It might not replace the actual experience of paddling out for a session, but VR surfing is actually pretty awesome. Photo: Specular Theory

It might not replace the actual experience of paddling out for a session, but VR surfing is actually pretty awesome. Photo: Specular Theory

The Inertia

More often than not, surfers are adverse to technology. We’d much rather go off-the-grid, shutting off our phones and neglecting our inboxes in pursuit of perfect waves in a far-off land. And when new technologies related to the surf industry arise, many surf purists blow them off. I, myself, am often in that camp of surf tech haters.

So when I was offered the opportunity to test out a virtual reality surfing experience, I resorted to that default state of skepticism. “It’ll never compare to the real thing,” I thought. But part of me remained curious, if only to make fun of it, so I decided to give it a shot.

On a rare rainy Friday in Los Angeles, I stopped by a Venice Beach office where I was told I would get virtually barreled. Specular Theory, creators of award-winning virtual reality experiences,teamed up with Jeep, on the occasion of partnership with WSL for the first fully-immersive virtual surfing project. Behind-the-scenes footage shows the team down in Mexico filming with their special VR cameras. The result was a POV-style experience, slotting users inside a heaving Mexican tube.

But two-dimensional footage of the barrel doesn’t do it justice. Once you have the headset on, the headphones dialed in, you can look around a full 360 degrees in the tube – you’re actually there, getting deep behind the curtain and then spit out in a mist of glory. Needless to say, I became a believer that day. Virtual reality surfing is actually really cool; it’s not just some corny novelty. And here’s a few reasons why:

Widespread accessibility

Not many people are lucky enough to live close to the beach. Even fewer are lucky enough to have the means to surf. What about people in landlocked middle of America. Or people who might have a disability, preventing them from the physical requirements necessary to surf? They shouldn’t be excluded. With this technology, anyone can experience the joy of getting barreled.

No hassle

Surfing requires a lot of time, money, and effort. You have to drive to the beach. Pay for parking. Put up with crowds. Etc., etc. On top of all that, the conditions have to be ideal, which is rare. In the virtual world, however, conditions are always good and there are no crowds…just perfect barrels all the time.

Less crowds

The hassle factor is a two-way road. If more people stayed home and went virtual surfing, then there would be less people actually surfing. It’s a win-win for everyone – perfect barrels at home, less crowds at your local spot.

Anyone can get barreled

Surfing is one of the hardest things in the world to do. It takes years and years to know what you’re doing and then even more time to actually enjoy it. Few people who surf on a regular basis actually get to know the feeling of getting spit out of a huge barrel. With this technology, everyone – regardless of skill – gets to know what it’s like.

Practice for the real thing

Waves are rare. And good waves are about as elusive as unicorns. It can be difficult to get enough practice in good waves to actually know what you’re doing once they come along. With the virtual reality experience, you can get comfortable in the tube. Imagine pulling into a few double-overhead barrels every night before you go to sleep…by the time that dawn patrol session rolls around, you’ll be ready for the real thing.


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