Stab Magazine | How A Snowboard Trip Resulted In GPS Surf Technology

How A Snowboard Trip Resulted In GPS Surf Technology

The birth of tracking. 

style // Jul 1, 2016
Words by stab
Reading Time: 4 minutes

This is the final installment of the Stab Scorecard presented by Rip Curl. Where we’ve noted the ladies and gentlemen who strive towards spending the utmost time in the ocean. We’ve seen a grom that surfed 460 times in 440 days, a man who had 432 sessions in 2015, taught a clinic on how to catch a wave every three minutes (you gotta be hungry), and watched a gent fall just short of a one kilometer wave in Peru (949 meters!). The stats are all factual – we wouldn’t dare make this up – and recorded by the Rip Curl GPS watch then submitted into the app. It’s no secret that this series has an advertorial slant, however the stories and people are what keep our attention of recorded sessions piqued. And if we’re going to support a product, you better damn-well believe that it stirs our interest. 

IMG 0325

If you’re thinking Shane’s a desk jockey, tech nerd, you’re way off. The cat proper shreds.

Shane Helm is the mind behind the watch. He’s the creator and a firm believer in the product. “I’ve had 118 surfs so far this year,” he tells Stab. “We are 180 days in, so I use the watch almost every day.” The concept for the GPS watch came about in the mountains of Hokkaido, Japan, a rather unusual place to plant the seed of a surf watch.  “A few key members of the Rip Curl watch team absconded from our usual Hong Kong supplier meeting drudgery to catch a few days of powder in Japan,” says Mr Helm. “We couldn’t believe how much fun we were having with our Smartphones and a couple of GPS tracking apps that we downloaded.” And as is human nature, the competitive spirit took over the crew posthaste. “Coffee breaks were forsaken, lunch turned into a quick, half hour re-fuel and squeezing two runs during the “last lifts” became the norm. The funny thing is, it was all for bragging rights over a few key metrics at the end of the day: fastest speed, most vertical meters, total ski distance and maximum daily runs. It didn’t take long for our minds to turn to discussing how we might bring this same fun into our surfing lives.” 

IMG 0300

Pour on the mustard, bury the rail and let it scream.

In the early stages of development, Rip Curl’s team — particularly Owen Wright — played an integral role refining the tech into the wrist recorder it is today. “I owe a special thanks to Owen,” says Shane. “The first time he used the watch was a classic five foot day at Winkipop. After surfing for about an hour, he asked me how fast he’d gone for the third time. He was pissed that every time he went a bit faster, I got another good wave and was ahead of him in the speed category. He paddled straight out to sea, waited fifteen minutes for a bomb set and got the wave he needed. He paddled back up the line with a huge grin and screamed, “I went 39 Kmh!” At this time the product was still secret. There were more than a few people in the lineup wondering what he was yelling about. We spent the next few days surfing and discussing what features to build into the app.” 

IMG 0093

Inciting certain envy… from where we’d all rather be.

“My best recorded session was at Cloudbreak,” quips Mr Helm. “That’s my favourite wave, no question. I had a day there earlier this year where I spent nine hours surfing and caught 65 waves in the eight-ten foot range. It was all day perfection. But my favourite waves to use the watch are down-the-line point breaks. On a really special swell I got a 495 m (540 yard) wave a Winkipop. I’m still chasing that last five meters. A few of my mates cracked 500 meters that swell. Going back and reviewing those five star sessions is a good memory trigger. It brings you back to those sessions you would have forgotten otherwise.”

DRL 0230

Nine hours at Thundercloud Reef. Cue the free back adjustment.

It’s refreshing when the man behind the tech is one of its biggest supporters. “It’s a great motivator. I’m trying to beat last year’s wave count. I’m currently tracking about 100 waves ahead of where I was last year.” 


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