Ocean surfers, kindly return to web surfing

A surfer who hoped tech would keep us glued to our screens finds that apps are increasing competition for the juicy waves

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You’ve heard the war cry: Watch out for technology! It morphs us into couch potatoes! Each era has its own prophecy of doom. First it was the hours in front of the TV. Then it was the obsession with video games. Now it’s the pull of the internet. Obesity, the naysayers cry! Brains unable to process creatively! The death of social skills! Hands are wrung and heads are shook and dire predictions are formed. Soon all life will be lived indoors, the seers warn, glued to the latest technology, eyes as glazed as donuts, muscles atrophying into gel. No one will venture outside unless it’s to grab the latest internet-ordered package of gizmos from the postal worker on the doorstep.

I wish.

I’ve been waiting for the couch potato phenomenon with bated breath. Why? Because I am a surfer. Not an internet surfer. A wave surfer. And a surfer’s dream is an ocean chock full of waves, and bereft of fellow humans.

Instead the waves seem to be getting more crowded. And technology is not hindering this, it’s helping.

The first traitor is the weather app. No more traveling to the beach only to find the water boiling from blistering winds; just check your phone for wind direction and speed. I had three weather apps at one point and I monitored them constantly, comparing their forecasts with the fervor of a dictator pitting her underlings against each other (and like a dictator, I also executed one after it betrayed me with bad graphics and hazy predictions.)

Next I look at the tides. I used to rely on a tiny booklet that mapped tides out for the whole year. But the booklet was invariably lost, gummed up with surf wax, or in my friend’s car. Now a few seconds on the computer is all I need.

And the surf cams! From the comfort of my warm living room, I call up live video feeds on surf spots around the country. As the sun comes up I squint at the dark lines that march across the screen, hinting at swell. I sip coffee and watch tiny dots catch waves and ponder whether it’s worth making the drive.

Best of all, there are calculations gathered by gurus who track storms from the other side of the globe, and then offer their insights on surf sites. No more hunkering over weather radios, the local news, and the national news, to guess when a swell will hit; now satellites watch as storms spin toward us, and experts translate what that means for waves three to five days hence. You are no longer the schmuck who calls in sick two hours before work because it’s an “over head” morning. Instead you map out the best days for breakfast meetings, making sure they land when the gurus predict becalmed conditions.

Thus we head out into the wild blue yonder, armed with the perfect amount of information. I should be happy, but instead it makes me kind of sad. It’s going to be a good surf day, but I didn’t have to work very hard to figure this out, and neither did you. Neither did the hundreds of others who will meet us on the beach. Turns out technology makes the outdoors more accessible, not less. Darn it.

Caroline Paul and Wendy MacNaughton
Caroline Paul is the author of "East Wind, Rain" and "Fighting Fire," and she co-wrote "Lost Cat: A True Story of Love, Desperation and GPS Technology" with her partner Wendy MacNaughton. MacNaughton's illustrations have appeared in The New York Times, Juxtapoz, and Print Magazine. "Lost Cat" was inspired by the curious disappearances of their beloved Tibia.
Caroline Paul and Wendy MacNaughton
Tags: Downtime,Mobile Apps,Tech Culture