The Dark Art of Scoring

There’s a saying amongst fishermen that 1% of the anglers catch 99% of the fish. I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to find the parallels in surfing. Sure, anyone can find a wave to ride almost any day of the week, but to really score, to consistently maximise the amount of great and epic sessions, is the preserve of a very select group. 

Whilst the definition of scoring is subjective to suit the tastes and abilities of all surfers, I’m specifically referring to the type of sessions which grace the insides of magazines. Waves of quality. Waves which can range from uncrowded and hollow beachbreak peaks all the way to thunderous deep water reefs.

If you’ve ever wondered how in hell Nic von Rupp appears to surf every session in better waves than you’ve ever laid eyes on, then I think I may be able to help. This guide won’t guarantee you’ll never surf another dud wave, though it will hopefully put a bit of ground between yourself and the hordes of mindless punters banging rails in the aquatic version of dodgem cars at Metro Beach X every Saturday morning.

If you are ready to expand your wave count in quality waves then here’s a few tips to help get you started:

1) Get Off Your Arse

No-one ever got the tube of their life whilst laying on the lounge covered in biscuit crumbs and happy tissues. Step one in the Dark Art of Scoring is to get proactive. This might involve waking before dawn, it might involve travel and unless your name is Joel Parkinson or Mick Fanning it will definitely involve thinking and planning your surf sessions as opposed to simply rolling into your allocated parking spot fronting the world class break you are about to dominate.

In the words of one not-so-great Australian, “Have a go to get a go.”

All photos taken by the master of the dark art, Craig Brokensha

2) The Knowledge 

Whathever zone you are currently surfing, you should make it your mission to know that zone like the back of your hand. London taxi drivers were famously required to pass a test known as The Knowledge whereby they’d have to memorise every street and location within the CBD. Consider yourself under prepared if you don’t aim for the surf break equivalent of The Knowledge in the area you are surfing. Learn the location of every break and the conditions they require to break at optimum quality. 

Make it your business to be able to mentally predict what any one of those breaks will look like by checking the ocean from any one place and know what they’ll look like with the predicted tide, wind, or swell change.

It’s your job to perform routine boundary rides to assess the quality of every sandbank within your zone. It’s incredible the way sand can accrete in places you’d never believe until you witness it yourself. Keep your eyes peeled for sand deposits alongside overlooked points, river mouth breakouts, and the island-adjacent tombolos which can appear virtually overnight. 

Nail down your trusted sources of weather and tidal information. If you can’t read a weather map yourself then find a reliable surf forecaster (like, ahem….Swellnet!) who will remove most of the guesswork from the equation. Overlay their generalised predictions on to your specialised zone of expertise and get to work.

Even if an area can be surveyed physically it pays to check it on maps or google Earth to confirm it’s alignment to wind and swell. This overview can also reveal potential locations you may have discounted due to the conditions on the day. It really needs no saying that any exploration of a new zone should be prefaced with map work.

3) Loose Lips Sink Ships AKA The Strategy of Asymmetric Information Warfare

Surfers are hunters, and hunters love nothing more than a trophy. For many the trophy is worth more than the kill. Without the ability to produce a set of twelve point antlers or a waste paper basket fashioned from a Bull Elephant’s foot, surfer’s trophies are restricted to photos and verbal accounts of epic sessions. This love of brandishing a trophy has contributed just as much to the crowded ruination of remote reefs and sneaky sandbars as it has to the species depletion of the white rhino. Just as surely as there is a hunter somewhere who would love nothing more than to accessorise his outfits with a cape made from the hide of the planet’s final remaining snow leopard, there is a surfer who cannot wait to upload their photos of The Last Uncrowded Wave On Earth to Instagram.

Don’t be that guy or gal. Ever. That is the road to ruin my friend.

This doesn’t mean that the trophy bearers aren’t useful. On the contrary I think that most of the secret spots in my quiver have come from those who can’t, simply cannot, keep their lips shut if there’s an opportunity for self-aggrandisement. Befriend the trophy hunter. Ply them with alcohol, encourage a bit of one-upmanship, boastingly feed them a chicane, and watch them play their King.

You, meanwhile, sit on your trump, if you’d permit me to run with the metaphor.

Be all ears and keep those lips sealed.

This doesn’t apply to mates who can be relied on to form a trusted quid pro quo surf spot alliance. Give these legends your treasure map in exchange for a glimpse of their own hidey holes of tubular gold.

4) Oils Ain’t Oils

You’ve got your zone mapped. You’ve got the tides, wind, and swell on lock but still you’re finding it hard to escape the mob. Now it’s time to start colouring outside the lines. First step is acknowledging that there’s wheels within wheels when it comes to quoting conditions which make a spot turn on. 

Perceived wisdom tells you that a certain break works best on a south swell. The problem with this, and the advantage to be gained, is that a south swell can refer to anything from roughly 160 degrees all the way around to 200 degrees from North. That’s a lot of scope for difference, particularly when the optimal swell direction for some of the most perfectly foiled breaks can be a matter of a ten degree swell window. Those few degrees can transform a wave from seperate sections into a seamless machine.

Alternatively, you can think outside the box and content yourself with scoring an individual section of a long wave if you know that it shines in conditions which might not light up the whole break.

Another thing to remember about swells, is that they are encouraged or restrained by the bottom over which they travel before they reach the lineup. I’m referring to the bathymetry of the ocean surrounding a break. Whilst shallow water approaching a break may bleed energy from a swell, deep water allows a wave to maintain its power and a canyon of deep water can focus that energy on a stretch of coast which may otherwise appear insipid. 

Don’t discount the ability of seemingly unrelated oceanic formation in creating amazing waves. Many a straight and featureless stretch of sand has hosted perfect peaks due to the presence of undersea structure seaward of the break. Offshore bomboras can turn a straight swell onto a plain beach into a fun park of teepees.

Tides are also wide open to variation. By now most punters with a pulse know which tide is best for most recognised breaks and will time their sessions accordingly. Thankfully though, most punters aren’t aware that tides can be larger or smaller depending on moon phase and time of year and that these tidal variations are highly predictable. A break works best when the water over the bottom is at a certain depth and the waves care not for whether this is officially cited as low tide or high tide.

An example is that I’ve had beautifully empty sessions at a break which people don’t check in the morning due to the assumption that it needs a midday high tide, despite the wave being at its best only a couple of hours after low on those large new moon tides. As long as that wave has X amount of water over the reef it’ll pump. Crew then turn up at the midday high and find the wave drowned in a huge flood tide and fail to understand what happened. 

Tidal direction can make all the difference. Low incoming may be fattening walls whilst the water flowing off a reef during a draining low can make a wave super suck! Increase in tidal coefficient from moon phase exaggerates these effects even more.

Winds are equally open to variance of direction within a zone. They are heavily influenced by the exact positioning of local weather systems. Just because one spot is onshore, it does not guarantee a spot a few kilometres up the coast will also be onshore.

The winds can shift and change on a whim and it pays to have the inside running on how this unfolds. Example: Oftentimes a strong front or intense local storm can send a crowded lineup scurrying home as the waves turn to whitecaps, only to find the calm restored once the storm has passed and the waves recommence pumping for a handful of the previous crowd.

Local topography, even the temperature of oceanic currents, can affect the wind at a spot. Another example: Keramas in Bali was empty in the dry season for quite a few years as crew assumed that the south-east trade winds blew it out constantly. However, due to the presence of Mt Agung, local katabatic winds meant that many lonely offshore morning sessions went down at that dynamic wave.

5) Think Big

Try to avoid getting caught up in the routine of groupthink which traditionally shifts focus from Coast X to Coast Y as a result of set seasonal weather patterns. Crowds will bunch during the peak season and for good reason. It can sometimes pay to consider shoulder season. Although it’s less reliable it can also be less crowded. As with anything in life, it doesn’t hurt to weigh the deck in your favour and being aware of macro weather trends such as La Niña and El Niño, the position of the Long Wave Trough and the state of the Indian Ocean Dipole, as a few examples, can greatly improve your odds of scoring prime waves without peak season crowds.

7) Park Up or FIFO

Nothing wrong with pre-booking a Big Trip. All that anticipation and pre-adventure froth can be almost as good as the getaway, but if you are serious about tubes then you’re left with two options: An extended stay, or the strike mission. 

The extended stay has multiple advantages, particularly if you arrive early season to acclimatise to the waves. Being on the spot early means you can earn yourself a place in the hierarchy of the lineup before the crowd proper descends, figure out the intricacies of the break and maybe even assume a bit of faux local status. The extended stay means you’ll get the sneaky groomed sessions between the Hollywood swells and it means that after a prolonged run of waves in a remote break there is a chance that the strike mission crowds have done their dash, used all of their holidays, and that leaves just yourself and the other pestilential Bush Tics who have burrowed deep into the hide of the break to surf yourselves silly.

