Inside the brave new world of surf forecasting.
Darian is resting in a green beanbag, familiarising himself with the #surf hashtag on Instagram, when his iPad beeps.
The SurfWatch intern is used to a suite of interruptions in his new role. Camera down. Link broken. Hate speech on a foiling comment thread needing deletion. He’s quickly earned a reputation as a Mr-Fix-It for any of the tech problems one would expect from a web company under rapid expansion.
But this one is different. It’s the NOAA app.
“New south swell approaching; thirty feet, sixteen seconds, 187 degrees.”
He shuts Instagram and takes a quick look around the rest of the office. A handful of hip young twenty-somethings are poised in similar positions across lounges and comfy chairs, each staring intently at their own smart devices. He’ll need to deal with this delicately to avoid causing too much of a buzz.
He steps out into a paved courtyard to Facetime his boss. The cool spring breeze is refreshing after a day spent in the dead air of the collaborative work space.
Within three rings a face pops onto his screen, a plump, soft-featured man offset by keen blue eyes and a viciously receding hairline.
“Darian, my dude, what’s happening?” the man says, wiping his face with a towel.
Behind him Darian can make out a pilates class in action.
“Boss, we’ve got something you might like to…”
“Uh ah ah, what did I say about calling me boss?” the man says. “My name is Connor, just like Coffin. Use it, bro.”
Darian chides himself for such a stupid mistake. He will need to reflect on it later.
“Sorry, Connor, we’ve got something you might like to see.”
Holding his iPad in his spare hand he sends Connor the notification, which arrives instantaneously on the other end of the line with a ping.
“A new south swell is firing up in the Pacific,” says Darian. “It looks like it could hit the west coast of central within the next five days.”
“Well, sir, I mean, Connor, based off the data we’ve run on user engagement with similarly-characterised swells over the last year, this one is big.”
Connor stops wiping his face and looks directly into the camera.
“Like, how big?”
“Like, off the charts big. I’m talking…”
Darian takes a second to run some calculations in his head.
“La Flama… times three.”
Even through the pixelated reception Darian can see the look on Connor’s face change.
“My god. Get everybody on a call now. I’ll be there in five.”
There’s a mix of in-person and Zoom faces in the tastefully decorated SurfWatch boardroom. Darian and Connor sit on either side of the pint-sized Suzie from partnerships. Up on screen is Benny from the social metrics team. Hutcher, from sales. Aziz, IT.
At the end of the boardroom table sits a lone figure. A late-middle aged man. Easily the oldest person in the room, virtually or otherwise. Underneath a torn flannelette shirt Darian can make out tanned, weathered skin. Dirty blond hair hangs over either side of his face. A dark pair of Arnette Catfish covers what’s left.
Darian is not sure if he is even awake.
Weird. There’s not much that happens in this office that he’s not aware of. He will have to make a note of it for later.
“So, firstly I want to say thank you to everybody for convening this meeting so quickly,” says Connor as he stands up and looks around the table. “It really stokes me out to see how responsive you all are to these swell events and the amazing opportunities they afford us. Are you all as stoked out as I am?”
Nods of agreement around the room. Except for the mystery guest the general consensus is that yes, they are all stoked out.
“As you may be aware we currently have a low pressure system stirring down in the South Pacific, spinning its way across the globe from…”
Connor stops mid-sentence.
“Actually, first: a massive shout-out and props to Darian for picking this one up early by going direct to the source for weather and swell maps. You might be from Indiana, my bro, but this sort of tech innovation is true waterman stuff.”
A brief round of muted applause fills the office. Darian feels his face flush with embarrassment. He thinks he hears a groan from the other end of the table, soft but distinct enough below the adoring claps of his colleagues. It must be the restored oak conference table creaking again. Another task he needs to follow up.
“Anyway, as I was saying,” continues Connor. “Current forecasts indicate this is a big one. We’re expecting 20-55 feet faces, just on the initial pulse. Eighteen-second period. An incredible angle.”
Connor takes a moment to look each of the staff in the room and on the call directly. The sense of pride he has in his work is obvious, as are the expectations he has of his team.
“This, my people, my tribe, could be a La Flama… times three.”
