I guess you’ve seen the Samsung commercial by now. Moody grey skies. Gabriel paddles out as titles talk of the loneliness of the competitive surfer. Alone in the middle of the ocean. Disconnected from his coach and fans. So lonely! Maybe Samsung can help.
A smartphone slots into Gabriel Medina’s surfboard. A screen on the deck of the board displays messages and the latest surf forecast. Gabriel gets a motivational text from Charlie: “Vai Medina!” and launches an air. You get the idea. With the help of Samsung’s technology, Gabriel can connect again.
Judging by the comments section, most surfers aren’t feeling too stoked about ‘staying connected’ in the ocean. One comment of “We surf to disconnect from the world for a short period of time. This is shit” probably sums up the feedback best. Of course, show it to a non-surfing technology geek and you’re going to get a totally different reaction.
And, that’s pretty much my feeling: few surfers, myself included, are interested in staring down into a screen when they surf. And you only need a surf forecast before you go surfing, not during. But was I into the challenge of building a working version of this concept? For sure!
The project started about 18 months ago, when Samsung approached me with their idea to connect what we do (surfing) with what they do (communication). From the start, the challenge was figuring out what tech you can add to a board without affecting the board’s performance: quite a lot, it seems. Samsung had an in-house team working on the electronics, and as I’d already incorporated technology into surfboards before, we soon had the interface figured out.
The other thing Samsung wanted from me was a sexy, futuristic shape. This is the best part of the job: taking inspiration from designs of the past and creating something totally fresh, with modern performance. When it came to showtime, everything came together – the electronics worked fine and Gabriel said the board worked well for the (average) waves it was designed for.
The Smartboard concept is still just that, a concept. But despite what the haters say, I think there’s a future for technology that can connect us in our loneliest moments in the water, or give a professional surfer the edge in a closely fought heat… and this was a big step towards it.