Let’s be honest for a second—surfers aren’t exactly known for being brilliant scholars, let alone scientists and inventors. Indeed, the public perception of wave riders is more in line with Jeff Spicoli than it is Cliff Kapono. But that’s not to say that there aren’t a couple of modern-day Thomas Edison’s in our frothed-out community.
They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and as far as we are concerned, the ability to surf every day is about as close to a necessity as there is in life, so it’s no surprise that a handful of clever, surf-focused innovations have popped up over the years. From webcams to wetsuits to the original foam/glass surfboard, we’ve all benefited from the creativity of surfing’s mad scientists over the years—and as humanity continues to increase its scientific knowledge, there’s no telling what new technology we’ll enjoy 10 years from now.
For now, here’s a list of seven pieces of surf-tech that will help shape the face of surfing in 2021.
1) Drone Safety
In the old days, surfers were a hard-core lot who didn’t seem to mind danger—at least that’s how we liked to portray ourselves to the public. We’d paddle out into huge, sketchy, sharky conditions with a devil-may-care attitude, happy to risk our own safety for a chance at a life-changing wave. That’s admirable to some extent, I guess, but also a bit ridiculous—particularly today, when a variety of technological advances have made it possible to surf much more safely. Drones are one tool that can help mitigate risk, affording lifeguards and other rescue personnel with an aerial view that helps spot nearby sharks, injured surfers, and other hazards.
2) Surf Lakes’ Industrial Plunger
Surf Lakes took a lot of flack when they first revealed their crazy-looking plunger pool—especially when it broke halfway through media day. But the unique wave pool technology has come a long way since then. These days, it’s bigger and better than ever—and scheduled for development in a number of locations around the world. And it’s easy to understand why.
The ability to create numerous concentric waves per minute, with each wave hitting half a dozen surf breaks spread throughout the pool, makes this the most efficient and varied of all the surf pool designs. The fact that Surf Lakes has included a legit slab peak doesn’t hurt, either. See HERE for more info.
3) Shark Repellent
There are a wide range of different shark repellents on the market, including those that can be worn on the body, mounted on boards, and used in any number of different ways. Some have proven to be more effective than others, but we are a fan of them all. Sharks are one of the few safety factors in surfing that we can’t control, and loom large in the nightmares of many ocean-going enthusiasts. Anything that can lessen the chance of an attack—no matter how insignificantly—helps us sleep easier at night.
4) Smart Watches
The Internet of Things may sound like some dorky, futuristic concept better left to landlubbers who don’t have riding waves as their priority, but the reality is that most of us now use smart devices in a wide variety of waves, including for communication, the streamlining of our chores and responsibilities, downloading forecasts, tides, and wind reports, and even checking surf cams. Smart watches are the latest device being customised for surfers, such as the watch from Weret, which combines a variety of surf-forecasting features and a comprehensive app with a classy, timeless, analog aesthetic. The best part? Weret partners directly with magicseaweed, which means that you literally have our top surf forecasters beaming real-time data straight to your wrist, and, oh, it only needs charging a few times per year.
5) Innovative, Eco-Friendly Wetsuits
Apart from the actual boards that we ride, wetsuits might be the single most important invention in the world of surfing, having opened up nearly 2/3 of the world’s coastlines that were previously unsurfable due to water and air temperatures. And throughout the decades, our neoprene suits have only gotten better and better, reducing weight while improving flexibility and insulation, and occasionally finding new ways to be a little less environmentally toxic. Billabong’s recent eco-conscious wetsuit line is only the latest in a long list of wetsuit improvements, and will certainly not be the last.
6) Inflatable Vests
While big wave inflatable vests are nothing new—Shane Dorian inspired the creation of the first one over a decade ago—what is new is the widespread availability of them. No longer only accessible by the big wave elite, vests from a number of brands (including Patagonia, Quiksilver, and even Jeff Clark) can be purchased by the everyman surfer (if you consider anyone who paddles out in waves that justify a PSI suite an “everyman”).
The costs and benefits of this widespread availability have been debated over the years, with some suggesting that inflation vests encourage underprepared surfers to paddle out in waves they can’t handle and take a “go straight and inflate” mentality. Ultimately, however, the added safety that these vests provide outweigh any potential negatives. As barriers continue to be pushed when it comes to big wave surfing, anything that helps bring everyone home safely at the end of the day is a win in our book.
7) High-Tech Board Materials
Talk to any shaper worth his salt, and he’ll tell you that while board design evolved radically between 1950 and 2010, the actual construction process and materials used hardly progressed at all. Even today, the majority of boards are still built exactly as they were more than half a century ago—mowing a polyurethane foam blank, then laminating it with fibreglass and polyester resin. However, over the past 10 years or so there has been a shift by a number of board manufacturers toward a variety of epoxy/EPS alternatives—not the popouts of the early 2000s, but high-performance, custom epoxy boards that are shaped by hand and maintain the comfortable PU feel while improving strength and decreasing weight.
The various options include hand-laminated boards with carbon-fibre inlays, sandwich construction with balsa rails, Thunderbolt’s longboards with custom flex built in through a variety of parabolic stringers, and just about anything else a laminator can dream up in that resin-fume fog of his. What this means for the rest of us is that not only can we look forward to a bunch of new shapes in 2021, but also a wide range of material and construction options. In other words, there’s never been a better time to buy a surfboard.
Cover shot from Surf Lakes as part of this feature.