The other way to score is the strike mission. The strike mission is the epitome of excitement and an excellent way to distill a surf trip down to the most essential elements of get in, get tubed, and get out. 

Whilst I’ve done many strike missions and they’ve paid handsomely, with peak conditions minus the sometimes onerous downtime of the extended stay, it does take a certain fortitude to spontaneously roll the dice on an approaching run of conditions. Whilst surf forecasting has improved significantly, not all gambles pay off. Though there’s no denying the extreme satisfaction of the journey home with a full memory bank of good times earned by backing yourself. Surf fortune favours the brave.

8) Zig When Others Zag

The world is chock full of amazing waves. The challenge is scoring one of these liquid jewels without a zillion frothing punters destroying the amenity like ants at a picnic. Luckily enough, the punters mostly move as a herd. Though it may not be as true today as it was a few years ago due to sheer volumes of surfers, breaks come in and out of fashion and if you avoid the current chart toppers you stand a much better chance of some uncrowded tubular goodness. When the mob is baying for the surf travel equivalent of Drake perhaps it’s time for you to revisit the Beatles.

9) It’s All About You

There’s not much point going to the extent of preparation required to follow the above steps if you’re going to throw a shoe coming into the last straight. It doesn’t matter how much you’ve nailed the location of an all time session if your body, board, and mind isn’t up to the task of taking care of business. 

Here’s some wisdom I’ve learnt the hard way so you don’t have to:

If you’re serious about surfing you’ve got to maintain a substantial level of fitness. Don’t be the guy who gets the blessed call up for the strike mission, only to realise that whilst Shaun Briley may make that extra 10 kilos of fat at 10 foot Pipe look like a bit of a giggle, staring down the barrel of a heaving offshore reef break in the remote back blocks of nowhere, whilst being too unfit to paddle properly, is no laughing matter.

Likewise, thinking that you’re going to rule that 8 foot @ 17 second Indian Ocean reef break on your 5’10 East Coast beach break daily driver. You aren’t John John and that isn’t going to work.

If you’re going to chase waves you’ve got to be prepared to surf them when you run them down. Get your fitness up and your equipment dialled. Pick the brains of crew who’ve been where you’re going and establish what boards work. Find yourself some like-minded mates who are keen for the hunt and who’ll push you past your own limits when you get there. 

Then go out and bag your Big Cat.

Later when you’re at the pub reliving those incredible memories and another surfer comes up and asks if you’ve been scoring, just remember to stare forlornly into your beer and reply, “Nothin' special. How about you?”

Then sit back and watch the indecision writ large on their face as they are torn between preserving their spot or hauling that trophy high above their heads, just sit quietly as the space between you turns to dead air. Take a gentle sip of your beer, smile benignly and wait in silence...until they began to uncontrollably blab every single secret surfing spot they’ve ever known.

// JOHN DORY

Comments

andy-mac's picture
andy-mac's picture
andy-mac Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021 at 1:25pm

True Dat!!

Thegrowingtrend.com's picture
Thegrowingtrend.com's picture
Thegrowingtrend.com Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021 at 1:33pm

Love a good extended strike mission.

Sprout's picture
Sprout's picture
Sprout Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021 at 2:07pm

Jeez, DI hasn't looked like that in a while.

NickT's picture
NickT's picture
NickT Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021 at 5:48pm

That's boiling pot I think

thermalben's picture
thermalben's picture
thermalben Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021 at 5:59pm

No to Sprout, and no to NickT.

Sprout's picture
Sprout's picture
Sprout Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021 at 6:42pm

Waddya mean?

thermalben's picture
thermalben's picture
thermalben Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021 at 6:45pm

It's not DI and it's not BP.

Sprout's picture
Sprout's picture
Sprout Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021 at 6:48pm

It was a joke, apparently a bad one.

Craig's picture
Craig's picture
Craig Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021 at 7:49pm

Ha, I missed that.

astrothewonderdog's picture
astrothewonderdog's picture
astrothewonderdog Saturday, 23 Oct 2021 at 11:35am

It is certainly not Boiling Pot (known as Nationals to we Qlders) as I have surfed that break thousands of times - there is no Mt Cooroy in the background for a start.I have no idea which break DI is. Having spent a bit of time surfing WA I would guess that is Denmark on the south coast of WA. The author is certainly right about one thing - you don't take a 5'10' board into the heavy WA winter swells.

thermalben's picture
thermalben's picture
thermalben Saturday, 23 Oct 2021 at 11:38am

It's not in WA.

astrothewonderdog's picture
astrothewonderdog's picture
astrothewonderdog Saturday, 23 Oct 2021 at 11:48am

I thought it might be as the pics are all by the same photographer and the top shot looks very like the legendary left at The Bluff near Carnarvon in WA

thermalben's picture
thermalben's picture
thermalben Saturday, 23 Oct 2021 at 11:50am

That's not WA either.

Malcolmx's picture
Malcolmx's picture
Malcolmx Sunday, 24 Oct 2021 at 3:55am

Is it perhaps not in Australia at all? If you're talking about the sandy right at the end of the article, it looks familiar to me as a spot in the northern hemisphere. Could I be right?

thermalben's picture
thermalben's picture
thermalben Sunday, 24 Oct 2021 at 7:03am

No.

NickT's picture
NickT's picture
NickT Monday, 25 Oct 2021 at 9:33am

hahaha

Ben Harding's picture
Ben Harding's picture
Ben Harding Saturday, 23 Oct 2021 at 10:21pm

The irony between Astros first comment and the article is superb. Still hidden gems under crews noses, no matter how fickle or inconvenient the spot may be

scottishsponger's picture
scottishsponger's picture
scottishsponger Saturday, 23 Oct 2021 at 10:54pm

Agreed, I can’t believe someone who professes to be a Queenslander that’s surfed Nationals “1000 times” doesn’t know what DI refers to. Quite incredible really.

Ben Harding's picture
Ben Harding's picture
Ben Harding Sunday, 24 Oct 2021 at 9:36am

yep, even more ironic is that his first answer was v close in the first place, the lack of crowd is what I can't figure out

NDC's picture
NDC's picture
NDC Sunday, 24 Oct 2021 at 10:50am

So this is an article at least in part about discretion and pretty much the first response is to try and be the guy that names the un-named spot in the photo on a digital forum...

... the irony is writ large

My subsequent request is that swellnet contributors (yep - ben, I’m calling u out here) don’t then inadvertently assist by telling people they’re wrong with their guesses. Thereby narrowing the search for those so determined ... I get that I’m probably a tadpole swimming against the tide in this regard, and maybe the author deserves his photo to be geographically dismantled as he’s really broken his own golden rule here ... but how about it, just don’t name it on here - even if you do know it - what’s the benefit of being that guy?

thermalben's picture
thermalben's picture
thermalben Sunday, 24 Oct 2021 at 11:37am

C'mon mate, we have a long standing history of not naming breaks on this website. My comments are merely a bit of fun, given Sprout's initial claim (in jest, it now turns out) that it was of a remote-secret-spot-that's-often-the-most-crowded-wave-on-the-coast.

What's the alternative? Should I employ a dedicated 'surf location moderator', on standby 24/7 to delete any comment about any location which may reveal the state in which it's located?

Ben Harding's picture
Ben Harding's picture
Ben Harding Sunday, 24 Oct 2021 at 12:13pm

Agree Ben, it was all fun and games, with banter and some unusual commentary from astro. What's the issue here

astrothewonderdog's picture
astrothewonderdog's picture
astrothewonderdog Sunday, 24 Oct 2021 at 9:16pm

Ok I think I have got it - DI is somewhere north of where I said I had surfed 1000s of times. Never seen it sucking like that though. Anyhow I am not aware of any "etiquette" on this site regarding the names of breaks as this is the first time I have posted. I am 64 and been surfing since 11 years old and surfed in every Oz state except Tasmania. Other than Sydney and Gold Coast I have found a friendly reception at the places I have visited to surf. But the most friendly surfers I have met were in Ireland. They could not wait to show a visiting Aussie all their "secret" spots. Aggressive localism is a blight on surfing, mother ocean is there for us all to enjoy. Peace and good vibes to all who love the surfing lifestyle

ringmaster's picture
ringmaster's picture
ringmaster Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021 at 2:38pm

I already fail at 'step 1' these days.

If there's nothing worth surfing 5km East/West of where I live I'll just find something else to do.

freeride76's picture
freeride76's picture
freeride76 Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021 at 2:41pm

Amazing what can be hidden in plain sight sometimes.

