Predictions for the year, predictions for the decade
Here at Swellnet we don't do listicles, just never been our bag. Yet with the old decade rolling over into the new one, it's given us pause to stop and think about surfing in 2020 and beyond. Not just in an abstract way, but specific developments or events, each of them listed.
So, have a listicle!
Keep in mind, the following are predictions about the future; mere guesses at what will happen. Yet with utmost certainty I can tell you two things about the future:
- If something on this list comes true I'll be quoting myself.
- If something on this list is proven wrong it will suddenly disappear.
Also, there's nothing in here about jet surfboards. That pic on the homepage is just clickbait.
Feel free to add your own predictions in the comments.
Softboards go high tech:
A few years back there was a stalemate between softboard manufacturers and council lifeguards. At issue was the use of softboards between the flags, and for a short time they were at risk of being outlawed across all NSW beaches, which could easily have spread to Queensland, to Victoria, and right around Australia.
However, coastal councils have since stepped back from a uniform response and the demand for softboards has boomed. Like deck grips and SUPs before them, anyone with knowledge of Alibaba - the Chinese manufacturing conglomerate website - can start a softboard company, and in the closing years of the decade over a dozen companies hit the market.
Yet for a culture as creative as surfing, bulbous planshapes and rotund rails were never gonna last in a market that’s plateaued. As far as I can tell Mick Fanning led the way with fully rounded rails on a softboard and now Haydenshapes has upped the ante with a soft Hypto Krypto using shaped rails and internal parabolic stringers.
In the future expect to read about softboards made of increasingly tech material, and which feature concave, late entry rocker, reactive flex, and all the terms that currently confound you about standard surfboards.
Man meets rock:
Does Mason Ho’s health insurance company know?
About his videos that is. The ones were he scoffs at danger, playing chicken with rock and reef as if it’s made out of nerf, or that he is. A quick glance over his catalogue shows Mason getting ever closer to disaster, driven by border fatigue or just plain boredom, and I can’t see it ending well.
It’s the one prediction on this list that I hope doesn’t come true.
The end of skate style:
Want to display your street cred to other surfers? Start correcting their terminology whenever a surfer does an air.
“Pffft...it wasn’t a 360 judo, it was a 540 dish licker.”
“No way it was a picadilly, he held it for over a second so it was a rawhide.”
And yeah I get the history: skaters paid homage to Bertleman so we should extend the same courtesy to skaters, but go and look at the airs Italo and Fil and Gabs are doing now. They’re the biggest and bolshiest airs the surf world has ever seen and they’ve got zero to do with skating. They have no obscure grabs or spins, and they’re not described by degrees of rotation.
This year, Italo won the Red Bull Airborne by consistently greasing big, functional surfing airs, and like his Brazilian brethren he pays no heed to skate style in or out of the water, no pulled up Stance socks, Vans old school, and other fashion markers.
The outlier is JJF, but as his latest knee injury was the result of a boned out air in Bali, he’ll also drop the tweaks and plant himself more evenly to avoid injury. It’s the beginning of the end of skate style in surf.
The boom and bust of wavepools:
In the first month of the new decade, Australia’s first commercial wavepool opened its doors to the public. URBNSURF at Tullamarine, Melbourne, uses Wavegarden technology and is a far cry from the lengthy perfection Kelly Slater revealed to the world in 2015.
Without a wealthy benefactor to prop it up, URBNSURF is immediately beholden to commercial constraints and is designed with those in mind. Think cheap(ish) land, lots of breaking waves, servicing lots of paying customers. The first and second point are vitally important, especially here in Australia where real estate is expensive, even more so on the coast, and populations are stuffed into a few concentrated hubs.
With construction price tags in the tens of millions, the operators will have to get the balance right, but complicating matters is the emergence of a number of players, each with their eyes across multiple parts of Australia, and there are simply not enough surfers to keep them all solvent. Nor will wavepools create hordes of new surfers: the costs of wavepool lessons are prohibitively high, and being contingent on land costs, labor, and energy, they’ll never come down.
Like drive-ins of the 60s and 70s, and theme parks of the 80s and 90s, expect to see wavepools boom and bust as the competition gets whittled down to those who nail the dismal science of economics. God help us all...
And now for a forecast about forecasts:
According to Ben Matson, surfers shouldn’t expect the accuracy of short-term computer generated surf forecasts to improve a great deal in the coming years.
“Surf forecasts are a fourth-generation product. They’re derived from an initial computer model prediction of the atmosphere’s mean sea level pressure, which produces a surface wind forecast, which is then ingested into a wave model. We use that wave model data to produce a surf forecast.”
“As such, the accuracy of an automated surf forecast is largely dependent on the accuracy of the initial atmospheric source data. Whilst these weather model forecasts are always improving, the annual improvement rate is gradually slowing.”
Though the accuracy of day to day forecasts is slowing down, Ben sees improvements elsewhere: “I do however see advancements in the development of longer term surf forecasts, such as seasonal outlooks, which will be handy for an ever more flexible workforce.”
From the foam dust appear green shoots:
Ten years ago the domestic surfboard industry was facing annihilation from the Asian onslaught. Remarkably, the local industry not only weathered that assault, but has since gone on to consolidate their place here.
Oh, there’s been a shakedown, a complete restructuring of the manufacturing process, but a mix of savvy marketing by key labels, and a continuing desire for customs - and the flexibility to machine-cut those customs - means many shapers are now certain of their future.
Even better, many board labels are expanding into surf wear. Over the last decade the old surf industry, led by Quiksilver, Billabong, Hurley et al, have decoupled from their base. Now owned by private equity firms and hedge funds, they’re surf companies in name only.