A hush falls over the room as a screen rolls down the far wall, reaching all the way to the tiled floor. Connor takes a small clicker from his pocket and points to it. A mass of graphs and graphics appear, all in shades of the official SurfWatch purple.
“Now we all saw how strongly that swell performed on our channels. Engagement was up across the board and we acquired more than 10,000 new followers on Instagram through that hashtag alone.”
“And can I mention,” says Benny, whose arrogant head wobble is noticeable even through the patchy video link, “that the bulk of them were from the key male 28-45 demographic, who have shown remarkable spending habits based off our suggested product widget.”
“Yes, absolutely,”says Connor. “You’ve hit the nail on the head. These south swells are our new unicorn, people. Our value proposition. Our core business model.”
He looks out the window at the imported Frangipani tree in the courtyard. It’s just starting to bloom.
“We did so well with La Flama. I was so proud of you all. But we need to build on that. Seize the opportunity. Continue to maximise this space so we can position ourselves as the official content owners of any major swell events along the continental coastlines of all of the Americas.”
Suzie chimes in with her perfect English accent. “Magnificently put, Connor. Such vision. I couldn’t agree more.”
She’s standing now, too.
“What I would like to see this time is a content partnership with this swell. It was a massive opportunity we let slip for the, uh… flame. If we want to play with the big boys like Disney and Netflix, this is what we need to nail.”
“Here’s a cool idea,” says Connor, feeding off her energy. “Let’s try and leverage something through our existing arrangement with the WSL. Have we had an official water bottle and drinkware sponsor for a swell yet?”
“Then get on the line to HydroFlask.”
Suzie feverishly takes down notes on her iPad.
“I want blanket coverage from Pavones to Mavericks for this event,” Connor continues. “I want interactive timelines. I want a user-generated content feed. I want every surfer along that three-thousand mile stretch to be champing at the bit to surf this swell at our key camera locations. If they don’t surf yet, make them want to. And I want it all done yesterday.”
“What about board sales?” asks Hutcher. “Which model do we want to pump up for this?”
“Well there’s the CI mid as a no-brainer,” says Darian. “Pyzel’s are also trending hot following John John’s performance at Margarets. Plus, Mayhem have just been dying for another push.”
“Great. Let’s do all of them. Segment the audience targeting by surfing skillset. If they’re true surfers they should include that info in their social bios. But let’s try and avoid those Central American countries that haven’t yet realised their purchasing potential… we all know the ones I’m talking about.”
“We also saw a strong response to the twenty-hour hour RSS feed,“ says Iziz, quickly cutting off his boss before he could take that line of thought any further. “It was a bit of a spend to promote it through non-endemic channels but we really saw an ROI through the user journey conversions. We spent one-hundred thousand but easily doubled that in returns on click throughs. I was thinking a… five-hundred thousand spend for this one?”
“You know what, Zizi? Double it.”
Connor is practically thrusting his hips in excitement.
“Ok, ok, this is all great. But we need a name.”
They all stop to look up from their devices in unison. The universal corporate signal for being deep in thought.
“How about Code Green?” says Darian after a while. “That’s the colour of the swell map currently off California, and it looks really neat.”
“Also Green is, like, environmental,” adds Hutch.
More nods of agreement.
But then it comes again. Another groan from the end of the table. More definite this time. It must be from the mystery man, thinks Darian, even though he is in an apparently catatonic state.
“Sorry, were you saying something, Dammo?” asks Connor, who has also turned his attention to the incursion.
“No,” growls the man, his lips barely moving.
“You can’t call it green.”
“Sorry, I thought you weren’t saying anything? “
“Yes I was,” says the man, his growl beginning to take on the rhythm of an old engine warming up on a cold winter’s morning. “I was saying you can’t call it green. That’s fucking stupid.”
The man takes off his sunglasses and straightens his back. Considers each of them there with him in the room, as if he has just woken from a deep sleep. He has the thousand-yard stare of a war veteran, but looks like he’s never had day of regiment in his life
“And it’s ‘Damo… day-mo,” he says. “Not Dammo.”
“And why, pray tell, is calling it the ‘Green Swell’ fucking stupid?”
“It just is.”
