Tech: Real time wave monitoring by Surf Sense

Craig Brokensha
Swellnet Analysis

OK, hypothetical time: Imagine sitting in the surf at your local break and you feel a vibration, you look down at your watch which tells you a large set will arrive in thirty seconds, it'll contain five waves, and the third wave will be the largest.

Now before you start jumping up and down - either in excitement or anger - read this article through to the end.

Sydney surfer Nathan Adler has been working on just such technology. Adler is a graduate of UNSW, where he completed an Engineering/Commerce degree and dreamt up a wild idea.

The technology is called Surf Sense and it consists of a buoy sitting a few hundred metres or so off the beach - or any reef, or rockshelf, or point. The buoy measures local wave readings and it sends live updates to anyone able to receive them.

This is possible through highly-sensitive GPS positioning, which combined with data from an Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) is able to determine centimetre-accurate ocean movements. With this it can measure individual waves and resolve multiple competing swells. The buoy has enough battery life to last for up to a month, with solar charging to allow for extended deployments.

The data can be transmitted in real time to a users device. The various information it can measure include:

  • absolute wave height
  • peak-trough height
  • steepness of the wave of both the front and back faces
  • width and/or volume of the wave
  • horizontal displacement of the water through the wave
  • speed of the wave
  • a descriptor or value representative of an overall shape (or anticipated breaking shape) of a wave
  • as well as other qualitative/quantitative characteristics

If you're thinking Surf Sense is much like a hi resolution buoy then you're on the right track. Rather than 'regional' buoys with delayed data, Surf Sense is highly specific and in real time. It can also be calibrated for various uses and/or surf breaks.

Of greatest interest - or concern, depending upon which way you look at it - is the ability to decipher how many waves are in an approaching set, which is the biggest wave, and how does it compare to previous sets.

For surfers the applications are obvious (though logistically very difficult), however some potential applications are altruistic. Rock fisherman, or even people who work near the ocean, would get a heads up about approaching sets and prepare accordingly.

The buoy has already been tested off Bondi, and it's now positioned off Snapper Rocks collecting data in the lead up and during the Quiksilver Pro. The data won't be available to any of the competitors or the WSL but will be monitored closely to correlate the observed data and subsequent wave scoring potential as the set hits the Superbank.

Beyond its usefulness to recreational surfers, it's in the competitve arena that Surf Sense provides some exciting possibilities. Properly applied, it becomes another tool for WSL commentators to build suspense and weigh in on judging decisions, and for webcast producers to plan ad breaks.

Comments

Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin commented Friday, 9 Mar 2018 at 9:31am

Anyone get the feeling that the altruistic applications of this tech are just a tacked on justification for another device developed purely to line the pockets of an individual at the expense of the furthered deterioration of the surfing experience ?

Should be exclusively tested at the inventors home beach for a decade or so and give everyone in the lineup a free receiving device and then let him enjoy surfing amongst a line up consisting entirely of crew picking the eyes out of every set without fail.

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Friday, 9 Mar 2018 at 9:51am

Very hard to see the commercial application of this tech getting any legs amongst recreational surfers. Gonna cost a lot to produce and just how many surfers at each break would be willing to pay? The fewer users there are the more it costs, those wave buoys ain't cheap, so you're talking many thousands of dollars per user.

donweather's picture
donweather's picture
donweather commented Friday, 9 Mar 2018 at 12:51pm

Not sure the costs would be that high at very crowded locations like the Goldy. And I have no doubt many of the golder surfers would jump on this tech to get the jump on the other guys in the surf as to when and what wave is the best in the set.

willywonty's picture
willywonty's picture
willywonty commented Friday, 9 Mar 2018 at 1:21pm

plenty of rich selfish people/surfers around, they'll prob start selling a jetski/smart buoy combo deal with a receiver built into the ski's dashboard thingo... still, im sure id use it if someone gave me one!

savanova's picture
savanova's picture
savanova commented Friday, 9 Mar 2018 at 1:57pm

Boo yea

Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin commented Friday, 9 Mar 2018 at 10:03am

Nice subtly , Stu.

So if I’m reading between the lines correctly you want me to meet you at the beach with the buoy at the stroke of midnight clad in a balaclava and a skin tight black Lycra suit armed with a homemade incendiary device , a pair of flippers and a few bottles of Stones Green ginger to bolster our reslolve.

Of course I’ll have depilated and exfoliated every hair and follicle from my body in readiness for our romantic moonlight interlude ....er , I mean to throw off the forensic squad. Yeah that’s why my legs will be waxed.