Island Bay's picture
Island Bay's picture
Island Bay Thursday, 21 Oct 2021 at 4:59am

Case in point: yesterday evening. 30 guys at average main spot, while literally just around the corner xx is pumping and empty.

astrothewonderdog's picture
astrothewonderdog's picture
astrothewonderdog Saturday, 23 Oct 2021 at 11:40am

That has been my experience at the overcrowded Lennox Head in northern NSW. Can be 50 guys out there but around the corner at Boulder Beach it is empty or nearly so. Could be that getting in after a surf there is probably the hardest in Australia. You have to clamber over rocks of all sizes while trying not to get you or your board smashed by the swell and you ankle broken. Not for the faint hearted but better than hustling for waves with a huge crowd, and the waves are almost as good though not as long as Lennox

stylemaster1970's picture
stylemaster1970's picture
stylemaster1970 Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021 at 2:52pm

Or you could just read the forey, look at the cams and sit in ya pool of crumbs and wait till it's on. With reports like too full, wait till the tide drops later this arvo, get in before the wind swings etc. it's hardly a dark art. Good read though.

Hiccups's picture
Hiccups's picture
Hiccups Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021 at 3:18pm

Fully. Totally shits me, yet here I am.

Dannon's picture
Dannon's picture
Dannon Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021 at 8:00pm

Hahahaa...
'Sit in your pool of crumbs' and
Empty beer cans and*make more happy tissues.*

Story of my life!

Remigogo's picture
Remigogo's picture
Remigogo Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021 at 11:52pm

Here here...

tripper's picture
tripper's picture
tripper Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021 at 3:22pm

If I was to build a digital interactive surf atlas, that takes into consideration wind, swell (height, angle, period ext) , bathymetry (fixed and localized based on sand movements), and maybe a billion other data points… analyses with machine learning (A.I.) and then had a surf travel booking process, that then allowed you to be guaranteed to score waves…. Cost would be no concern to some…
What level of interest would there be? Would I be loved or loathed ?
Been thinking about this for a long time. The data is there, and the tech is there .
I’ll likely be brutally massacred here but keen on your thoughts.
Yewww
Trip.

goofyfoot's picture
goofyfoot's picture
goofyfoot Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021 at 3:42pm

How would you keep track of sand movements often enough to make it worthwhile ?

tripper's picture
tripper's picture
tripper Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021 at 3:48pm

Satellite images - that can be subscribed too

NDC's picture
NDC's picture
NDC Sunday, 24 Oct 2021 at 10:54am

You would be loved by a few and loathed by many - but one day (not today thankfully) it will probably happen... whilst maybe possible with the tech today it could probably not be commercially viable due to the large cost and tiny market... it’s an interesting and saddening pondering point iI reckon

freeride76's picture
freeride76's picture
freeride76 Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021 at 3:31pm

Tech is not there, nowhere near.

and won't be for decades.

So you'd be liberating suckers from their money, which would last until they got skunked, likely within the first month of operation.

tripper's picture
tripper's picture
tripper Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021 at 3:48pm

Tech is certainly there. I work in the software industry.

freeride76's picture
freeride76's picture
freeride76 Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021 at 3:52pm

Show me an example of it currently being applied.

we're still a long way from AV's being used.

So, so many weak points and bad data.

3rd wave AI is really about the limitation of machine learning, and surf travel forecasting would expose those deficiencies brutally.

thermalben's picture
thermalben's picture
thermalben Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021 at 4:03pm

Most of what you've proposed already exists in some way shape or form (including in Swellnet's back end)... I've had countless people pitch the 'idea' to me over the last two decades (not aware that it's an old idea).

So.. getting a return on your investment? Zero chance. Just 'cos the data's there and the tech's there doesn't necessarily mean it's a viable product.

Oh, and as for "analyses with machine learning" - AI is not quite the magic wand that everyone seems to think it is, at least with regards to global surf data. And that's coming from someone who's spend time - and money (and not, might I add, research grant funding) working closely in this field over the last decade. There are some useful applications in this field, but not the ones you're looking at.

batfink's picture
batfink's picture
batfink Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021 at 4:12pm

What is commonly referred to as AI isn’t really AI. At this stage it is all just algorithms upon algorithms. Real AI may never be achieved, and possibly will be to our detriment (hundreds of scientists signed a letter warning mankind not to go down that path.)

Toby Walsh wrote a book on it titled ‘2062’, which is the consensus (average) date from AI specialist predicting when mankind creates genuine AI.

thermalben's picture
thermalben's picture
thermalben Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021 at 4:16pm

Machine learning exists, and does a very good job at some things.

But plugging in a couple of million data points, giving it some AI love, and then being told that you're "guaranteed to score waves" will probably fail spectacularly.

tripper's picture
tripper's picture
tripper Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021 at 4:34pm

Appreciate your comment mate with your years of learned wisdom! I do 100% respect your authority. I realize it’s not a new idea. And quite simply the MVP could be a booking engine to book trips to places that are showing it’s about to pump, based on the data that you already have . There’s no place currently you can go to “show me where it’s about to pump, and book me a ticket”. That could surely be done!

thermalben's picture
thermalben's picture
thermalben Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021 at 4:47pm

With enough time and money, anything can be built. Silicon Valley is testament to that.

Doesn't mean it's viable though.

Ideas are awesome. And enthusiasm is invaluable. But, bills have gotta be paid, and venture capitalists need a (significant) return on investment. Eventually.

gsco's picture
gsco's picture
gsco Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021 at 4:58pm

hhmmm, very interesting.

I've worked in machine learning in a very successful hft/algo/quant financial market trading operation since 2009, as the head mathematician and machine learning modeller, I might add...

Some thoughts...:

The machine learning technology, in terms of models and off-the-shelf publicly available software (in say Python), is certainly there, and actually is advanced well beyond an application of predicting surf quality.

One point I would make is that the ability of a machine learning model to predict surf quality is significantly dependent on weather and swell size/direction prediction accuracy.

However, what wonder about is if it's possible that the datasets are actually not yet there:

Take your favourite pointbreak, for instance. In order to train a machine learning model to predict whether the surf will be good, one obvious way to do it would be to build a significantly large - in terms of going back far enough in time - and accurate historical (say daily) dataset containing two things:
1. predictor variables: daily weather, swell and other data that you'd reasonably expect to need in order to be able to predict surf quality, and
2. target variable: the actual daily surf quality very accurately and consistently quantified and recorded in the dataset.
This is a scenario of what's called "supervised learning" in the machine learning community, where you're using certain "predictor" variables (weather, swell, etc) to predict another "target" variable (surf quality).

I wonder if the data in point 2 may be lacking: Does anyone have a very/extremely accurately, reliably and consistently recorded quantification of daily surf quality for a given break over a historical say 10 or 20 year period? Also, this quantification and recording of surf quality would need to be "stable" and "consistent" over time in the sense that the person recording it would need to maintain the same conventions in terms of subjectively quantifying surf quality - and they'd need to be doing it on a daily basis, largely without falter or fail, for say 10 or 20 years.

I know there's websites presenting daily surf quality data like this, and they're all easy to scrape, but I find their daily surf quality reports to be often and largely inaccurate, inconsistent, unreliable, and unsatisfactory.

There is also a question of what kind of quantification system could be used: good-bad surf (binary), surf quality on a scale of say 1 to 10 (categorical)...? (It would likely be a classification as apposed to a regression problem.)

Well, there's also a more general question of exactly what you'd want to predict - surf "quality" as subjectively quantified by a human, or maybe surf size, optimal time of day to surf given a range of variables, etc.

Sounds like a good kaggle (https://www.kaggle.com/) contest to me.

If the above dataset was available then given my past >decade of personal and professional experience with building machine learning models, I don't see that it would be hard to build a model that predicts surf quality for a given break (I posit a recurrent neural network: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Recurrent_neural_network) and then iterate, evolve and continuously improve it over time, possibly in parallel with data improvements.

But doing it globally for "every" known/popular break would require some significant data and human coordination...

I question whether the original idea suggested by tripper of using "wind, swell (height, angle, period ext) , bathymetry" to predict surf quality - without a surf quality target variable - would work.

thermalben's picture
thermalben's picture
thermalben Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021 at 5:00pm

Great insights.. thanks gsco.

I think you've answered your own question too!

FWIW, I sit somewhere in the middle - I'm not a software developer (though have run Swellnet for 20 years, immersed in technology), and I'm not an academic (though, have also been surrounded by amazingly talented meteorologists, oceanographers, and other scientists for the last 20 years).

On the topic of machine learning within surf/beach applications, every software developer just tells me it can be done. Every oceanographer tells me it can't.

It all depends on what you're trying to achieve.

But at the end of the day, if you're paying for this out of your pocket (i.e. your work is not funded by a university or a research grant), and then you're hoping to build a business model based on that speculative R&D - well, twenty years of running an online surf/science biz tells me your chances of commercial success are low.

tripper's picture
tripper's picture
tripper Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021 at 6:21pm

Thanks for your legendary mind mate. I’m not the brains in my current software company, I just know how to run a biz and raise capital, and I just know enough technically to be dangerous (and often wrong). If your keen mate, I’d love to chat with you further about this.

Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021 at 6:55pm

Have I got this right?

You don’t have the information about the spots.
You don’t have the technical ability to make the program.
You don’t have the cash to start a business.

What you have is a dream of making money selling out every spot in the world and sending a crowd of punters directly to every half decent wave breaking across planet Earth.

Dannon's picture
Dannon's picture
Dannon Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021 at 8:32pm

Yep...

thats fucked up.

tripper's picture
tripper's picture
tripper Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021 at 9:13pm

Hey cheery blowin, thanks for your comment.

The info can be gathered and in public domain.
You don’t need to code to start a technology business. I know as I’ve done it.
You don’t need all the cash to grow a business. That’s what investors are for.

I froth on big ideas and solving problems. But I did expect to be slammed on it, so thanks for meeting my expectations.

Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin Thursday, 21 Oct 2021 at 7:16am

Hi greedy Tripper

Stoked that you froth on big ideas and solving problems. I just didn’t think that still being able to score uncrowded waves because some dollar mad fool hasn’t yet discovered a way to flood every session with punters was a problem which needed solving.

Curing cancer is a big idea. Another surf atlas / travel booking site is not.

Consciously avoiding destroying what you love is a big idea. Mad greed ruining the world is a problem to be solved.

Your “idea” is a global version of telling everyone on Facebook that the local secret spot is firing and then organising a fleet of taxis to make sure everyone online gets there. Please excuse me for not being all happy happy about that as it’s equivalent to the local property developer telling me he’s cutting down old growth forest to put up holiday apartments. He’s an ideas man too.

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gsco Thursday, 21 Oct 2021 at 7:22am

ahh the conundrum...

Trying to make a living out of what you enjoy is always great advice. But as we all know, when it comes to surfing, doing that runs the risk of spoiling what we enjoy, not only for us but for others too.

I'll never forget spending months, >20yrs ago now, pouring over weather maps and patterns, hurricane trajectories, navigational charts and coastline geography, bus and train routes, the locations of Buddhist and Taoist temples, etc, and then making the fateful decision to jump on a plane, against everyone's advice and opinion, and travel the east coast of Taiwan alone searching for waves and meaning in life.

For me it was the journey and everything experienced along the way that was important, not just frantically rushing around trying to do strike missions targeting pumping waves as predicted by some AI bot (which nowadays I could easily write...).

Actually scoring good waves was only a small part of that journey. A very large part of it was indeed the uncertainty of not even knowing if Taiwan had waves at all, experiencing all the challenges of exploration, and the subsequent sense of discovery and accomplishment.

I personally know very little about swell forecasting, but I'm beginning to be quite curious about the current state of the art in it and how much it already draws on machine learning. It seems that it's still very much human based, which is interesting. The kind people from swellnet are always welcome to contact me directly if they thought my background could add value to their surf forecasting.

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freeride76 Thursday, 21 Oct 2021 at 10:03am

I'm still not quite sure what problem is being solved here, or attempted to be solved, ethical considerations notwithstanding.

All the great waves worldwide are known, at least the consistent ones, and you can forecast them now.

Is there someone out there who is going to dump bottomless money into surfing a remote sandbar that closes out when it's over 4ft, only breaks on the first half of a run-in tide less than 1.5m, and needs a swell period between 8-10 seconds when the swell is SSE?

Wouldn't you just go to Cloudbreak?

I can't imagine it working unless you are just dishing up low hanging fruit.

I mean I love my fickle little flukey sessions, but even checking a spot multiple times a day there are still sneaky little sessions that slip through the net.

I can't see where you would get the extra data from to improve that.

Maybe if you launched ten more weather satellites so we got hourly ASCAT updates.

You think satellites can pick up flukey sandbars?

what if the water is turbid or the tide is wrong when they flyover ?

If I was to spend two weeks in Barra la Cruz, why would I spend money on a spot forecast when I could hire a local guide who knows every secret spot, how to get to them and has a brother who knows where the best snook fishing is ?

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tango Thursday, 21 Oct 2021 at 10:57am

The problem being solved is the inability of certain types to make a living from surfing and/or climb the hill that their surfing never could through the creation of a product which fucks it up for everyone else.

I really can't work out how people can't see the detrimental impact that advanced forecasting has had on surfing. I reckon we've hit peak forecasting and are well and truly en route down the other side of the curve.

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thermalben Thursday, 21 Oct 2021 at 11:10am

Aside from the obvious inevitability (difficult to imagine a world where every kind of climate/weather forecast exists, and continues to improve over time - but surf forecasts are somehow excluded), can't you see a single positive that surf forecasting has achieved?

Even if not for yourself, but for others?

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ringmaster Thursday, 21 Oct 2021 at 11:53am

Detailed weather/climate forecasting benefits all of society for pretty obvious reasons.

Detailed surf forecasting leave no stone / region unturned not so. Sure, it's great for the operators of such services and the growing instagram etc addicted crew but not your average rank & file low key surfer who reckons no news is good news.

If both those services disappeared tomorrow, a drop in numbers at spot/region 'x' would result simultaneously.

If people had to use their own nouse or take a punt on a hunch about their next 'strike mission' the situation at your average surf spot would be vastly different.

If you reckon it wouldn't make any difference then why provide the service in the first place? Oh that's right.....back to my 2nd paragraph.

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thermalben Thursday, 21 Oct 2021 at 12:06pm

There's two points in my original post, I'm not sure which one you're referring to - either, the inevitability of surf forecasts, or whether surf forecasts have provided any positives at all.

The main problem is that every surfer, and I literally mean every single surfer, has benefited by some kind of weather/surf information at some point. Whether it's a basic MSLP chart in the Geelong Advertiser, ASCAT footage confirming wind speeds around a Tasman Low, live drone footage from a two-hour-hike-secret-spot, or a smart watch sync'd up with a wave buoy 500m offshore letting you know the third wave of the next set is the biggest and best, everyone has used technology of some description at some point, to improve their odds at finding surf.

Hardest part is, where would you draw the line at what should be available, and what shouldn't? Every surfer's got a different threshold.

As for "sure, it's great for the operators of such services", I know it looks like Swellnet's making millions from the services we provide, but... and this may be a surprise... we ain't.

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ringmaster Thursday, 21 Oct 2021 at 12:33pm

*I fully get that Swellnet isn't making millions.

You're a surfer just like me who has worked out how to combine work that has minimal impact on your ability to go surfing when the conditions line up combined (I'm assuming) with an income that lets you live the life you choose.

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tango Thursday, 21 Oct 2021 at 12:03pm

I'm not questioning the way the surf forecasting keeps pace with the myriad other forecasting approaches. Rather, I'm trying to reconcile the issue of whether surf forecasting should continue to evolve in spatial and temporal accuracy and present that information to the masses just because it can.

There's no question that surf forecasting has some positives, but the question of whether that is a net positive impact is very much alive and not at all settled. There are significant negatives that need to be considered as well, and it would be interesting to see how an objective assessment of the pros and cons lined up.

My wins these days are more closely aligned to checking things myself and scoring good uncrowded waves when the forecasts and/or reports get things awry, given the strong anecdotal correlation between crowds and favourable forecasts.

As far as others go, i think that's an interesting point. With so many new and/or recent entrants to surfing I think we are definitely seeing a change in attitudes within the surfing population. On a rough estimate, I'd suggest that about 20% of established surfers (say, surfing for over 5 years in a committed way) would support more info becoming available to the masses but probably 80-90% of newbies would support it. And I'd suggest of those supporting more info, most of the established surfers would be from metro areas where crowd tolerance is much higher while the newbies still haven't; crossed the threshold of understanding what surfing can be.

The likes of NVR are, in my opinion, thrilling to watch but offer very little to surfing with their wham, bam, thank you ma'am approach.

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thermalben Thursday, 21 Oct 2021 at 12:16pm

"Rather, I'm trying to reconcile the issue of whether surf forecasting should continue to evolve in spatial and temporal accuracy and present that information to the masses just because it can."

So what's the alternative evolution then? And how would that be implemented? Keeping in mind that anyone can start a surf forecast/report/surfcam website, if they want. Indeed, they don't even need to start a website. Plenty of Facebook and Instagram sites out there these days.

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tango Thursday, 21 Oct 2021 at 12:32pm

I'm not sure what the alternative evolution is, Ben, nor am I sure how it would be implemented. It would be an interesting piece of work, though. But just because there's no clear/mapped out alternative, it doesn't follow that business-as-usual is the best approach. However, I'm quite sure that tripper's approach is an insult to surfing.

Don't worry, I'm equally concerned about the other surf reports out there and the timing of their posts. At least Swellnet makes a contribution to surfing in other ways....I can't see the benefit of many of the other services to anyone but the ignorant and to their own ego.