Connor turns his attention back to the team.
“Well, anything else?
“How about The Gerry swell?” offers Suzie, pronouncing it with a hard ‘G’. “After Gerry Lopez. He’s in town. Could be a great collab with Wavestorm. Plus we could film some…”
“Nup,” says Damo. “Gerry’s an old kook, plus unless it’s Pipeline or Padang he isn’t gonna give two shits about some hyped-up beachbreak swell”.
“The Sunday swell?” asks Hutch. “Machado has his new Firewire mid-length out which we could leverage…”
A fart noise from Damo.
Suzie shoots him a furiously English stare.
“Sorry Connor, but who is this guy?
Another deep sigh from the boss.
“Everyone, I would like you to meet Damo. As part of our takeover he was brought on board in an advisory rule. A cultural ambassador from Australia, if you like. His speciality is grouting, don’t ask me, I have no idea, but he is also a lifelong surfer. Corporate thought it might help to make sure we keep in line with our ‘core’ audience.”
“Core, like apple core?” asks Darian. “Is that a sustainability thing?”
“Anyway, he’s here now,” continues Connor. “A valued member of the team. I would like us to welcome him as such. Plus, we told the old owners he was allowed to have a job with us as part of the condition of sale. I think he has some compromising photos? Or something. Who knows.”
Damo pulls an unlit cigarette from his pocket.
“I dunno what you’re talking about there, Conna. But I do know I was told to sit in on these meets you’re having and just speak my mind.”
He throws the cigarette into the air and catches it in his mouth.
“So here goes,” he says, cig dangling from one side. “How about you just don’t hype up the swell in the first place? It’s still too far off to know if it’s going to deliver. Plus all you’re doing is blowing out the lineups and increasing tensions over what is an already finite resource.”
Damo lights the cigarette.
Darian stands to try and stop him, but Connor places a hand on his shoulder and subtly shakes his head.
“You might be making a quick buck in the short term off this ad revenue bullshit, but in the long run you’re only going to harm the culture. Overcrowded line ups. Breakdown in hierarchy. More turmoil. For that you will pay a heavy cosmic price.”
He blows a smoke ring towards Darian, who is just quick enough to duck underneath it.
“Plus you’re championing sustainability while plugging the sale of these pop-out boards. Do you know how big the carbon footprint is for a single Firewire? What’s wrong with buying a second hand Dahlberg for fifty dollars off Gumtree?”
“Sorry, a Dahl-what?”
“The beauty of surfing is doing the work yourself,” continues Damo uninterrupted. “Tracking a swell off your own bat. Chasing it. Maybe scoring. Maybe not. Or surfing the one spot all of the time. Over and over. Regardless of conditions. Getting to know it on every angle. Every tide. Every wind. That’s how you learn to surf. Through trial and error. And time. And not telling the whole fucking world about it. That’s true satisfaction. True respect. You can’t manufacture it. It has to be earned.”
The team is silenced. Darian is not sure what to make of the display. None of what Damo has just said makes sense to them on any level. Yet Connor said they should listen to him. For the first time in his corporate life he is experiencing a true conflict.
Damo wraps up his impromptu presentation.
“Instead you’re just spoon feeding this shit to a bunch of idiots who don’t know any better. The whole thing is fucked, mate. Fucked.”
He flicks the cigarette out an open window towards the Frangipani tree.
“Anyway, that’s my two cents”.
More silence, except for a small cough from Suzie who has just inhaled a mouthful of smoke.
“Hmm, thanks for your input,” says Connor as he regathers himself. “I really like where you’re going with your thinking. But also, we are probably not going to do that.”
“Fuck, whatever then cunts. I’m going surfing.”
He walks out of the room, kicking a loose tile from the floor on the way out. The team waits until he is out of sight before erupting in laughter.
“Oh! Em! Gee! What an idiot that guy was!” says Connor as he wipes a tear from his eye. “Sorry about that one team. I’ll be having a stern word with corporate after this. Can we please never hear from him ever again?”
“Thank god,” says Darian. “I was getting worried there for a second.”
He makes a note on his iPad to cancel Damo’s security pass as Connor launches back into his presentation.
“Now, how about Biggest Wednesday…”