Vale Mano Ziul - Surfing's Computer Wizard
Long before Brazilian surfers made an impression on the World Tour, Brazilian technology was advancing competitive surfing. Mano Ziul made professional surfing fairer for participants and more engaging for beach watchers, and in time for people watching all around the world.
In 1984, 24-year old Mano Ziul was running a computer store in Rio De Janeiro with his business partner Celso Alves. “Mano was the computer wizard,” Alves said in 2020, “I didn't understand shit.” Though a first wave computer geek, Ziul was also a surfer and that year he experimented with a way of providing instant scores to surfers participating in local Rio surf competitions.
Ziul said his system was like, “an electronic scoreboard on the beach [that] could carry the running scores, and keep the time.”
Though it doesn’t sound like much, instant scores fundamentally changed how heats were surfed, giving surfers instant feedback, and in turn allowing them to strategise their next moves. Prior to this, surfers rarely knew where they were placed in a heat, nor what was required to change it.
As Al Hunt, pro surfing’s longtime stats man says of Ziul’s invention, “Without instant scores and priority knowledge, pro surfing would still be in the dark ages.”
In 1986, the Association of Surfing Professionals saw Ziul’s system, by now named Beach and Byte, and offered to introduce it into the world tour. It took two years to get all the pieces working to the standard required. “The beach is not a natural place for computers and electronics,” Ziul told Swellnet in 2016.
The first international use of Beach and Byte’s scoring system was in 1988 at the Sundek Classic, Ubatuba Beach, São Paulo. The contest was won by Damien Hardman. At the time, Brazil had just a handful of touring professionals, the highest being Fabio Gouveia who was ranked 54th in 1988, yet such was the success of Beach and Byte the ASP hired Ziul and a small team of his technicians to follow the tour.
In those early days of the tour, technical smarts wasn’t enough and Ziul often relied on his strength of character to assemble (and a few days later disassemble) his scoring system in various foreign countries, each with different conventions, such as power requirements, in an environment that was hostile to computers and electronics.
“It helped that I like to solve problems,” said Ziul, “because every contest was a challenge.”
Not only did the first version of Beach and Byte provide instant scoring, it also arranged heat draws, automatically calculated ratings, and in a nod to his computer geek origins, had a message board - many years before the internet made such things commonplace.
“His mind was always doing a million miles an hour,” says Hunt. “Every other day he would ask what I thought of this new idea, many of which he put into place.”
At first, the ASP made Ziul their Scoring System Analyst but as pro surfing increasingly relied on communication technologies, he was installed as Chief Technology Officer and his new ideas began to materialise.
In 1993, Ziul started putting live scores onto the World Wide Web, long before any fans had ever logged on. Even the Grajagan Pro contests of the mid-90s, supposedly run in isolation from the rest of the world, had multiple daily updates on conditions and scores.
If online pioneers logged on to www.asplive.com in September 1997, they would’ve seen what is arguably Ziul’s greatest contribution to pro surfing. On a flickering 4’x 6’ screen, Michael Campbell beat Luke Egan to win the Buondi Sintra Pro at Portugal, the very first surfing event with a live webcast.
Again, it’s easy to take this development for granted, however webcasting gave greater license for contests to be located in good waves, not just convenient locations. No longer was the sum total of the crowd sitting in the grandstands, they were now located across time zones and hemispheres. The potential for eyeballs increased by orders of magnitude, subsequently changing the economics of pro surfing.
An inquisitive mind never sits still, and in 2006 Ziul again applied his curiousity to scoring, creating a replay system that judges could use to analyse critical moves, or to playback whole waves if multiple waves were ridden at once. Later, in 2016, Ziul created a smartwatch for competitors to instantly track time and scores.
2016 was also when Ziul had a brain tumour, reducing his involvement with pro surfing. It was complications with this surgery that overnight killed Mano Ziul, aged just 61-years old.
“Mano’s changes to scoring and results programs were huge,” said Al Hunt. “He will surely be missed.”
What a brilliant innovator, lateral thinker and the kind of energetic geek who can inspire even a numbskull. A great loss to the world, and surfing.
Vale Mano. What a huge contribution to the sport.
Is that Renato Hickel on the left of Mano in the first pic?
I thought the same... Surely?!
Yep, very young looking.
RIP Mano, 61 is way too young.
Old Wayback Machine captures bring back some memories.
Amazing life and achievements. I was too young to even know about this fella but great to see a brilliant creative mind push the boundaries of whats possible. Indeed a massive loss to this world. RIP fellow countryman.
Sad to hear - Mano was a genius and put a lot of time and effort into a scoring system that worked and advanced professional surfing by a long way.
Top fellow as well, sorry to hear he has left us -
Vale Mano but what a contribution to the sport. And a big reason most of us have dual screens running while watching the webcasts. A pioneer in more ways than one.
One of the nicest guys on the ASP tour when I was on it. So sad for someone so young. RIP Mano.
Agreed, Tim. This is terribly sad news.
Thanks for the write-up, Stu. Nicely done.
RIP Mano, 61 yrs young & a true innovator!
RIP Mano, a true gentleman of pro surfing whose contributions were often overlooked. A great and worthy tribute, Stu.