Blog article: Coming Full Circle with Surf Cams

Coming Full Circle with Surf Cams

July 9, 2020

When Surfline first introduced surf cameras on their website I was not into it. Not at all. What were they thinking? Making surf checks possible from the comfort of the couch would pull more people to the ocean and clog the best waves on the best days. Not only in my town of Santa Cruz where it seemed like almost every day more, new surfers were in the lineup, but across the world. 


I even boycotted Surfline and went elsewhere for my wave forecasts. I think it was Wet Sand and then Magic Seaweed. I’ll show Surfline they can’t ruin my local breaks without losing my very valuable eyes on their sponsor advertisements. Yeah, right.


But then one day, there I was at work. Stuck. By checking the buoys, tides, and winds I could imagine what The Lane looked like and could theorize if my most favorite barrel spot, Natural Bridges (NBs), was actually working. But I really couldn’t know because I couldn’t see the surf. And with a couple hours of daylight available when I left work I had to make the right call — go straight to The Lane (save time, more waves) or swing by NBs for a check and then fall back to The Lane if needed (possible barrels, risk fewer waves).

These first world surfing problems can really wear you down 🙂


So you can guess what I did. I caved. I checked the Surfline camera. I gave in to the new world order where any armchair surfer could make a very well informed decision to ‘go’ based on real-time visuals of swell, tide, wind, and crowd. I saw The Lane camera and it looked good. NB’s had/has no camera (fortunately) but The Lane was pumping enough that I knew I could score NBs — and I did. I made the call to go straight there. It’s amazing how a clean barrel or two mid-week makes the work and family life treadmill incredibly more easy to run on. 


And I had Surfline to thank for that.


So I bought in. But not entirely — not yet. I wasn’t willing to give Surfline my hard earned dollars just to get uninterrupted video streams. I would still show them how well I could decide when and where to surf with just a few seconds of their camera streams. Yeah, right.


Sometimes the first world struggle is real, especially when you are too cheap to pay for the premium, uninterrupted video stream forcing your tired hand to click refresh on your browser every 30 seconds. Especially on those long-period south swell days when there are zero waves for 3-4 minutes at a time and you haven’t yet seen a real set go through on the camera. Am I really supposed to refresh like 6-8 times waiting for the next set? 


I guess Surfline doesn’t care about carpal tunnel syndrome of their freemium users. But there I went again. I caved. I signed up for premium membership, devoting $12.99 each month so Surfline would let me view uninterrupted video streams of their surf cameras.


With no refreshing required, I found myself entering a whole new realm of remote (lazy?) surf checking. With the refresh method, I would tire out and close the Surfline browser tab after a few minutes. Who can keep refreshing for that long? But now with no interruptions I was able to keep that browser tab open, even minimized in the corner of my screen, so I could causally glance over any time to see how the crowd was growing, where the swell angle was now hitting the reef, or if the wind bump was tossing it up yet.

It was incredible. Not only could I see my best home breaks, I could watch glassy Pipe go bananas or perfect Snapper Rocks peel off. I could watch waves anywhere in the world. This was so rad. I was in love.


Then the honeymoon phase faded. At home I found myself staring at the video stream more and more while riding my bike down to actually check my local surf less and less. I was becoming super picky about making the decision to surf then ever before based on my remote viewing. This translated into fewer surf sessions for me, and that wasn’t cool. There is something to be said for throwing your board in the car and driving down to the beach for a hands-on surf check — it’s a scientific fact that you are way more likely to actually surf when you’re standing on the beach then sitting on your couch watching camera video 🙂


I found myself becoming way too reliant on the camera (more lazy?) and started to kind of despise it. But that wasn’t fair. I was abusing this great tool and using it in a way that wasn’t healthy for me so I had to adjust and learn to live in harmony with the camera, not in strife (first world problems strike again). So I’ve met myself in the middle on this and now use the camera for a quick check AFTER I look at the buoy readings, tide, and nearshore wind. Once I paint that picture of surf in my head I fire up the camera and almost groundtruth my perception of the waves with a visual look and add in the fourth, very important, crowd factor to my go/no-go decision.


This model helps me stay sharp on the key elements of the ocean that dictate so much of our activity there — swell, tide, wind — while the camera validates my thinking (or not) and let’s me make incremental checks while I wait for some change in the conditions before running out. It’s a nice balance.


And I surf more (again).


So nowadays I default to jumping on the bike or loading up the car to make my surf checks. While the camera shows quite a bit, so many times actually smelling the water, feeling the wind, or seeing the distribution of the crowd first-hand provides a much stronger feel for what the waves have to offer me. I surf more and have fewer surprises when I hit the water than I do from my less frequent camera-only checks. 


In coming full circle, I really like surf cameras again. I use them when appropriate for my local breaks and let them make me feel somewhat connected to exotic waves that I may never get to surf. And like any other ‘habit’, things in moderation seem to work out best 🙂

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