Gaming in the eighties. Hot then as it is now. | Photo: Starfighter

The fantastic story of man who plunged life-savings into a groundbreaking “motion-sensitive” surf game; the pre-sales for 200,000 units that promised to net millions and the bankruptcy and heartbreak that followed!

"We had one shot and we missed it…"

Heard the story of an Irish scientist who, in 1985, invented a “motion-sensitive” game so good it threatened to knock the gaming world off its axis?

It’s a good one.

Along with an astrophysicist who would later work with Russian and American space agencies on international space missions to Mars, Venus and Moon, and another fellow academic, Dr Norman McMillan “wanted to conquer the sporting world with the help of his complex algorithms.”

All three developers threw twenty thousand quid apiece into building Surf Champ, the 2020 equivalent of almost quarter of a million pounds.

As reported by BBC Sport,

They wanted a joint project that would allow them to pursue their individual interests, but could be commercially viable too. The UK’s burgeoning home computer gaming market seemed ideal, but what should be the first subject?

“I was a surfer,” explains Dr McMillan. “So, I knew about surfing and as a physicist I said I could do a computer game with a proper mathematical algorithm so it would be accurate, which of course it was.

“That was how Surf Champ started out, then John came up with the idea of the surfboard overlay for the keyboard. Susan’s speciality was ultra-fast programming for the latest space technology of the time, which would help make it all work.

The set-up is wild for 1985.

A little plastic surfboard sits on the keyboard and the movement of your fingers hits the various buttons and shifts the surfer around on the screen. 

Let’s read a little more.  

In autumn 1985, McMillan and his son Doug headed for Rossnowlagh beach in Ireland for the European Surfing Championships, and had a huge slice of luck.

“There was not a wave in sight,” remembers McMillan. “It was perfect for us because the surfers had nothing to do. They played the game non-stop instead, and all of them said it was absolutely accurate.”

Among them was Jed Stone, then the reigning English surfing champion, who would soon collect another title – at the inaugural World Computer Surfing Championship.

“They set up some computers and showed us how to play,” recalls Stone. “Your fingers are on the board so you are actually riding the wave in that way. I know it is not your feet, but your mind is thinking the same way it would be if you were standing up – so, in that respect, it was accurate, yes. The graphics look simple now, of course, but at the time there was nothing else like it, so it was a case of ‘wow, look at this’.

And then, of course, disaster.

Money lost, hearts broken etc.

“We had one shot, and we missed it,” says Dr McMillan.

Read here. 

Strong like bull! No fear etc.

Dirty grandpa: Australia’s east coast stops as senior citizen surf writer tames once-in-a-decade swell: “I don’t feel afraid at all, I just kind of lie down there and enjoy it. It’s only water!”

Sixty one year old says, “I don’t know if it’s having a screw loose or what…”

A wild and relentless south swell, scratching fifteen-feet at usually dormant outer reefs, has lit up Australia’s east coast.

And, surf writer Nick Carroll, who is sixty-one, and “an expert in virtually every surfing-related subject, but returning often to board design, contest reportage, profiles, and wave-related meteorology” according to Warshaw’s Encyclopedia of Surfing, has been thrilling spectators at his favourite Sydney big-wave haunts.

(Read Nick’s thrilling account of paddling thirty-two miles between Molokai and Oahu in the “crazy, fucking ultra-marathon” here.)

As The Sydney Morning Herald reports,

Spending close to 20 violent seconds being contorted underwater by a monster wave can be enjoyable if you want it to be.

At least that’s what Sydney surfer Nick Carroll thinks.

Nick and his brother, former world champion surfer Tom, were among a select few who braved the five metre swell on Saturday as it lashed the NSW coastline.

The brothers spent Saturday morning paddling into some of the biggest, cleanest surf to land on Sydney’s coastline in years.

“I don’t know if it’s having a screw loose or what, but I kind of enjoy those moments,” Nick said shortly after returning to shore near Long Reef on Sydney’s northern beaches. “I don’t feel afraid at all, I just kind of lie down there and enjoy it. It’s only water.”