50young's picture
50young's picture
50young commented Friday, 9 Mar 2018 at 10:10am

Bahahaha

50young's picture
50young's picture
50young commented Friday, 9 Mar 2018 at 10:16am

Stu you may need a few shots of tequila I think!!! Just loosening him up for you Blowin ;)

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Friday, 9 Mar 2018 at 10:19am

It's midnight, you're dressed in lycra, shaven, got a belly full of Stones, and a big fuck off bunger between your teeth as you swim out to sea. It'll be the perfect crime.

simba's picture
simba's picture
simba commented Friday, 9 Mar 2018 at 11:26am

Shorten the wick maybe?...

simba

crg's picture
crg's picture
crg commented Friday, 9 Mar 2018 at 12:41pm

As a safety device it has some value obviously, but really, do we want to pre program our surfing experience to a text message to our watch. FFS.

eat-your-vegies's picture
eat-your-vegies's picture
eat-your-vegies commented Friday, 9 Mar 2018 at 1:07pm

I’m sure the knobs with JetSkis at Kirra would just love this tech .

dr-surf's picture
dr-surf's picture
dr-surf commented Friday, 9 Mar 2018 at 2:51pm

How does this help me deal with Mal Riders and Drop Ins?

Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin commented Friday, 9 Mar 2018 at 3:03pm

It’ll help by letting every mal rider know exactly when to paddle that extra 10 metres past you for the set of the day whilst giving drop ins ample time to position themselves down the line in readiness for the best wave you’ll catch all session.

Does that help ?

Sprout's picture
Sprout's picture
Sprout commented Friday, 9 Mar 2018 at 3:48pm

Fuck me, just "surf" in a pool if you want surfing to be like that.

saltyheaven's picture
saltyheaven's picture
saltyheaven commented Friday, 9 Mar 2018 at 5:58pm

Double post

velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno commented Friday, 9 Mar 2018 at 5:09pm

Mk1 Eyeball sees sets approaching at 40 seconds plus warning.

Should people not learn to use other reefs/features as indicators? ie if reef X is bombing up with a set I'm downswell on reef Y, or beachy Z and that set will be here in 2 minutes 30 seconds?

geoffrey's picture
geoffrey's picture
geoffrey commented Friday, 9 Mar 2018 at 5:30pm

That would require common sense! apparently they don't throw that in for free anymore. If this shit took off and started to have a negative out in the surf it would undoubtedly be very easy to vandalize the buoys and that is exactly what will happen. Ever seen those speed cameras with shotgun dents in the side of them?

rooftop's picture
rooftop's picture
rooftop commented Friday, 9 Mar 2018 at 5:38pm

You bastards.

Still there's an upside: the economic model is doomed to fail.

I mean, sure, we could all fork out big bucks for our very own receivers.

Or we could just keep a close eye on the one guy that does.

simba's picture
simba's picture
simba commented Friday, 9 Mar 2018 at 6:47pm

and then drop in on him......

simba

frog's picture
frog's picture
frog commented Friday, 9 Mar 2018 at 5:47pm

Looking forward to this entering the history books as a failure. Good for blind surfers only.

Picture a stupid buoy out the back, surfers with some bloody watch on with an app that they look at endlessly totally distracted from the surf experience or perhaps a computerised voice saying:

"warning, set approaching, 1.36 metres average height , 3rd wave is 0.2 metres larger than average wave height"

Please tech heads we don't need an app for everything in our lives. We have eyes and brains.

Part of surfing is to get away from that stuff.

Frogg

Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin commented Friday, 9 Mar 2018 at 5:49pm

Finally a bit of synergy for my Samsung internet board.

Average's picture
Average's picture
Average commented Friday, 9 Mar 2018 at 8:54pm

"Yeah, yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn't stop to think if they should." - Dr. Ian Malcolm, Jurassic Park (1993)

morg's picture
morg's picture
morg commented Saturday, 10 Mar 2018 at 8:24am

I can’t see that it will make much difference in the line up because it would just let you know what you learn from 20 mins or so of observation. The guys who know the local indicators will still get all the waves. Knowing real time info such as 5 foot, 2nd wave biggest, 3 wave sets every 9 minutes, would be a good addition to the Swellnet reports.

Ellen's clam's picture
Ellen's clam's picture
Ellen's clam commented Sunday, 11 Mar 2018 at 4:59pm

Coming soon to the watch section of your local shitcurl store.

alexha's picture
alexha's picture
alexha commented Monday, 12 Mar 2018 at 11:50am

" tickets please "
not good for surfing - breeding skilless kooks & sensitising respect for the ocean

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