling along encounters a reef, the lower part of the wave’s energy drags against the reef and slows down. The top part of the wave’s energy continues moving at the same speed and that is why it starts tipping forward, eventually breaking. The more dramatic the reef, the faster this process happens. If it is fast enough, the wave will break hollow. Sandbag Reefs like Pratte’s Reef in Los Angeles need to be really big to do anything of real value.

Surfers have known this for years.

The SuperBank – Gold Coast, Australia

Artificial reef

The SuperBank – © 2018 – Juan Medina

In the early 1990s, the Gold Coast was home to a chain of three right-hand point breaks: Snapper Rocks, Greenmount, and Kirra. Together with Burleigh Heads, these famous right-hand point waves essentially put the Gold Coast city on the world surfing map. In 1995, the government built a sand bypass system, which pumped sand out of the mouth of Tweed River onto the northern beaches in order to stabilise beach erosion and keep the river mouth safe for boat passage.

The relocated sand began drifting with swells and currents, and 10 years later had extended the area of the beaches by almost 200 meters in some cases. Technically speaking, this destroyed a world-class wave, as what used to be Kirra is now covered in sandy sunbathers.

But many of the locals don’t really mind, because the ultimate sandbar (known as the “SuperBank”) now extends from the top of Snapper Rocks, through Rainbow Bay to Greenmount, and past Coolangatta Beach and Kirra, providing potential rides in excess of two kms. While the bank changes with the seasons, when it’s perfect, people are said to have scored two-minute rides from the top of Snapper all the way through Kirra.

This year at the Quicksilver Pro the SuperBank showed the world what an epic surf spot it can be. Cyclone Linda swung south from the Coral Sea to really deliver one of those epic swells and perfect conditions.

Artificial Reef

Joel Parkinson and a moment of timeless beauty in a SuperBank barrel during the Quicksilver Pro 2018

Ala Moana Bowls – Oahu, Hawaii

Artificial Reef

Ala Moana Bowls

Ala Moana Bowls is arguably the best south swell wave on Oahu, a left-hander rolling in to a barrelling bowl that spits its guts out into the channel running along the south side of Magic Island.

When it’s on, half the population of Oahu is there, but most have no idea that the wave was created when a channel was dredged in the reef to create safe access to Ala Wai Harbor.

Next time you are spat out of a beauty at Ala Moana Bowls, give thanks to the local government for creating such surfing beauty.

Sandspit – California, USA

Artificial reef

Sandspit – © 2018 – Eric Elliott Photography

Most of surfing’s favourite mistakes involve sand, and Sandspit is no exception. In 1929, a breakwater was built to protect the Santa Barbara Harbor, and over time, the natural north-to-south flow of sand was interrupted.

That sand had to go somewhere, and that somewhere was the west side of the breakwater. Today, on the rarest of huge west swells, the accidental sandbar known a Sandspit turns into a mutant, below-sea-level freak of a right-hander—the prize of Santa Barbara County. Crowded? Frustratingly. Plagued by backwash? Infamously. One of the best waves in California? Definitely.

Wetsuits

Jack O’Neill, a Northern California surfing icon invented the modern wetsuit, ultimately propelling the sport into a worldwide phenomenon, died at the grand old age of 94. O’Neill said at the time his friends didn’t have much faith in his invention, which ultimately changed the sport forever, enabling people to surf in places previously impossible, such as Scotland, Iceland and Norway.

Wetsuit

Jack O’Neill

“All my friends said, ‘O’Neill, you will sell to five friends on the beach and then you will be out of business,'” he would remark, according to his family. By the 1980s, O’Neill had become the world’s largest recreation wetsuit designer and manufacturer and the O’Neill surf brand had reached Australia, Europe, Japan and other corners of the globe.

The technological advances in wetsuits have been enormous however not really obvious to the untrained eye. The development of wetsuit technologies has enabled the enormous expansion of surfing locations previously almost impossible to surf due to the cold temperatures and the old heavy suits used which created such restrictions as to make it impossible to surf some of the epic huge waves now surfed in frigid locations like Ship’s Stern in Tasmania and places like Norway, Ireland and Iceland.

Some of the advances in technology and design include:

Sustainability

Wetsuits can now be made from sustainable materials and not just the standard oil-based neoprene of the past. Patagonia has worked with Yulex, an agricultural-based biomaterials company to develop the Patagonia Yulex R2 Front-Zip. The suits are made from guayule plants, which Yulex states is a sustainable, industrial crop that does not compete with food or fiber crops.

Warmer

You can now surf in colder waters thanks to high-tech suit linings that better trap heat. Look at Xcel, who uses Thermo Dry Celliant (TDC), a technology with mineral enhanced smart fibres where body heat is recycled into infrared energy and directed back into the skin and muscle.

Quick Dry

Quick dry linings from Xcel and flash lining from Ripcurl cut down the wait for the suit to dry. In addition, the lining also makes the suit warmer, though it may make it a little less flexible.

