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Virtual Reality Will Shove Surfing Forward

Had an interesting conversation the other night.

The guy I spoke with was a real nerd. He had pale skin and dark hair that frizzed into a ponytail and dangled down onto his malnourished back. The graphics on his t-shirt were snide and I wouldn’t be surprised if he had some cysts, somewhere. He was friendly. Per his desire, we discussed virtual reality.

For clarity’s sake, this is not Virtual Reality.

By definition, VR is the computer-generated simulation of a three-dimensional image or environment that can be interacted with in a seemingly real or physical way by a person using special electronic equipment.

You can’t just point six GoPros at Kelly Slater on a boat and expect the results to feel real. That is shit.

In VR, the objective is to perceive an artificial experience as a real experience. It is to create a world, and to have your brain actually believe in it. I question the future of film-based virtual reality though — who’s going to put on a weird headset and stare around drooling everywhere like a fucking llama when it’s already hard enough to watch an Instagram clip north of 11 seconds? The answer to that question: those who really, really love porn.

So I don’t think there’s a huge virtual reality future for surf films. Using it as a tool to improve surfing, though, is a different story.

Visualisation has wild effects on performance. A study showed that people gained muscle after only visualising a workout. If you visualise blood flowing to certain parts of your body during a stroke, blood will actually flow there. Visualisations under hypnosis enabled male gymnasts (ha!) to land shit they’d been working on for over a year. You can find articles from dumb-faced bohemian sheep with blogs to clinical studies straight from the Ivy League on the subject. But, the consensus all around is that it works.

And it’ll work even better once you throw some VR in the mix to really fuck with your brain.

There’s a company called STRIVR in the valley of Silicon and acronyms. They work with a variety of major professional sports teams and the results are shown in somewhat confounding graphics on their website. One of its founders, Jeremy Bailenson explained what they do.

“We measure exactly how the body moves, and we replicate the senses for those movements. … It’s a constant technological system that tracks body movement and updates the sights, sounds and touch based on those movements. You feel like you’re mentally transported into a different place.”

While my pony-tailed comrade was no Jeremy Bailenson, he said that VR Designers are in incredibly high demand in the nerd industry. The future, he explained, is going to come up fast.

Soon enough, technology like STRIVR won’t just be available to people who play for the Dallas Cowboys. You’ll be able to feel things in surfing before you actually do them and your brain will think it’s real. Imagine the confidence that’ll create when it comes to big waves or even the body mechanics of sneaking in that extra spin. The impact of VR will be grander than that of wave pools — which cost a lot of money and offer way fewer possibilities.

What does that mean for you, the common man, the one out at some lonely grey sandbar at dawn on a Tuesday?

Depends. Are you willing to wear a face mask and wrestle invisible gorillas in your living room in order to surf better? If so, you’re on in a few years. And if not, kick back and enjoy the progression in our sport. And maybe steal somebody’s beer while they're in VR.

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