Surfing Silicon Valley
To surf the Web or surf the surf?
May 31, 1999
SAN FRANCISCO (CNN) -- A new dimension in surfing, surfing the Web, is changing the traditional kind.
It's a clash between new technology and established culture.
Thousands of surfers check out the waves with services like Surf Check and Surf Line, which monitor hundreds of beaches worldwide.
But not Linda Mar Beach in Pacifica, California, where local surfing veteran Rick Eastman is adamant.
"We don't want the camera here," he says.
"One, the camera will concentrate the crowds and this beach is getting too much of a crowd right now without the camera."
And two, the camera that was installed here already was promptly stolen.
Its operator was Ted Deits, owner of Surfcheck.com, who absolutely did not expect the negative reaction he got.
"The Internet camera allows surfers a way to maximize their surf time without wasted trips to the beach when the surf is no good," Deits says.
The issue pits locals who live near the Pacifica beach against those who commute.
"I've stopped counting at 150 surfers in the water," says Barbara Parker, who has climbed the waves for 10 years.
Now, there are too many surfers for real safety, she says.
But Adam Wagner, who traveled from two counties north, says the Web cam is a great idea.
"The beach is crowded anyway. The waves are free. You might as well take advantage of the technology that's out there."
Surfing veteran Eastman says surf cams violate surfing tradition by letting surfers "cherry pick" the good spots and jam them up.
"Part of the surfing deal is you pay your dues. You come over, if it's (not good) you make a decision to go out or go home."
Albert DiPadova, a beach photographer who works for Surfcheck, says surfcams don't cause crowds. He says the same surf cams that check the surf also tell a Web surfer when the beach is too crowded.
"When we installed the live camera at San Francisco the crowds were reduced," DiPadova says. "Because you go to the beach when it's good, and when you know it's good you surf more, and when you surf more you don't go on the crowded weekends."
Deits mounted his Pacifica camera on top of a city sewage pump house near a creekbed outfall on a trial basis. He never got to use it. Just two days later someone scaled the building and tore out the camera, its mount, lens and cable. He's not seen the camera since. Deits' loss was about $1,500.
Surfcams started out as little more than a Web novelty, something to see by computer remote. The concept exploded late last year. Now Surfcheck and Surfline feed information every day to their 5,000-plus subscribers.
His cameras carpet the California coast from San Francisco to San Diego, Hawaii, Costa Rica, El Salvador and South Africa.
The typical camera is a Samsung color CCD model with a power zoom lens in a weather-resistant housing. It feeds into a small computer with a video-input card that in turn sends the digitized signal via phone line to Deits' server. More popular sites may also have cameras that zoom and pan to see more of the beach.
Deits says surf cams give surfers information other reporting methods cannot.
"When you look at the surf you want to look for the tide, the shape of the wave, the wind conditions, the sea surface texture. Everything that really can't be conveyed in words via telephone reports or in the print in the newspaper, because surfing changes minute to minute."
The Pacifica location was Deits' first on a public building. His other cameras are located at private homes or businesses. Homeowners are paid a fee of $125 to $150 per month. Businesses receive "banner play," meaning a banner advertising the establishment appears on the page whenever that camera is called up by a Web viewer.
The local mood was best summed up by Pacifica surf shop owner Sean Rhoads.
"You don't deserve to get the good day unless you get up off your butt and go out and look," he says.
When Deits went before the Pacifica City Council to establish a permanent lease, the council members divided, then turned him down. The council session was packed, mostly with surfers opposed to the camera. They had a ready ear in council member and fellow surfer Jim Vreeland.
"The people who are being impacted are telling you they're against it," he says.
The irony of a beach town refusing a beach camera was not lost on council member Barbara Carr, a local real estate broker.
"We have a city full of NIMBY's -- Not In My Back Yard. Now we have NIMO's -- Not In My Ocean. We have the Chamber of Commerce going out to say please come visit our city, we have wonderful beaches. Now we're saying please don't come to our beaches."
Deits says he may consider mounting his Pacifica camera on a private building ... if he's willing to risk losing another unit.
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