Shark Safe

Swim safer with suits made from technology developed by SAMS (Shark Attack Mitigation Systems). The new suits, developed by Radiator, are designed with a special striped pattern that either hides the wearer in the water column, or makes the wearer not look like shark prey.

Buoyant

New tech is making suits more buoyant, improving the water rescue and disabled swimmer experience. Designed by Airtime Watertime, the Floater™ suit has a patented panel built into the suit to make the swimmer float higher in the water, allowing the user to swim faster with half the effort, or to float and tread water with no effort.

Nature Inspired

Future wetsuit tech will be inspired by nature. MIT researchers have developed new materials to perfect wetsuits, modeled after beavers. The new materials will be lighter, more sustainable, warmer, and dryer than neoprene wetsuits, and will help you shed water more easily. While no suits have been manufactured yet, Sheico Group and Patagonia are looking into the new technology.

The Claw

The Claw is the latest invention by Aussie Surf Products to solve the age-old problem of how to comfortably and safely carry your board to the surf (www.theclaw.biz). Over the ages, many different techniques have been developed to assist with the issue of how to carry a surfboard, particularly the larger ones. For the typical big strong, bronzed surfer it wasn’t a big issue, in fact it was a symbol of superiority to be big and strong enough. However, with the advent of the changing surfing demographics these big strong guys only represented a small percentage of the whole surfing community globally. People who are smaller, shorter, less strong or getting older are all facing this problem.

Some of the current board carrying techniques are:

  • The head carry
  • The hip carry
  • The double up
  • The 2 person carry
  • Shoulder straps
  • Pull trailer
  • New – The Claw

Surfboard Carrying

Surfboard Carrying

 

Finally, it’s become easy to carry your board anywhere! “The Claw”, is strong, reliable, secure, light, comfortable and super simple.

It’s easy to use and simple in appearance, this handle seemed almost too simple; however, the design and finished product evolved from a lengthy and detailed design and testing process. It had to have many attributes such as:

1. Very light weight

2. Floats if dropped in the water

3. Can go surfing with you by strapping it into the Rail-Saver on your leash (leg-rope)

4. Easy grip to hold on to

5. Wide holding area so there is no balancing problems, just pick up the board and go

6. Comfortable to carry and control the board due to the shape (fingers and knuckles not touching the board) and the use of flexible materials

7. Non slip grip on the board (EVA strips) so the board won’t slide out

8. Enough length to enable almost anyone to comfortably and easily reach across the board

9. Bright vibrant colours to look great but also be easy to see if it is dropped

10. Fully recyclable material (not disposable plastic rubbish)

11. Strong and tough – tested to 100kg

12. Long lasting, not a disposable commodity

13. Affordable pricing – to be an everyday commodity for surfers

The advantages over the other carrying methods are obvious with no need for complex or bulky extra equipment and absolutely simple and comfortable to use.

Carrying a surfboard, board buddy, rail grabber

The Claw

Foils

A foilboard or hydrofoil board is a surfboard with a hydrofoil that extends below the board into the water. … Laird Hamilton, a prominent figure in the invention of big wave tow-in surfing, discovered the foilboard’s capability to harness swell energy with the use of a jet ski, pulling the rider into a wave.

Foilboard

Laird Hamilton

For most of us, surfing means catching a wave, standing up, and maybe doing a few turns. It requires a board between five and 11 feet long, as well as often endless waiting for the perfect combination of tide, swell, and wind. Stand-up paddling has made it easier to catch small waves by adding the power of the paddle and the momentum of a big, heavy board to the wave-riding equation.

A hybrid of surfing and hydrofoil technology, foil surfing replaces the traditional fin at the bottom of a surfboard with a much longer, hydrodynamically designed fin called a blade. That blade is longer than the fin on an average surfboard and has wings at its base.

When the board moves forward, the wings lift the board out of the water, revealing much of the blade, as well. Foil surfers literally glide above the surface and can perform tighter turns due to the smaller surface area in contact with the water.

Along the way, regular surfers figured out that foil boards harness a lot more of the ocean’s energy than regular boards, and they don’t lose that energy to the friction that happens when a board is in contact with the water. Moreover, the boards can literally be pumped up and down to generate more energy, sort of like how pumping your legs on a swing generates more back and forth energy.

Neither foil surfing’s extra maneuverability nor the novelty of gliding above the water are its main selling points (though Hamilton has said it “feels like flying”). Rather, it’s the promise of being able to surf in places that are otherwise unsurfable. The same airplane technology that causes the board to lift out of the water also means it easily gathers enough momentum from whitewater for the rider to keep surfing in small surf, or no surf at all.

After catching a wave, it’s even possible to turn around and, still standing, ride the board away from the beach, instead of paddling out. But avoiding a tiring paddle is far from foil surfing’s only advantage when it comes to surfing the unsurfable; because foil surfing can be done almost everywhere, foil surfers can avoid crowded lineups and make the most of whatever conditions are on offer elsewhere. Skeptical? Earlier this year, Hawaiian surfer Kai Lenny caught 11 waves in a row in six minutes on a hydrofoil, breaking his own personal record.

Keep watching our blog space for more Surfing Technology and Innovations articles.

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