Expect a split to form between surf wear and surf fashion - where you buy it, what it looks like - with a cottage industry rising on the back of board shapers.
OK, maybe this one is more wilfull thinking than objective forecast, but it can happen if surfers make it.
The medium is the message:
Television didn’t kill radio, compact discs didn’t kill vinyl, and the internet wont kill print. New media supersedes the old but it doesn’t wipe it out.
The age of print media is fading, however the titles that remain are still there for a reason: they have a particular readership who like what they produce. Though the magazines will never again be widely read, never again influence surf culture, there’ll always be print readers, just as there were always vinyl enthusiasts. Knowing the niche, then giving readers what they want is important, but only one part of the puzzle.
Moving to a subscription model is the other. As the internet behemoths keep hoovering up ad dollars, a healthy database of subscribers is necessary to stay afloat, and on that score websites are in the same boat.
In the coming years expect the audience to fracture even further as more websites move to a subscription model - or a version of it - as ad dollars dry up and privacy/data mining issues abound.
To date, ‘organic’ has really only applied to food, but just as last decade introduced the concept of the ‘sustainable’ product, next decade will see the rise of ‘organic’ manufacturing as living matter makes its way into the manufacturing process.
Wetsuits made from rubber or vegetable gums, deck grip made from algae, resin made from plant matter, all these things currently exist and will be expanded upon in the coming decade to meet market demands and comply with government restrictions.
Yet just as sustainable never fully meant sustainable, organic won’t always offer what it promises, as organic materials are mixed with traditionally toxic compounds. Perhaps ‘less harmful’ is a better descriptor, though a far less catchy buzzword.
Now for a deep dive into the coming decade. Exactly a century ago German chemist Hermann Staudinger wrote a landmark paper titled ‘Uber Polymerisation’ that became the foundation of polymer science and the soon-to-boom field of plastics.
In the ensuing hundred years, plastics shifted from rarity to ubiquity, and the qualities that make them so ideal: cheap to manufacture, hard to destroy, means that the world is now drowning in plastic pollution, much of it generated by surfboards, legropes, and wetsuits.
From a small industrial estate at Somersby, in the NSW Central Coast hinterland, a project has been conducted that will drastically reduce plastic pollution over the coming decade.
The Cat-HTR platform was invented by Dr Len Humphreys and Professor Thomas Maschmeyer. It can recycle almost every plastic, reverting it to common constituent ingredients for subsequent use as petrol, or to be recycled again into other plastics.
Unlike now, where plastic recycling relies on separation into various streams, Cat-HTR can take mix stream waste and reduce it all to its original state. Following a successful proof of concept, Humphreys and Maschmeyer will soon begin building full scale Cat-HTR plants, the first in England where they say the government grants and policy environment are much more favourable than in Australia.
Regardless, Cat-HTR will revolutionise plastic use, and knowing surfboards can be recycled, as can the plastic waste currently clogging waterways and landfill, surfers will ride their polymer-derivative fun sticks with a touch less guilt.
Artificial reefs 2.0:
At the end of the century the last word in fake waves was artificial reefs. On the back of pioneering work by Kiwi company Artificial Surfing Reefs (ASR), reefs were built at Mount Maunganui, Bournemouth, Kerala, and Narrowneck. All were abject failures for surfing.
Two decades later, and following incidents of severe erosion on both our east and west coasts, artificial reefs are well and truly back on the discussion table.
The factors contributing to erosion are many: structures built on the dunes, changing coastal vegetation, and intermittent longshore drift due to climatic factors, and as coastal real estate skyrockets so to do damage costs.
It’s no secret that the recent Palm Beach Artificial Reef - AKA Mortensen’s Reef - got over the line via wealthy residents living on the lee side of it, however the desire to emulate it will be strong. In each future erosion event, the Palm Beach reef will be laid down as a possible solution, and by the end of the decade Australia will have a number of Multi Purpose Reefs around the country.
Also, as the number of surfers increase, councils will be pressured to provide for them in the same way they build skateparks and footy fields. Last month, the tender for Albany artificial reef was won by a company led by surfers Evan Watterson and James Lewis.
The Albany reef will play no role in erosion mitigation, it’s purely recreational. If it works as intended then it’ll become the blueprint for further reefs.
What’s a forecast without the Wozzle?
In the coming years, the WSL will maintain their consistent, high quality webcast productions. They’ll also maintain a revolving conga line of sponsors and strange branding partnerships, each sold on the surfing idyll before the reality of dwindling web traffic kicks in and they exercise their exit clause.
In 2023 the World Surf League will have been in private hands for a decade, and despite unprecedented webcast quality and Olympic inclusion, it’ll have made no significant inroads into the mainstream, limited, as always, by the same old barrier: non-surfers just don’t care. Hell, many surfers don’t either.
Regardless, Dirk Ziff will keep propping it up, Kelly will be going for one more lap, Charlie will be brooding on the shoreline, and we’ll keep questioning the judges. Not much of a stretch really.
Enter the non endemics:
That revolving conga line of sponsors I mentioned above? The Wozzle won’t be the only ones getting serviced. With surfing guaranteed for two appearances at the Olympics, the cool by association link has never been stronger, and with the surf industry writhing in a pit of private equity cost cutting, the time has never been better for a sharp manager to sign their talent to a non-endemic brand.
Over the next four years, that is, at least up till Paris 2024, expect to see stickers gracing the beak of pro boards you’ve never seen before. Supermarkets. Computer games. Banks. By the same token, expect to see surfers appear in ever more peculiar ad campaigns.
The Wozzle wont make the mainstream, but their surfers will.