Tom, who since winning surfing world titles in the 1980s has made a name for himself as a big wave surfer, said he was excited to see his hometown light up.

“I love it, I love it when it gets like this. It’s just been such a big part of my life when these storms come in,” he said. “It all feels safe, then bingo, it all comes in.”

Did you see?

Were you there?

And, big waves, do you like to lie down and enjoy it, too?

Interview: Mason “Baby” Ho talks “getting away with murder” at reef ledges, “letting go of all the bullshit and letting people see my downfall!”

"I barely get away with it here and there but fuck it, it might kinda suck to get hurt, but it’s the funnest shit ever.”

After watching Mason “Baby” Ho’s latest YouTube cut I was spurred into sending the exuberant thirty one year old a text message requesting an interview.

(Watch it here.)

Baby personifies all that is good and worthy in surfing and when I watch him cast his magic like a fishing line, Satan is temporarily exorcised from my thoughts.

Baby was midway through a shopping excursion to Foodland, filling his little basket with canned Fuji apple juice and pop tarts, when the text landed. He quickly accepted the request, asked for thirty minutes to bivouac his precious foodstuffs at the Sunset Beach house he shares with Daddy Mike, and called back at the appointed time.

In the liner notes to his YouTube cut, filmer Rory Pringle had noted that Baby had flirted with death during the two sessions at this reef ledge that only breaks once, maybe twice, a year.

“I had one or two little times out there when I thought, well, not that I was going to…die…but that I was going to get hurt pretty bad.”

Which waves?

“The worst was the wave I tried to pencil dive. My heels went into the reef. It cut up my achilles rather than the bottom of my feet so I could still walk. I got real lucky.”

Baby says he and Sheldon “Bubba” Paishon “got away with murder” on the morning session at the wave.

“We both came in and looked at each other and said, ‘We did it!’ Sheldon said let’s get a beer. I told him to wait a little on the beers, I know once me and him and Rory drink we might not…”

Baby cuts off. He laughs.

“Loooooong story short. We came in, bought some poi and ice-cream, came back to eat the bowl, saw it was still good and dropped everything and went back out. It’s weird. After we came in that first time I was thinking, thank god we won’t surf that way for another year, it never breaks. But when we came back, I instantly forgot that feeling. It’s like finding a chip of gold. You want more gold! More gold! Eventually we got so sore, Sheldon hit his tailbone hard, we came in. We probably could’ve had an evening session.”

I ask if head injuries are a vital concern?

“I definitely worry about hitting my head. My friends say, ‘What the fuck are you doing?’ I don’t wanna go on those wave that are stupid, those rides that look so dumb I’m clearly going to hurt myself. But there’s…something…about those waves where you pull it off and there are all those variables, all the special stuff. That’s what I think about. In that moment when I surf, I don’t think about the head stuff only…happy happy happy…barrels barrels barrels…I barely get away with it here and there but fuck it, it might kinda suck to get hurt, but it’s the funnest shit ever.”

Advice for wrangling a dirty ol ledge?

Paddle like crazy man, yes?

“Paddle fast, yeah, that’s the best tip you could possibly have. The little paddle fast. If you take your time you’re going to become one with the lip. Another little trick is not to think about the consequences ’cause there are some.”

Baby says there’s been times when he’s looked at a slab for years, eating his plate lunch at the joint, figuring it’s unsurfable but daydreaming about surfing it anyway and then, one day, hitting it.

“I don’t need a good ride, just to paddle out and look at it. Then you might get a little one, get barrelled, not hit the reef and you think, not bad, fuck yeah. Get into your little zone. Got out and try and do a backside turn. That’s all it takes and you’re psyching.”

Over the last two years, you might’ve noticed that Baby and Rory have shifted their clips from Vimeo to YouTube after counsel from champion vlogger Jamie O’Brien.