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thermalben Thursday, 21 Oct 2021 at 12:36pm

I'm interested in how other sports/recreational pursuits address these kinds of issues (because, the population is forever growing, so participation is increasing everywhere). Skiing, rock climbing, fishing, biking... are these kinds of discussions happening elsewhere? Or is it a surf-centric debate?

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tango Thursday, 21 Oct 2021 at 12:46pm

Yes, interesting point. I suspect it's more intense in surfing because of the rarity of the alignment of good conditions, the universally negative impact of crowds and the length of the surfing learning curve. The snow experience is mostly highly regulated, though, and I'm not aware of any fishing forecasts telling people where and when to go - as far as I know fishers still guard their secrets.

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Blowin Thursday, 21 Oct 2021 at 12:50pm

Fishing is an interesting parallel in that all fishermen are competing for a limited resource, just as surfers are competing for a limited resource. The admirable thing about fishing is the promotion of the catch and release ideology. I know of young fishermen who almost never take a fish at all, let alone any large breeders or roe bearing specimens. This is an astonishing contrast from the “fill the boat” mentality I grew up with.

It seems that surfing has yet to have its preserve the wealth moment. The surf industry is still locked into the maximum exploitation cash grab phase. Wave pools seem one possible point of potential reform but the ocean is still a free for all. By this I mean that there’s fuck all cultural resistance within the surf industry to reign in the excess.

When Rip Curl stops celebrating - and maybe even show a hint of shame - in their transformation of Barra from a low key spot into a heavily promoted brand icon I’ll know things are changing.

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tango Thursday, 21 Oct 2021 at 12:55pm

Agree, but one thing to note is that while catch and release sounds great, the incidence of post-catch mortality from the hook is much higher than people think. Agree that it's a good philosophy to apply to surfing, though.

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thermalben Thursday, 21 Oct 2021 at 1:01pm

I've had plenty of surf sessions of catch (fuck all waves) and release (myself at the pub).

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Island Bay Thursday, 21 Oct 2021 at 12:12pm

We'd do well to question 'Inevitability' whenever we come across it. It's usually not driven by consumer/grassroots demand, rather from the top. From companies that see a way to monetise and control every little bit of our living experience.

And to John Dory:
- The Knowledge is still a requirement for London cabbies.
- That rule you mentioned in the first paragraph is the Pareto Distribution.

thermalben's picture
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thermalben Thursday, 21 Oct 2021 at 12:20pm

I agree that we should question 'inevitability' whenever we come across it.

I strongly disagree that surf forecasting has been driven by "companies that see a way to monetise and control every little bit of our living experience", and has indeed been driven by "consumer/grassroots demand".

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Island Bay Thursday, 21 Oct 2021 at 12:28pm

That was not a jibe at you, Ben/SN.

It was more a general call to arms re what's inevitable and when to fight it.

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thermalben Thursday, 21 Oct 2021 at 12:33pm

Ah my mistake.. I understand what you're saying. And, agree.

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tango Thursday, 21 Oct 2021 at 12:34pm

I'd be interested to know the nature of the grass-roots demand. I wouldn't begrudge anyone wanting more information, but I'd be surprised if they thought making it publicly available and promoting it was the best way forward. A few squeaky wheels is not a grass-roots movement.

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thermalben Thursday, 21 Oct 2021 at 12:41pm

Eh?

Recreational surfers are 'grass roots'. And, they want/need surf forecasts. It ain't being foisted upon them, they've searched out the info, whether it's (as referenced earlier) a grainy weather chart in the Geelong Advertiser, a daily surf report or a live camera. Supply/demand etc.

Perhaps you can take comfort in the fact that in during the first five years of Swellnet's existence, there were probably two or three dozen Australian surf report/cam/forecast websites.

They're all gone now.

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tango Thursday, 21 Oct 2021 at 12:52pm

Of course recreational surfers are grass-roots, but my point was more to do with the demand for forecasting information and an understanding of the conditions for different places to turn on being driven at the grass-roots level. I could count on one hand the number of places (in Oz at least) where the grassroots would want to make it easier for people to figure their local out and turn up whenever it's on.

I think there's a good case to be made about the availability of choice driving people's perceived wants and needs, and that a lot of people confuse their wants with their actual needs. Surfing got along just fine without forecasts for a long time, but I agree that they want them now - I'd suggest that they're now used to it and think its a necessity.

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thermalben Thursday, 21 Oct 2021 at 12:57pm

You're conflating 'grass-roots' with 'locals'. That's a whole 'nother discussion.

As for "surfing got along just fine without forecasts for a long time", well, surfers also got along just fine for a long time without wetsuits and leggies too.

Though I've yet to see any surfer come down hard on the surf manufacturing industry for making the waves more accessible through warm, flexible wetsuits that don't chaff your balls.

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tango Thursday, 21 Oct 2021 at 1:06pm

But that's what grass-roots is generally accepted as meaning - it's all about action at the local level, with some reference to community.

You must have had shocking wetties if they chafed your balls. That's true commitment.

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freeride76 Thursday, 21 Oct 2021 at 1:13pm

Just on the fishing analogy.

In my other career as a jew fisherman, the level of secrecy and stealth is supreme.

Some of my fav winter night-time spots are right in town. Park along way away, hide fish in ditches if someone comes close, make sure there are no scales around.

Tell no one.

I don't catch and release, I think there is less justification for that then fishing for food.

When I get my feed I stop fishing.

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Blowin Thursday, 21 Oct 2021 at 1:24pm

For sure. That’s why we should be grateful to a rec fishing industry which promotes catch and release. Otherwise every YouTube star would be loading to the gunnels with Jews instead of filming a Tik Tok video of them going back over the side.

It’s all self interest from the tackle industry- if the fish run out then not too much tackle is going to sell- so we can only hope an equivalent notion dawns on the surf industry.

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NickT Monday, 25 Oct 2021 at 9:48am

Hey dude don't worry about the salty people in here, I like your forward-thinking.

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Langfo Friday, 22 Oct 2021 at 9:45am

First post on Swellnet so here goes. Totally agree with Ben! Having built two different software systems for the Surfing Industry over the past 20 years. The 2nd venture crossed paths with Ben quite a few times (Hi Ben)! There is enthusiasm everywhere but building products where people or groups/clubs use it every once in a while won't cut it. It will most likely stay as a side hustle which earn a nice amount of holiday/beer money for the year. By no means is that a bad thing! You will learn so much by doing a side hustle and pour new skills into your "real" job or setup for your next venture. But if it succeeds awesome!!

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NickT Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021 at 6:04pm

There is definitely enough data to produce an app that could offer a punter a 'best bet' location in an area but your right with the movement of sand it wouldn't be autonomous, there would have to be input much like a surf report to assist the punter when reading the data

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tripper Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021 at 6:22pm

My thoughts exactly!

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groundswell Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021 at 6:27pm

I was tempted to make an app with all the secret spots of nsw i knew about..probably would only sell about a thousand...selling out all the spots and the locals would be pissed off with me..probably have to make an alias, but a lot of the spots are "nearly" waves, waves that break on sloping ledges only surfable in some conditions etc, even if it looks the same as last time you surfed it it looks completely different this time, sort of thing....would need to make more than a hundred grand even a mill to be worth it selling out secret spot info.

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willibutler Saturday, 23 Oct 2021 at 1:03pm

There’s no need for more accurate forecasts. Swellnet as reports and notes are as detailed as needed. Who cares if they misjudged a swell by 1ft meaning your 4ft surf was 5ft. Here comes the argument where maybe your spot is highly affected by this difference or your limited with time so have to book your surfs in advance. The ocean is a forever changing environment and that’s why we all keep getting drawn back to it as we hope for another perfect fluke day many might’ve missed. If you want to know what your gonna get there’s wavepool for that and that’s another sport and your pursuing a completely differnt sport to me. Just go to the wavepool multiple times and you’ll get bored and lose the urge to go back. The urge and fire inside to chase waves up the coast when you never know what you’ll get will never be lost.

Swellnet don’t need to improve reports. Yes they are a surf forecasting business but they are also much more than this and this is where their biggest growth areas lie. Hopefully they can continue with their informational pieces and fictional creative pieces. Please done become like surfline and hype up every swell with a purple blob photo even for spots like the beachies in vicco which need no swell lol but use a purple blob photo to get people interested LOL which they’ve done before absolute fuckwits. Also their post swell wrap ups recently are contributing towards a terrible culture. If swellnet begin to take this path even if that becomes “normalised” by all their competitors. It’s not normal and should never be applauded and they will lose much of their loyal fan base and respect across Australia. Just keep being you and I’m sure your business will continue to excel, don’t worry about a singular customer complaining their surf wasn’t quite as good as they were hoping as a result of you. Mother ocean is always changing even within 5 minutes of a surf a particular spot can go through continuous changes.

