With the continuous and rapid escalation of technology, it was only a matter of time before Google Earth became antiquated—and with the recent release of UrtheCast, we are now officially in the age of real-time satellite imagery.
Two HD cameras with an image range of 40km will travel with the International Space Station, orbiting the earth at between 51 degrees north and south of the equator (effectively ranging from England in the north to Chile in the south) and uploading near-continuous images and video of the earth’s surface. With a free basic membership, users will be able to “watch the earth evolve,” or check up on favorite locations through a notification system that informs them of upcoming flyovers. And with a paid premium account, users will be able to order custom flyover options to better observe whatever it is that they are interested in peeking at.
The ramifications for armchair surf “exploration” are obvious. While Google Earth busted the age of online discovery wide open, resulting in competitions such as Surfing Magazine’s “Google Earth Challenge” and the unveiling of gems such as Namibia’s Skeleton Bay, this real-time space station camera creeping of tomorrow represents a whole new generation of revelations, as the average Joe will now be able to scour the earth’s varied coastlines during forecasted swell events. No longer handicapped by historic images that only get updated on a multi-yearly basis, we stand to uncover an entire stable of new unknown and/or secret breaks that have heretofore gone unwitnessed under the right swell conditions—or been kept from the public eye by tight-lipped locals.
Whether or not this is a good thing depends on your point of view. More discoveries in far-flung locales means more waves for us to dream about and chase, and perhaps even a pressure release for the crowded breaks at home. On the other hand, UrtheCast represents another step in the ongoing extinction of the secret spot fueled largely by online platforms such as webcams, Navy weather forecasting tools, readily accessible satellite images and daily blog and video uploads. Whatever your feelings on the matter, the fact is that the new future of surf exploration is right around the corner. One can only imagine what we’ll discover next.
For more from Matt, see surfsleeptravel.com