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Surfrider Foundation
Surfrider Foundation

Web-vertising Our Breaks

San Luis Obispo County isn’t immune to technological advances. In many sectors, we welcome it. But in others, we hesitate. The encroachment of various technological developments inevitably forces us to respond to their implications. One area not so far in our future is "web-vertising" local surf breaks. It’s happening around the world, and its starting to happen in SLO County.

Surely, all of us occasionally enjoy visiting surf websites to check out the surf at both local and exotic spots. Catching Hawaii, Australia, and Costa Rica, via webcam, during epic surf conditions is thrilling. Currently, we can find California web cams at Mavericks, Steamer's Lane, Ventura, Huntington Beach, Oceanside, Salt Creek, La Jolla etc. But overexposing such places has a price, as many Southern Californian surfers will attest. Several sites, such as Surfvideo.com and Surfline.com, point their cameras directly at various surf spots around the globe, and these surf cams aren’t always welcome.

Just a few short years ago, Mavericks, a heavy cold water surf spot was virtually unknown outside the Santa Cruz/San Francisco area. Those secret big wave days are now over! Presently, Mavericks attracts global attention through magazine exposure, surf contests, and yes, webcams. Some of the local residents and surfers resent the accelerating publicity, and webcams only add more force to the gas pedal.

The installation of a surfcam at Salt Creek Beach in Southern California received its share of criticism too. After unsettling overexposure, many local surfers there pressured Surfline.com to change the scope of webcam footage. Although the beach stretches yards long, locals demanded footage be visible only from the parking lot. Surfline.com reluctantly obliged. To many surfers, webcams bring added publicity to their favorite spots. And this publicity is just what they don’t want. Longtime Salt Creek surfer Mike Howard says, "I don’t want Big Brother camera on the beach." To Howard and like-minded surfers, webcams are an invasive evolution to the culture of surfing.

Matthew Fleming, vice-president of Surfrider Foundation's SLO County chapter, agrees. Fleming argues "When we circumvent the process of discovery (the classic search for surf which either brings elation or depression depending upon the conditions), we take away an integral part of the complete experience. In a small way, web cams undermine the diversity of experience that surfing offers. Surfing is not watching television; it is getting out there and experiencing the highs and lows, the blown-out flat days and the overhead howling offshore ones." For many coastal residents, Webcams stand ready to undermine a natural part of surfing, bring added publicity to the quiet, and overexpose the cherished. Longtime local surfer Jamie Frasinetti remarks, "Webcams take away the magic and beauty of surfing. I don't really want to see a camera where I surf."

Here on the Central Coast, we needn't worry about webcams too much …yet. Avila Beach has our only webcam and possess no serious invasion of our local surf spots. But with the increase of web cams covering the United States coastline, it’s sure to follow that San Luis Obispo County will be hosting more than one camera. Although many of these webcams won't pop up by tomorrow night, they have the potential of covering some our favorite breaks. What’ll we do when web cams pop up at Moonstone Beach, Studios, Morro Rock, Sandspit, St. Anne's, Pismo Beach etc?

Some Salt Creek Beach surfers are now considering circulating a petition to force Surfline.com to take down its digital video camera indefinitely. Although limiting the footage to just the parking lot seems like a reasonable compromise to a growing problem, for some Salt Creek surfers it's not enough. Perhaps some day SLO County surfers will be in a similar predicament. And what’ll we do then?

Anthony Halderman is SLO County surfer who can be reached at http://anthonyhalderman.com

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