If you can’t already score pumping waves the majority of the time or fun grovels that’s no ones fault but yours, pick useful tips Craig and Ben are always throwing out there, study maps, check every weather map available to you, go for a drive on your own and check as many beaches as you can making a mental map of where works on what days, and observe the changes throughout your surf of how particular tides and periods affect your reef or patch of sand.

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blindboy Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021 at 3:42pm

I think most of us reach some sort of equilibrium between effort and reward. The law of diminishing returns also kicks in at some point. Even with the best available data and the ability to read what the swell and wind are doing over a wide area from checking one or two spots, there are still lots of variables that you cannot predict precisely........not least, how many others have followed your train of thought.

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tripper Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021 at 3:49pm

If this was applied globally, it would at least give you give you the opportunity to see where is pumping without having to manually check each location.

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Fliplid Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021 at 3:46pm

Tripper is tripping and Sprout tripped at ‘3’ :)

Just read a story about Martin Daly in Australia’s finest magazine and he’s definitely the master of the Dark Art of Scoring. He’d be the forlorn looking guy in the pub saying he got skunked.

Another good read JD, thanks for putting it up

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batfink Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021 at 4:04pm

Good tips, but hopefully most already came to the same conclusions. I know my spots, my seasons, how far I have to go depending on how big the crowds are up here, which ones the blow-ins don’t know about etc.

Extra tip, be that lucky guy who can paddle out where there are no waves and suddenly find waves coming in, or just for them. I ain’t got that one, unfortunately. Have had it in the past, not recently.

And another, enjoy your time in the water. Very few are lucky enough to have this. Try to be a little bit grateful that you can even paddle out.

I wonder who John Dory is?

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GuySmiley Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021 at 4:18pm

.... and don't be that low-life that falls into the right place/ right time and then gets on the mobile and rings the crew.

Good article, yeah I do it plus I've learnt to lie straight faced about the where I've surfed/scored to all but one or two crew at the local breaks.

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tubeshooter Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021 at 5:27pm

I like the fishing analogies . Another one is there are fishermen and there are followers , and alliances between the former are usually strong , but even then you'll still get sent up the garden path. Like fishing when discussing surf spots etc you will need to be able to read between the bullshit and the truth. That in itself is an art.
Knowing where to be and when to be there is a dark art that takes a lot of experience and knowledge, and requires constant analysing , a dash of intuition and a shit load of faith to back yourself into making the effort to get the rewards.
Those who fall into the trap of relying on things like surfcams to plan a local daily surf trip are generally not the sort of person I'd consider doing a sortie with away from home base.
Having said that, there's always that one bloke who knows jack about forecasting , can barely pull a turn but just seems to jag it every time when they travel. Some of these individuals are even considered lucky charms and welcomed on surfaries , as annoying as they are.

freeride76's picture
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freeride76 Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021 at 5:35pm

I used to love listening to skippers talk on the radio while fishing in WA.

Skipper 1 (on the fish): Getting a feed?
Skipper 2 (boat laden with snapper): Nah mate, absolute shit house here, haven't got shitt.

Just completely Bullshitting to each other.
relentlessly.

Skipper 2 wouldn't even let me in the wheelhouse when he was steaming in case I saw his marks.

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tubeshooter Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021 at 6:07pm

Story of my life FR ,
Usually if you know the skipper you will pick up tells in the voice etc. And if you're in range the vessels movements can become a bit of a give away, depending on the industry.
But sometimes you need to speak in 'code' on the airwaves commercially fishing {not always phone reception at sea} and throw a few dummies here and there to throw the opposition off. It can be quite a funny game to play.
I've had some good 'partnerships' with other skippers , but I wouldn't trust them to be totally honest when the big hauls are on. that's just the way it goes . We all know that , and I must confess to 'throwing off' many times.
The game is up though once you land your product and people work out how much truth there is in your radio chat.

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groundswell Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021 at 5:42pm

The hardest part is guessing what the banks on beachbreaks will be like in far away places. Reef breaks are easy to work out. But there's one reefbreak i used to surf on the south coast that likes a south swell but faces north, everyone goes there on east or NE swells but on the really good days you often get it to yourself as nobody thinks south swells will wrap into it. It breaks like a shorter version of kirra on a south swell, 10 second tubes easy. Need balls to surf it though and an old dinged up board.

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Ray Shirlaw Thursday, 21 Oct 2021 at 9:49am

Fancy a beer mate?

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groundswell Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021 at 5:56pm

An often over looked part of the equation is period. beach breaks can be gnarly closeouts on anything more than 11 seconds but turn ugly on anything less than 8 seconds..some reef breaks or points only line up at certain periods etc..anyway good topic..east coast is a lot easier to predict with less outer reefs , more spots facing different directions and more predictable tides but down margs coast can be easy as the tides low in summer and high in winter. pretty much stays the same all day.

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NickT Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021 at 6:09pm

Yep I agree, period is a huge factor. I love the 'semi-new' tweed buoy, the graph called the Wave Spectrum which I like to call the Grunt-O-Meter shows the period and strength of a swell really well (https://www.qld.gov.au/environment/coasts-waterways/beach/monitoring/wav...)

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groundswell Thursday, 21 Oct 2021 at 4:06pm

Thats a pretty good detail of period data can you use it in other locations?

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SA Wetdog Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021 at 6:54pm

Great photos, its amazing how a good shot can make waves look beyond there quality! Not sure if id study tides/ winds/ period ect to surf shot 1 or even 3 for that matter!
Great article though!

Charlie Brown's picture
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Charlie Brown Monday, 25 Oct 2021 at 1:51pm

Correct summary. First one is a burger, even on the best of days, third one is fun - if a little soft - and generally packed.

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indo-dreaming Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021 at 7:06pm

You forgot the biggest two points, got to have time and some money.

Was easy when i was young and on the dole even with little money the chances of scoring was high as you put in so much time and got rewarded for doing so.

But now with work commitments and family its 100 times harder and basically surf what you can when you can.

Good article though.

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crg Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021 at 7:20pm

Great article. I was that guy who told no one nothing for years. I got caught out by a guy I’d see in the surf fairly regularly...he paddled out to a spot I surfed now and then on a pumping day...we had it to ourselves for about three hours. Bumped into him that arvo in the bottlo and old mate working there asked if I’d been getting waves. I said sort of...not really...been trying to get away from the crowds but it hasn’t been much good. He looked at me with a bit of shock and then a smile. Went back to the spot the next day and the guy joined me with six of his mates. Next day had 20+ on it. After that if he’d see me surf check somewhere and not paddle out he’d actually follow where I went. I bumped into him on a dirt track after checking a back beach one day...he asked how was it...I said it’s always better if you keep your mouth shut. Stopped following me after that.

zenagain's picture
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zenagain Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021 at 7:58pm

Ha ha! I learned just that a couple of days ago.

Applying some of the above in the article, got our local head-high, perfect offshore and only three of us to enjoy it today. SN forecast it and I knew where and what time to be there. Good score.

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hairmick Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021 at 7:51pm

Plus don't take your own crowd along with you. Seems to be so many car loads travel in convoy and paddle out together and wonder why they are unpopular at little know spots by genuine locals. Seem to be many more packs 'parking up' in troopys and campers like gypsies rolling acrnoss the country with their instant crowds and showing little care or respect for the environment or people. Travel solo or in pairs, slow down, show respect and you will be more likely to score for sure.

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Craig Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021 at 7:54pm

Yep, also if there's uncrowded peaks across a whole beach don't walk down and paddle out to the peak other people are on. Go find your own, biggest pet hate.

The whatsapp group surf message things are the worst also. Letting a whole group of crew know that there's an uncrowded wave or bank is a sure fire way to see it busy within halfa.

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andy-mac Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021 at 8:08pm

Used to surf a known but fickle spot a lot in Bali. Had to lie so many times about where I surfed and how it was to mates. Hard sometimes when frothing on good waves and want have a bit of a boast.... But uncrowded waves always won, and others that were in the ',know' would have worked me if i turned up with others or told others....

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quokka Thursday, 21 Oct 2021 at 5:10pm

Amen to that!

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etarip Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021 at 9:44pm

This, and Craig’s point. Shits me to tears, Full circus turns up on and then proceeds to watch you for ten minutes then paddle out and sit on the same peak.

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groundswell Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021 at 8:06pm

This is my pet hate with bodyboarders, well some bodyboarders as you can fit five boards in the boot and still travel with 5 people. Even though i sometimes ride a lid the lack of respect shown by many pisses me off.
Knowing coastlines takes years of practice and guessing, taking mental notes which can be forgotten but will pay off. I'd recommend traveling solo or with one mate/gf to score good waves and hopefully get along with locals so they tell you more info, maybe show you some shots on facebook or whatever...tavelling with a group just rubs all the locals up the wrong way and blows your chances of having a good surf.

