Yes We Cam

Surfline Has Given Every Surfer a Reason to Wear an Apple Watch


August 19, 2019 Reviews By

There is something inherently captivating about seeing photos and video footage of yourself surfing. No matter how old we get, all surfers want to bank away those fleeting moments when everything aligned to tap back into them again and again. After all, surfing is about continually finding that feeling — of speed, of freedom, of adrenaline and total presence.

But not everyone has a friend who is willing to sit on the beach and shoot photos or video. Nor does it make sense for everyday, non-professional surfers to hire someone to do so. Thankfully, Surfline — which got its start as a number you could call for surf reports — has created a way for Premium members to access its vast network of hundreds of surf cameras to score video footage of every wave they catch.

Part fitness tool, part video footage compiler, Surfline Sessions is an extension of the Surfline Premium membership app. It pairs with an Apple Watch Series 2 or newer to track a surfer in front of one of Surfline’s wave cameras, logs footage of each wave and trims them down by the time the surfer is out of the water. It also tracks fitness data like calories burned, number of waves caught, feet traveled on each wave, top speed and more.

The biggest beneficiaries? Everyday surfers. “Pros see themselves on video all the time, so their marginal benefit is modest,” notes Surfline President Ross Garret. “But when you’re average or beginning, it’s massive. Preserving little bits of that experience — in whatever form — is magical, and to do so effortlessly is going to be a huge benefit to surfers everywhere.”

The Good: Up to this point, the only way to watch your sessions via Surfline’s cameras was through the Cam Rewind feature. But as Surfline Executive Vice President Dave Gilovich concedes: “It’s not the easiest product to use. Really tough to find your rides, kind of a pain to edit them into clips once you do, no way to easily share them with friends and you have to figure out where to store them. Surfline Sessions solves those problems.”

Surfline Sessions is certainly an upgrade on that experience. Combined with the fitness tracking data it provides, it’s a fairly handy tool for the modern surfer who wants more out of their sessions.

Who It’s For: Those who surf regularly at breaks that have Surfline cameras pointed at them. While Surfline currently has over 500 cameras worldwide, if you favor spots without them, you won’t have much use for this app. You also need an Apple Watch and a Premium Surfline subscription ($95/year). If you can check off those three boxes, you should definitely give Sessions a try; it’s free for Premium subscribers, after all.

Watch Out For: Make sure that whatever camera you are surfing in front of is working before you start your session. If a camera is down your footage most likely won’t be logged. I found this out first-hand after my first go, not checking the camera ahead of time only to finish my session and come away empty-handed.

Note that certain surf cameras work better than others for Sessions. Those that are more zoomed out will obviously not be as good as those based closer to the break.

Also, while wearing the streamlined Apple Watch while surfing is anything but clunky, you’ll want to upgrade the band to feel confident it’ll stay on through the gnarliest wipeout. I used Urban Armor Gear’s Active Watch Strap ($60).

Alternatives: One of the most common ways to get footage of yourself surfing is with a GoPro ($300). But that has obvious limitations in that it’s POV footage and the surfer has to do all the filming, which is not the easiest task while surfing. The SoloShot3 is probably the most direct alternative. It comes in a package with a camera, tripod and GPS tracker to essentially do the same thing as Sessions but with your own equipment — though it’ll cost you at least $599.

Review: The first time I used the Sessions app I learned the hard way that you should confirm the camera you’re surfing in front of is actually working. I had a really fun session at 90th Street in Rockaway Beach, New York, and was pretty excited about seeing the footage. Upon syncing my session with my phone, I found there was no video footage of any waves. Pulling up the camera I saw that it was in fact down, meaning my session was not recorded.

While I have largely given up caring about “getting shots” of myself surfing, the prospect of technology magically capturing good ones is still enticing. So I was definitely bummed out after that mishap. The morning of the next session I embarked on in Long Beach, I made sure that the Pacific Boulevard camera I’d be surfing in front of was in fact working properly.

This session was a pleasant summer surprise after a mostly flat season (typical on the East Coast). I got in the water, open the app, tapped “start session” and went wave hunting. After getting out of the water and “ending” my session on the Watch, I was happy to find my clips were already synced into the app on my phone. I dug through them and relived the glory on the LIRR train into NYC.

The footage is downloadable and shareable via plenty of platforms, and while you can zoom in, it’s not quite the high-quality video you would get from a filmer set up on the beach. That said, it was pretty satisfying seeing the waves played back and recalling each one with a smile. I also find the number of waves I caught, the top speed on each of those waves and the distance traveled on them to be really interesting data. Sure, there are product out there doing that already, but they don’t pair that ability with video footage of each of wave.

Verdict: If you’re already a Surfline Premium member, have a local break that has a Surfline camera and own an Apple Watch, it’s sort of a no brainer. But for literally anyone who wants to track their sessions and log video footage for posterity, this is by far the easiest way to do so.

What Others Are Saying:

• “Surfers aren’t hurting for ways to shoot videos of themselves. Thanks to waterproof GoPros and other action cameras there’s been an explosion of footage from the waves. But getting a wide shot that you can easily share with friends without mounting equipment on a surfboard is a nice feature. Plus, you no longer have to convince your non-surfing friends that they should shoot videos of you from the beach instead of relaxing.” — Roberto Baldwin, Engadget

Surfline provided a Premium membership, an Apple Watch and an Urban Armor Gear strap for this review.

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