Future Shock – How the Internet’s Changed Everything

6 Dec 2011 0

The kind of lineup you once only lucked upon.

The kind of lineup you once only lucked upon.

Words by Tim Baker

Ever thought about the impact the Internet has had on your surfing life? Not just the obvious cams and forecasts, but the myriad ways in which you routinely do things now on-line that would have once seemed miraculous only a decade or two ago.

From the watching of webcasts to the booking of travel to the googling up of every conceivable factoid, receiving Tweets from your favourite surfer and watching clips of yesterday’s swell action, it is now possible to keep tabs on almost the entire surfing world via your home computer and a decent internet connection.

Once, the first reporting of a pro contest came out in a magazine two months after the fact. Now, an event is old news within 24 hours. The wanderings of ocean swells used to be a mystery to all but the most scholarly oceanographer, and the only way to really know what the surf was doing was to physically set eyes on it.

When I was growing up in Melbourne, Rip Curl had a recorded surf report for Torquay you could ring, as long as someone remembered to up date it each morning. I think one of the east coast surf shops had a similar deal.  I can recall having the mysteries of weather maps explained to me for the first time - that lows spun clockwise and highs spun anti-clockwise, and the tighter the isobars the stronger the wind, and that wind created swell – and marveling that you could begin to predict what the surf might do.


I am what you might call a “late adopter”. I acquired a mobile phone for the first time 12 months ago at the age of 45. I thought they were a fad - the CB radio of the new millennium – and destined to give us all brain tumours. But it seems they are here to stay. Having crossed that daunting technological threshold I discovered I quite liked the thing. I went straight to the iPhone4 and the firepower I now held in the palm of my hand was intoxicating – especially for a middle-aged man whose earthly powers are in other ways beginning to wane.  I was quite proud of myself too, how I challenged my “luddite” self-image and boldly rose to the challenge of mastering this new technology. That I could obtain live football scores and watch webcasts of surf contests on my phone certainly helped.  With a little schooling, on my recent trans-Australian travels, I could soon shoot High Definition video on my phone and upload it straight to YouTube, then announce its arrival to my army of followers via something called Hoot Suite, linked to my array of social media networks. 

If you had tried to describe these wonders of modern life to me as a small boy I could not have comprehended it. I am just old enough that I can vaguely recall the milkman’s horse and cart clip-clopping down our street as a boy, peering out my bedroom curtains into the hazy grey dawn and marveling as the faithful old Clydesdale kept up the perfect slow march to allow the milkman to run to and from the cart and deliver bottles of fresh milk to each doorstep, without either one of them having to break their stride. It was a strangely beautiful dance and perfectly functional.

When I started working on surfing magazines we wrote on typewriters. Our poorly typed pages would then be “marked up” by the art director with typesetting instructions – 8 on 9 point bodoni bold over 14 ems, or some such – and we would then deliver these pages to the typesetters’ office down the road. A few days later they would ring to say our pages were ready and we would come and collect them as “bromides,” our words now typeset on sheets of plastic we ran through a waxer, then carefully cut out with ruler and scalpel to affix to an artboard. We waited anxiously for photos and stories to arrive by old-fashioned snail mail. We might receive urgent, late breaking news via the wonders of telex. Compared to today’s streamlined, computerized publishing world, it all seems like stone tablets and chisels.

The changes we are seeing in our lifetimes are unprecedented and accelerating all the time. Just when I think I am catching up the world of technology leaps ahead again. My mate Rob, who runs a smart and edgey web design and branding business, is always going off to conferences and seminars and coming back with dazzling predictions of the next great leap forward. “You won’t believe what they’ve got coming,” he warns me.  He recently helped me change my email settings and said the easiest way to do it was to talk on iChat. I followed his instructions and he was soon talking to me through my computer from his office 10 km away, taking command of my cursor and navigating his way around my desktop by remote. It was a freaky sensation sitting at my desk watching some other disembodied presence drive my laptop.

Now Coastalwatch itself is upping the ante, with the latest in surf forecasting and swell tracking tools and alerts and the sort of technological firepower once reserved for the world’s most advanced military empires. I have fiddled with the thing, set myself swell alerts, pored over its impressive charts and graphics, marveled at its depth and sophistication. There is simply no longer any excuse to ever miss a swell anywhere in the world. If you are, say, Mark Matthews or Garrett MacNamara, constantly chasing the world’s mega-swells, your job just got a whole easier – apart from the actual riding of the oceanic beasts. Tap in the desired conditions for virtually any spot on earth – swell direction, size and period, wind direction and strength, and simply wait for the alert to drop into your inbox.

But, it occurs to me, all this technology is a two-edged sword. All this time we spend indoors, in front of computer screens, scanning charts, setting alerts, filling out our surf diaries, posting clips or photos, is time we are not spending out there in the big blue, where we can acquire some of this knowledge and understanding first hand, from nature.

These are powerful forces we are meddling with here. They are not to be taken lightly, trifled and toyed with all day long. They are designed for short, sharp, targeted and strategic use. Choose your section of coast, glean the current and predicted swell, wind and tide, check the cams by all means, enjoy a clip or a photo gallery or two. And then turn the damn computer off and get outdoors where you can put all this new insight and understanding to some useful purpose.

Technology can be our friend as long as it serves us, while we are its master and not its servant. Do not let it take the place of gazing at clouds or contemplating the moods of the ocean or noticing what the wind is doing with your own physical senses.  Many great surfers have developed a powerful, intuitive sense for what the surf is doing over a lifetime of careful observation and study.
Life is about balance and those who are best able to straddle the great technological divide, to combine modern advances with traditional, nature-born understanding and real world experiences, will always remain one step ahead of the pack.

- Tim Baker

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