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Craig Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021 at 8:10pm

I'm in a privileged position in that besides having access to the best tools to maximise scoring a spot or break, looking at surf photos and content day in and day out, which with social media, people give away clues and secrets, I can add to my ever growing knowledge base of which swell made that break pump, or what the best conditions are for that spot.

It's an ever growing library inside my head which with more and more time and experience increases greatly the chance of scoring, or if finding unfavourable conditions at spot x, knowing exactly where to go without wasting time to find another option. An almost photographic memory of how ever wave breaks and looks in photos is a huge help as well to figure out a spot that might seem unfamiliar at first.

The article is great and paves the way to helping find an uncrowded wave, but as always, the journey is half the fun, whether you find waves or not. And expectations, keep them on the lower side and you'll always be pleased.

wally's picture
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wally Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021 at 8:35pm

This is the answer. Keep Craig in some sort of life preserving amniotic ooze. Plug in some input and output wires. And Wow Baby! We’ll all be scoring!

Sorry Craig, but the greater good and all that.

velocityjohnno's picture
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velocityjohnno Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021 at 8:43pm

I read the article and thought "Well, you could do this, or do a career, but not both,"

but then

... Craig!

willibutler's picture
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willibutler Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021 at 10:44pm

You just described me lol. Wish I spent as much time looking and memorising my studies as I do with maps and surf conditions. I love the mental map description.

velocityjohnno's picture
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velocityjohnno Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021 at 8:44pm

Loose Lips Sink Ships

my other favourite is

A Careless Word -
A Needless Sinking

zenagain's picture
zenagain's picture
zenagain Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021 at 8:58pm

My favourite is:-

Your secret is safe with me.
And my best friend...

My second favourite is:-

Mirror says yes.
Camera says no.

velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021 at 9:38pm

Those are good Zen. The ones above were actually WW2 posters, the idea being the sailor gets drunk and says his ship is leaving on Tuesday and a spy hears, then all the ships get sunk by subs waiting for them. It's a lot like Insta if you think about it this way.

Standingleft's picture
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Standingleft Thursday, 21 Oct 2021 at 9:53am

Cool article, I like a fishing analogy. Like the time we're all sitting in a crowded beach break and lone dude clambering out the headland sets himself up on a narrow rock ledge and begins casting into the deep blue. He's out there for a couple of hours casting away, we loose interest, 'crazy farken kook fisho all on his lonesome clearly got no idea' then bang his gear is hit, long but lightweight rod bends to its limit, perfectly chosen line sets the old fave ratchet screaming. He's no kook, plays that fish like a crusty old pro through the surging crevice, he's got the set up, he's got the experience, he reaches down with the gaff hook he positioned perfectly earlier to haul out a metre long shining silver Mackerel. He holds it to the sky, instant legend, surfers erupt in hoots and hollers.
It's no accident. He's got a target.
Like the time you pull up to see the usual rogue close-out set at local beachbreak isn't actually closing out. You grab the step up, sit 50m outside everyone else, lock in the global positioning function and wait. Half an hour, 45 minutes, nothing, lone farken kook way out the back is farken clueless then bang perviously spotted rogue set turns 3 separate peaks into a sandbottom JBay.
Scoring is a dark art mysterious old kooks master

thermalben's picture
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thermalben Thursday, 21 Oct 2021 at 9:57am

Ha! So true.

Standingleft's picture
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Standingleft Thursday, 21 Oct 2021 at 10:50am

Pete Mel, my hero. Cheers Ben. Checking the progress of a swell hourly on a nearby surf cam helps too

tango's picture
tango's picture
tango Thursday, 21 Oct 2021 at 11:14am

A good read, but the irony in this article is palpable.

Only topped by those providing links to further sources of information and tips.

I've spent a long time understanding the confluence of coast and ocean and seeking out sources of info off my own bat, and to read an article about how to put it all together is....conflicting, to say the least. It's interesting to see the different takes and a little bit encouraging to see the contempt for loose lips and crowd-mobiles, but utterly dispiriting to see someone thinking about laying it all out for a market to purchase (yes, you, Tripper).

I don't really know what's in it for JD, but there is very little separating this article from the Insta photos it purports to deride. Loose lips, indeed. Your shout.

Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin Thursday, 21 Oct 2021 at 11:57am

Do you mind if i have a go at fielding this question, Tango?

I think that first up you’ve got to appreciate that it’s an ugly way to live if you truly wish that no one else discovered the joys of surfing. No one in their right mind wants to deny new participants in the sport. There is truly a camaraderie between surfers . Most of my good friends are people I’ve met through surfing.

Having said that I believe their is a vast difference between surfing and the commodification of surfing. The commodification of surfing creates surfers in order to generate profit and treats surfing as an act of consumerism. The commodification of surfing reduces surfing in the manner that a corporatism has reduced the life of a sentient animal into a plastic wrapped fillet of Snapper in a supermarket. The old maxim of “Give someone a fish and they’ll eat for a day , teach someone to fish and they’ll eat for a lifetime “ goes way deeper than just the provenance of protein. The journey of learning to fish and the experiences, connection to nature and insight into the overarching systems of the planet are as rewarding as the food.

I reckon the above article is a nod to that maxim and at the same time to help find the context of its role in the environment and to appreciate the fish holistically, instead of something you grab from the deli counter and throw in your trolley without a second thought.

Same with surfing.

The beauty and reward of surfing is greater than the sum of its parts. To view surfing as something you can buy per wave over the internet or expect to find served at your convenience at a resort is to miss most of the surfing experience. The sad bit is that the commodification of surfing doesn’t just compromise and cheapen the beauty of surfing for those who seek consumer gratification, if diminishes it for everyone by corroding the spirit of surfing and dispelling the cultural notions of surfing as they are often at odds with the profit motive as Trippy has shown.

This article would be perfect for a person who is beginning to immerse themselves in the world of surfing. Someone who appreciates that if you put in the effort you will reap the rewards but also the idea the the rewards are so much sweeter if you put in the effort and that sometimes the effort itself constitutes part of the reward.

Perhaps JD wants to contribute to the culture of chasing waves without taking a wholesale steaming dump on the very thing they want to encourage?

tango's picture
tango's picture
tango Thursday, 21 Oct 2021 at 12:25pm

Not at all, Blowin, and interesting points.

I'm not suggesting for a moment that nobody else gets to enjoy surfing - that would make me quite the hypocrite having been a surf instructor (yes, I was young and more foolish) and encouraging my kids to surf. Surfing has been integral to my personal and professional journeys, and it's something I recommend highly to anyone genuinely keen to do it, though I do caution that it may well consume them.

I see the commodification of surfing as the Hydra that needs some of its heads lopped cleanly off, and agree with most of what you say.

I suppose that where we might differ is where the line exists for the fishing analogy of yours - which I think is a good one. I don't think JD has taken a "wholesale steaming dump" on the matter, but I have trouble separating the inherent braggadocio in the article from the same in the posters of perfect waves on Insta. I do think he's gone a bridge too far and laid out a path to the some of the holy grail and is thereby creating the kind of short-cut you refer to.

The information about surfing, to me, is special sauce - my close mates and I share it amongst ourselves and guard it like the location of waves. Perhaps I'm just a grumpy old bugger disappointed at the devaluation of the stripes I've earned over decades.

juegasiempre's picture
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juegasiempre Thursday, 21 Oct 2021 at 11:51am

Frustrating read and disingenuous (you can't turn a .5m swell into a 2m swell)! I'm fit, healthy, cashed up and ready to score. Being stuck in Australia, in QLD, it's an impossibility (which I guess drives engagement for the website, if we were satiated then we wouldn't be reading this article I guess). There are no secrets in OZ when it comes to surfing and furthermore, it's puss for half to 3/4 of the year (been going out almost daily on the sunny coast for the last 2-3 weeks and haven't surfed a 2ft wave! Been on the fish the whole time.)

Where I'm planning on going I could surf 2ft+ long period waves everyday by myself or a handful of people! A 6 month surf season of awesome surf, then head to the next country and do it again! These are my plans that I hope on fulfilling as soon as I'm allowed to get on a plane! But in Australia? Good luck to all and their 'scoring'. Please stay here and score! Please?

FWIW on a personal note, learning about the weather (swell, swell period(!), winds, seasons, bathymetry, tidal ranges) has been the most valuable for me and thanks to the regulars that post about it. No use having a perfect setup if it only get's perfect a few times a year IMO, I'd rather surf with a bit of juice everyday. LET ME OUT!

Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin Thursday, 21 Oct 2021 at 12:02pm

“There are no secrets in OZ when it comes to surfing”

I could name a half dozen world class waves you’ve never heard of and another two dozen epic set ups you’ve got no idea exist. That’s before we even get to the sand banks which come and go under the noses of most.

juegasiempre's picture
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juegasiempre Thursday, 21 Oct 2021 at 12:09pm

Cool! Show me the swell and wind for the next couple of weeks. Any of them look like this?

https://imgur.com/a/008telE

Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin Thursday, 21 Oct 2021 at 12:18pm

I think you’re operating under a misunderstanding. I never said I thought Australia was the best surfing option on the planet. Good luck to you in your new life wherever. The Sunshine Coast seems like a pretty shithouse place from which to build a generalised opinion on Australian surfing though.

juegasiempre's picture
juegasiempre's picture
juegasiempre Thursday, 21 Oct 2021 at 1:06pm

lol, I'm from the GC actually, just up here milling around until I can go.

cognitive dissonance

noun PSYCHOLOGY

The state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioural decisions and attitude change.

Blowin : I could name a half dozen world class waves you’ve never heard of and another two dozen epic set ups you’ve got no idea exist.
juegasiempre: Fuck yeah, sounds sick! How's the swell and wind looking for the next coupla weeks on these epic, world class spots? I'm not looking for GPS co-ordinates or anything. How does it look compared to this random spot on magicseaweed?
Blowin: yeah, nah, nah mate. I never said I thought Australia was the best surfing option on the planet.

Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin Thursday, 21 Oct 2021 at 1:26pm

I didn’t understand your reply. I’m not being rude or evasive. Good luck overseas.

H2O's picture
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H2O Thursday, 21 Oct 2021 at 1:28pm

Good read. "The beauty and reward of surfing is greater than the sum of its parts." So much more. Cant think of anything that gets you closer to nature, to view, be rewarded and punished by .

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KevinHardwick Thursday, 21 Oct 2021 at 3:16pm

rivermouth

spenda's picture
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spenda Thursday, 21 Oct 2021 at 3:28pm

The art of scoring for this middle aged fart:
#1 - Find any 1-hour window, where work or family won't implode in my absence
#2 - Low expectations. You score whenever your expectations are exceeded.
#3 - swim fins. Come in smiling when waves are shit, or good days with mega crowds - uncontested inside barrels - score!

Constance B Gibson's picture
Constance B Gibson's picture
Constance B Gibson Thursday, 21 Oct 2021 at 4:04pm

Cool story, bro.

And on a friggin' surf forecastin' site!

Something's fishy...and it ain't just your moniker, 'John Dory'.

Amabie! Now there's a sea creature! Especially in these troubled times.

Anyway, there's 30+ 'world class' and/or just plain sick waves in Oz only the cognoscenti/illuminati know about. Apparently.

Yew!

nipper77's picture
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nipper77 Saturday, 23 Oct 2021 at 8:16am

Great pics of a coupla Sth Aus waves pumping.

gsco's picture
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gsco Saturday, 23 Oct 2021 at 8:28am

Machine learning (ML) is already starting to make significant inroads into weather, wave and surf modelling, prediction and forecasting (as Stu, Ben, Craig would already know).

Some papers on swell and surf forecasting:
- https://www.mdpi.com/2077-1312/8/12/992
- https://cdip.ucsd.edu/themes/media/docs/publications_references/journal_...
- https://www.foo.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Hansen_ML_wave_FOO_201...
- https://journals.tdl.org/icce/index.php/icce/article/view/10260/9546
- https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19942060.2020.1773932
(Ben, Stu and Craig probably have some better references and if so I'd be interested in them being pointed out so I could read them.)

They're applying ML models to weather/surf/swell forecasting how I would have thought they would: not doing away with the current state-of-the-art physics-based numerical prediction (PDE-based) models but also using the output/predictions of these physics-based models as inputs/factors/predictors into ML models.

They also seem to be largely using recurrent neural networks (RNNs) as I posited in an above comment, and there's obvious reasons for why which are a bit difficult to explain, apart from heuristically saying that RNNs take into consideration time-series type data where previous events (say weather conditions a few days ago that occurred well out to sea) impact on the current event being observed (the swell we're seeing on the coast right now).

It looks like it's currently very early days in the application of ML to weather and swell prediction and modelling. My experience is ML completely revolutionises, takes over and dominates every field it gets its hands on. I don't see things being any different for weather, swell and surf modelling and prediction.

Very interesting times.

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freeride76 Sunday, 24 Oct 2021 at 8:50am

Sounds like from the papers above they are using machine learning models to replace the current physics-based models due to the computationally expensive nature of the current physics based models.

Accuracy is less, not more, according to the papers above.

Or have I misread something?

Then you have the whole incredibly subjective nature of not just how given swells impact given beaches but how they are perceived by surfers.

Colour me sceptical.

san Guine's picture
san Guine's picture
san Guine Saturday, 23 Oct 2021 at 10:50am

Lot of tech talk here and on that basis, why not use night vision glasses/googles. the tech is already available, is it a commercially viable option?
This would instantly increase the number of available waves by 100% : )

The poo man's picture
The poo man's picture
The poo man Saturday, 23 Oct 2021 at 12:19pm

Forever chasing the dragon's tail on the quest to score perfect uncrowded waves

Vince Neil's picture
Vince Neil's picture
Vince Neil Monday, 25 Oct 2021 at 10:29am

i've hiked my fair share of metaphorical dry gullies in the search for waves...today i wandered to the end of the street to the middle of the beach where no-one ever surfs.
My 12 yo was gushing after he claimed a barrel in the small, clean waves. I had a bodysurf. its all in the eye of the beholder...

john.callahan's picture
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john.callahan Wednesday, 27 Oct 2021 at 3:00pm

Excellent feature from "John Dory", an obvious pseudonym, thank you.

Those opposed to improved surf forecasting, or surf forecasting in any form, fit the description of the Luddites almost exactly: just substitute surfing for cloth-weaving:

"The Luddites protested against manufacturers who used machines in what they called "a fraudulent and deceitful manner" to get around standard labour practices. Luddites feared that the time spent learning the skills of their craft would go to waste, as machines would replace their role in the industry"

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luddite

Machine-learning or AI forecasting replacing the vast and hard-earned knowledge of the dedicated local surfer and their years of careful and meticulous observation of local conditions?

It won't happen overnight, but it will happen eventually.

Who won between the Luddites and the manufacturers using the newfangled weaving machines that replaced hand-weaving and vastly increased production with fewer workers?

The machines won, of course. You aren't wearing boxer shorts of hand-woven cloth, are you?

For the potential developers of advanced surf forecasting sites, ignore the Luddites. They lost the cloth-weaving war and they will lose this fight also.

I would temper your expectations of making a massive amount of money from the technology, but that is no reason not to do it - someone will eventually, so it may as well be you.

Blowin's picture
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Blowin Wednesday, 27 Oct 2021 at 4:50pm

“….someone will eventually, so it may as well be you”

The creed of every greedy selfish prick in the history of mankind. The reason that the tragedy of the commons has destroyed environments the world over. You could even blame that sentiment for every war, induced famine and exploitation of humanity since the world began.

It’s the mindset of the person who fishes with dynamite, the person who disposes of asbestos in the bush behind a playground and the person who takes the charity tin from the top of the counter at the pub when they think no one is looking.

Integrity is a universally appreciated virtue. Get some.

john.callahan's picture
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john.callahan Wednesday, 27 Oct 2021 at 5:58pm

“It must be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to plan, more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to manage than a new system. For the initiator has the enmity of all who would profit by the preservation of the old institution and merely lukewarm defenders in those who gain by the new ones. ”
― Niccolò Machiavelli

Ignore the Luddites. Go forward and plan a new system.

radiationrules's picture
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radiationrules Friday, 29 Oct 2021 at 2:50pm

Great writing JD, this is both funny and accurate:
"This love of brandishing a trophy has contributed just as much to the crowded ruination of remote reefs and sneaky sandbars as it has to the species depletion of the white rhino. Just as surely as there is a hunter somewhere who would love nothing more than to accessorise his outfits with a cape made from the hide of the planet’s final remaining snow leopard, there is a surfer who cannot wait to upload their photos of The Last Uncrowded Wave On Earth to Instagram. Don’t be that guy or gal. Ever. That is the road to ruin my friend."

The other road to ruin IMO is actively participating in making surfing as competitive as land-based activities. To the point, I had dawn surf a few days ago 4-6ft rogue conditions, young(er) guy chatting away to my mate, all sharing scarce ridable waves as two swells are colliding into funky peaks. Guy says to my mate "go to go to work now" - next wave that comes he snakes my mate. What a f..tard. Bad vibes all round. Don't be that selfish person. One day you too were learning, or you're getting older. Be aware, care, and expect nothing in return for your kindness. IMO the ocean is a place to give back to - not take from. RR