Surfing is considered by some as the ultimate extreme sport. Over 35 million people around the globe struggle to predict the tricky weather conditions to score the ride of their lives. This process is full of uncertainty and frustration as current tools are inaccurate or costly.
Although some selected beaches will sustain perfect surfing conditions during most part of the year, most surfing spots will not be suitable for surfing for 90% of the time. Prime surfing conditions are extremely rare as a combinations of naturals factors such as swell size, swell direction, distance from storm to shore, wind speed, wind direction, beach bathymetry and wave period must coincide. Therefore, the limited supply of the “prime surfing condition” events is a major pain point for surfers as they struggle to plan their surfing schedules around predicting when and where to go surfing.
In the recent past, surfers who didn’t live next to the ocean, and therefore couldn’t see the conditions directly, had limited tools to assess the conditions of their local breaks. Nonetheless, in the past 20 years, the development of technologies has changed the way that starved surfers schedule their sessions. Increased accuracy and access to weather forecasting tools has allowed anyone with an internet connection and a basic understanding of weather charts to make a fair assessment of open ocean conditions. Despite these improvements, most ocean weather forecasts models are designed for open sea navigation purposes, and therefore the accuracy of the models is deficient for near shore conditions (exactly where surfers need the accuracy). Moreover, given the complexities of these models and the development costs associated, it is unlikely that more sophisticated near shore models will emerge as the practical uses are limited.
On a different approach, some companies capitalized on the opportunity by posting the surfing conditions of a limited set of popular beaches as they collected the information through the direct observation of a network of paid collaborators (who lived/worked near the surfing spots) and monetized by charging subscription fees to members (i.e. surfline.com).
Crowd-sourcing surf reports
With the mass adoption of smartphones, goFlow is attempting to bring more information to surfers (users) by creating a multi-sided platform that allows everyone (the crowds) to post the surf reports of their local breaks and share it with other users. In this way, the idea is that every surfer would only need to open the app and review the surf reports that other users posted in an “Instagram like” user experience. If managed properly, the platform has the potential to increase the efficiency of the search process for surfers and allow them to bypass the paid-membership services.
Monetizing the surf niche
In contrast to the general opinion that categorizes surfers as the typical hippie beach bums, recent studies have shown that the average surfer in the US is educated and earns around $75,000 per year. In addition, the overall spending on surfing equipment/gear in 2010 was $6.3 and is expected to more than double by 2017 to $13 Billion, therefore opening up interesting monetization opportunities for the platform through possible advertisement. Interesting to note this is the same niche segment that Nick Woodman used to test his GoPro camera and turn it into a mass market success.
Although the company claims over 20,000 downloads and over 1 Million reports to date, it faces the same chicken & egg problem that most platforms do. Despite this challenge, management reports show that the company raised a seed round of $500k from angel investors and is expanding into 10 verticals of similar weather dependent sports (skiing, snowboarding, kite-boarding, paddle boarding, etc.). It will definitely be very exciting to see the app reach the critical mass.