“We were drinking at Kalani Chapman’s party and Jamie was telling us we were blowing it.” Jamie told Baby, you’re making cool shit, why aren’t you putting it on YouTube?

“Two years ago, I thought YouTube, ugh, fuck YouTube. On Vimeo I can use my music, this and that, then Jamie just started showing me, saying, look, here’s three grand, two grand, in twenty-eight days.”

And then Baby’s clips on YouTube started going.

“Fucking seven hundred here, twelve-hundred there. I never wanted to overdo it; we wanted to put so much love into our edits and, all of a sudden, there’s another one that has to be out in seven days, fourteen days. I didn’t want to put out a bunch of shit. I wanted each new edit to be better than the last.”

The game has shifted. Baby knows it; Rory knows it.

The audience wants quantity and a reality TV sorta rawness instead of slick edits.

“You start letting go of all the bullshit,” says Baby. “How about we just keep it up to date. Every week. Just letting go and letting people see my downfall!”

Knob-twisting Big Red, above, with Dirty Water co-pilots DR, left, and Charlie.

Listen: Wavepool maestro Cheyne Magnusson talks “midget naked asian boys jumping out of cakes” and making magic at vintage Palm Springs tank, “Gimme a bunch of knobs to move water and I can make it sing!”

Everything you ever wanted to know about artificial wave creation in one easy to swallow pill.

In today’s episode of Dirty Water, fall under the spell of the Hawaiian surfer Cheyne Magnusson, who singlehandedly altered the course of aerial surfing at BSR cable park in Waco and who is creating a new wavepool at the old Wet ‘n’ Wild site in Palm Springs, California.

Cheyne, who left his Texas shack for a mid-century mod in La Quinta near Palm Springs a year-and-a-half ago, is in very good form here, unsurprising given his previous career as a reality TV star on the hit MTV show Maui Fever.

The talk, initially, follows the travails of Charlie’s raunchy three-way date in Palm Springs with a Mr Gay Universe (“Big broad shoulders and a perfect pectoral girdle”), but soon dips into the world of artificial wave creation, from selling the American Wave Machines tech to BSR cable park in Waco and manipulating the buttons until it became the most sough-after ramp in the world to joining hands with the “godfather of artificial waves” Tom Lochtefeld to soup up the ancient Wet ‘n’ Wild site.

“I come in and play the piano,” Cheyne explains of his role complementing the wave tech. “Give me a bunch of knobs to move water and I can make it sing.”

(Available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcast, Stitcher, TuneIn + Alexa, iHeartRadio, Overcast, Pocket Cast, Castro, Castbox, Podcast Addict, Podchaser, Deezer and Listen Notes.)

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Watch: The future of wave pool technology features surfers getting smashed into glass walls while onlookers place bets on who will die first!

"Waves are beautiful and dynamic in themselves but we chose them as our subject because they evoke feelings of comfort."

Wave pool technology and advancement has seemed to stall, along with everything else in the time of Coronavirus. The only place where excitement reigns is in Palm Springs, California where Cheyne Magnusson is twisting the dials of a mid-century masterpiece while Kalani Robb croons Frank Sinatra and Seoul, South Korea where the finishing touches are being added to a glass box hovering over the Gangnam District featuring a giant wave that will soon provide blood sport for happy people dancing like this.

The “art simulation” developed by Samsung and called WAVE took four months to develop and breaks one minute per hour in a box measuring 262 by 66 feet. A rate only slightly better than Kelly Slater’s Surf Ranch.

Surfers have not been added yet but when they are it can be assumed the less-adroit will be smashed up against the glass walls in an exceptionally gory display.

South Koreans, known for their love of kimchi and betting, will eat kimchi and wager on which surfer will bleed first.

Business development director Jul Lee at d’strict, the group that co that designed the WABE said, “We want to create overwhelming experiences. Waves are beautiful and dynamic in themselves but we chose them as our subject because they evoke feelings of comfort – which is much needed now.”

Smashed surfers will provide more feelings of comfort still.