Stab Magazine | After Nearly A Decade Of Trying Does Virtual Reality Have A Place In Surfing?

After Nearly A Decade Of Trying Does Virtual Reality Have A Place In Surfing?

Anyone else feel dizzy?

style // May 26, 2017
Words by stab
Reading Time: 3 minutes

In 2008, Ian Walsh, Jamie O’Brien, Jamie Sterling, Raimana Van Bastolaer and a cadre of Red Bull visual technicians gathered poolside at the InterContinental in Papeete to plan a 360 video project. The goal was to get a surfer to strap a 25-pound piece of recording equipment to their back and go surf 10-foot Teahupoo.

Working with a company called Immersive Media, they devised a large orb device, about the size of a classroom globe, which was loaded with cameras capable of capturing every possible angle. The video footage was then stitched together in post-production to create a full 360 “immersive” experience. It was posted online and the viewer was able to click and drag and check out everything from the foamball, to JOB’s shit-eating grin, to the ski in the channel. It was billed as a “first ever” online moment…and it flopped. People just didn’t get it. It was too soon.

“I guess you guys aren’t ready for that yet, but your kids are gonna love it,” as Marty McFly would say.


Anything you thought of, Reb Bull thought of first.

Almost a decade down the tracks, virtual reality is big business and the immersive POV technology has dramatically improved (mind you, the iPhone turns ten next month). Taylor Steele recently released some behind the scenes clips of Proximity that rely heavily on the GoPro Omni. By contrast, the rig weighs about two and a half pounds. It utilises six Hero4 Black cameras to capture 360 degrees of vision. It comes with a software suite to make end-to-end production as easy as a surf trip and night on the couch on your computer. You can own one for a cool $5,000.

To date, Steele and his partners at Teton Gravity have released an immersive edit featuring Kelly and John John in the South Pac, another featuring Steph and Rasta in Baja Mexico and one with Craig Anderson and Rob Machado in Chile. At risk of sounding spoiled, desensitised or blasé, they underwhelm. But, when it comes down to it, this is just a next step and who are we to halt progression?

It would be fun to see 360-degree glory of all of those surfers in freight-train rights or grinding lefts, but that doesn’t happen. Kelly rides a mediocre wave somewhere in the South Pacific (on a fish?), but there’s some cool shark footage (sharks sell, you know?). The video starts in an exotic island village and at first, it’s unclear if Kelly’s been kidnapped by pirates. But alas, there’s Two Johns, waiting for him with his wheelie bag on the dock.

The Steph/Rasta combo has a little more jazz and wave interest, while Craig and Rob is more of the same. In the YouTube description, Taylor says, “It’s a new way of telling stories and the future of filmmaking.”

Storytelling? If we’re talking about the next level of storytelling after the Momentum series, then yes, it’s a clear upgrade. But in terms of stimulating the cerebral cortex, let’s call it what it is—next-level surf porn, but with more clicking and dragging. These days marketers call that “engagement.” However, it won’t go away anytime soon, so the “future of filmmaking” isn’t off base. But, if you’re gonna click and drag, Anthony Walsh and Matahi Drollet in Tahiti is a slightly better experience.

After ten years of watching surfers play with the VR thing, it still seems like the best immersive experience is to put your device down and go surf. When you’re done, throw a Jack McCoy film on a big, old high-def screen and turn the lights down low.


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