Social Surfers

A tsunami advisory goes out for the entire Pacific Ocean.  On the East Coast of the United States, Facebook explodes with status updates.  At 9:56 a.m. Hawaii time, a surfer writes, “Sitting in Hawaii waiting for the END OF THE WORLD!”  At 2:57 p.m. Eastern time, a surfer in New York City reads it.  Twenty-one minutes later, this pattern repeats.  Multiply this activity by x: Twitter is veritably vibrating.

We surfers seem to love social networking, and, actually, all things internet.  In the beginning, we all used to follow one of the major magazines on Twitter, and maybe Mick Fanning.  Now, the possibilities are nearly endless: names, big and small, in all facets of the industry, and more people are signing up all the time.

Pretty much all social networking sites saw growth in the past year.  Facebook’s user base increased by 145% in 2009.  They now claim to have over 400 million active users worldwide.  And according to Nielsen, Twitter completely blew up between February 2008 and the same month the following year, with an unbelievable 1,382% growth.  Last year, the megasite grew another 1,105%.

So everybody’s doing it, but it seems that an inordinate number of surfers are utilizing online media to express themselves, promote themselves, or simply keep in touch.  Basically, the entire surfing community is available online; you can even watch live contests, streamed in from all over the world, while sitting at home.  Or at work, for that matter, though this is not recommended.

So why has surfing leapt to the interweb, and to social media specifically?

Ryan Struck, a surf photographer, has two websites promoting his work but says that it’s not really enough for them to simply exist.  A website on its own “just sits in cyber space,” he says.  “I joined Twitter about a year ago to try and make some noise for my images.”  He was also sucked into Facebook recently, after a long period of resisistance, and has found it incredibly helpful to his career.  “Facebook almost makes irrelevant,” he says.  “I haven’t updated it in forever, as Facebook keeps things so current.  I am still learning social media as a marketing tool, but it is awesome because it’s FREE.”

Dave Prodan of the Association of Surfing Professionals says another draw to Twitter is its user-friendliness.  “Within the surfing world, the guys are trying to raise their profiles that way,” he says.  It’s nice that they can access Twitter on their phones, since “a lot of them don’t really have time to get online.”

Prodan speculates that since the surfers on tour are really close, they see each other tweeting and decide to give it a try themselves.  Mick Fanning starts tweeting, so does Joel Parkinson.  A trend is born.  Of the ASP Top 27, 19 have Twitter accounts.

Because they travel, it’s interesting for their friends, family, and fans to follow their movements on sites like Twitter, but it’s also an easy way for them to keep in touch, says Prodan.  “For a lot of the guys on tour, it’s a tool to connect with one another.  It’s almost like SMS for them.”  In the past couple of days, the Hobgoods (they tweet as one) have “mentioned” Bobby Martinez, Taj Burrow, and Freddy Patacchia.

Lots of surf industry professionals also happen to have downtime in between swells, shoots, contests, and flights.  Enter social networking sites; the height of time-loss technology.

This internet invasion goes beyond Twitter and Facebook: the blogosphere is inundated with pro surfers.  Dane Reynolds gets the most media hype, because… he’s Dane Reynolds.  No matter what he does, we want to know about it.  And we are going to know about it.

The guy surfs every single day, and just about every day, he posts some artfully edited, black and white video of his surfing or a funny anecdote from his envy-inducing life.  Today, for instance, he posted “three easy steps for obtaining Charlie Brown’s time machine (my van)” and then a video of a stranger actually taking the van.  He’s interested in photography and storytelling, and he’s got the raw materials to work with, so he chooses to express himself.  He shows us what he’s doing, so that we don’t have to hear it from some other site.

SURFER’s Zach Weisberg recently wrote a story about why surf blogs matter.  “I’d argue that blogs were the single most transformative addition to the surf industry in the past year,” he writes.  Among other things, “they’ve served to reclaim the identities of over-marketed professional surfers.”

Who knew that Dane Reynolds liked old photos or that Sterling Spencer was so skilled at seamlessly affixing his torso to horse bodies?  Through their sites, we get to see them as people instead of super-human, maneuver-busting enigmas.

The live stream is possibly the most amazing thing to catch on in surfing recently.  In February, the Mavericks contest was viewed live from California, in its entirety, by tens of thousands.  On the internet.  This was an event for which a miniscule piece of the surfing population could actually be present.  The astounding video was accompanied by this crazy gadget called a “social stream,” which allowed viewers to log in via any number of social media sites and comment on what they were watching.  Community access.

So, if you’re in some wretched land-locked location, crying about missing the ocean and your friends, you need look no further than the world wide web.  It’s almost as good as the real thing.  Okay, not really, but it helps ease the pain a little.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: