The future of surfboard fins has arrived. Imagine a world where just paddling out at your favourite break would be actively helping to protect it. In this futuristic world, what appears to be a regular old surfboard fin, cruising along on the bottom of your board, is collecting data, raising awareness and ultimately helping to protect oceans globally. That’s what’s coming to Australia: a surfboard fin so smart, it can actually collect valuable data while you’re surfing.
Fins: A Retrospective.
The original Hawaiian boards had no fins, and since then there’s been a vast selection of experiments, mishaps and occasional strokes of genius. In the 1930s, in the quest for board control, Tom Blake added the first fin to his board – an adaptation of a fixed keel fin from a speedboat. This was arguably the biggest contributor to modern surfing design, and it caught on. Fin development ranged from experimental bat fins, rectangular fins and hatchet fins, to the more mainstream developments that brought us the set ups we see today. The style was refined, becoming slimmer and more flexible, as George Greenough modelled his fins on the tails of ultimate ocean speedsters the Bluefin tuna. Now, the future of fins is here, with a fin that can be used to collect oceanic data just by being attached to the bottom of your board.
A fin that raises awareness about ocean issues, gathers valuable near-shore data, and provides a way to monitor and understand the effects of climate change is the brainchild of visionary Dr Andrew Stern. He partnered together with engineer Benjamin Thompson (founder of surf technology consultancy Board Formula – www.boardformula.com) to create this high-tech new device. Right now, development of the temperature and pH monitoring fins are underway, and Dr Stern says there are many potential uses including recording salinity, location, wave characteristics, and maybe even oxygen, chlorophyll and more.
So, what is the Smartfin?
Basically, it’s a regular fin, but while you’re catching waves it’s measuring oceanic characteristics like water temperature. This data can then be downloaded onto your phone via Bluetooth, and automatically added to a global database that is open for any scientists to tap into.
The Smartfin will provide valuable data on an area that is not usually accessible to scientists, and not reachable using satellites or buoys – inside the surf zone. The possibilities are limitless and open to any ideas from imaginative scientists. Earlier this year, mass coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef was caused by increasing ocean temperatures, with over 80% of the reef affected in some areas. Tyler Cyronak, of Scripps Institute, completed his PhD while living in Byron Bay and studying coral on the Great Barrier Reef. He’s now responsible for testing the scientific side of the fin and says that this data could expand early warning systems, monitor changes, and provide useful information for reef management.
Smartfin is partnered with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (a world leader in oceanic research) to show how valuable this fin can be. According to Dr Stern, as well as coral reefs Scripps oceanographers have proposed using it to study declining fish and shellfish yields, algal blooms which poison drinking water, coastal ecosystem threats from desalinization and power plants, and breaking wave energy. They’ve also partnered with Surfrider, a ‘not-for-profit, sea-roots organisation dedicated to the protection of Australia’s waves and beaches’ to help distribute the fin.
And it’s not just contributing to the scientific community, but also raises awareness about general impacts to our oceans and how humans are changing the waves, water and ecosystems. One of the most exciting things about the Smartfin is the way it will engage non-scientists into understanding what’s happening in our oceans. Tyler believes that Smartfin will make people more aware of ocean health, and encourage them to take charge of protecting their ocean. In a world where climate change is the biggest threat facing our oceans, and way of life, a deeper understanding and connection is necessary. Dr Stern believes the Smartfin will “trigger an awareness that we are in this together, that the surfer is not just an isolated being having fun, but is truly intimately connected to the global community as we all share the ocean”
When / where can I get one?
The SmartFin just arrived in Australia, partnering up with Surfrider – a grassroots environmental organisation made up of a community of people who seek to protect our beloved salty playground. While the fins aren’t yet available to the general public, you can get involved with Surfrider (www.surfrider.org.au) to help protect waves, oceans and beaches, and be on the front line when SmartFin is released.