How Surfline Always Streams Flawless Live Video From the Beaches

In the traditional sense, broadcasting in the field meant having an OB truck to send video from the cameras in the field to the station before being distributed to TV networks. This made broadcasting expensive and reserved for sports groups that essentially had the capital to afford a truck and personnel. And there weren’t a lot of them - the PGA and Tour de France being some of the few. Other outdoor sports were in either controlled environments or never saw broadcasts.

But since the inception of live streaming, we’ve started to see more outdoor sports groups broadcast their tournaments to the world. While it’s not traditional TV or cable, social media has provided a platform for these niche sports to reach their fans in ways like never before. We’re seeing sports like rowing, disc golf, tag, and esports get recognition through online broadcasts. We can start adding surfing to the list.

2018 USA Surfing Championships at Lower Trestles, CA

Like many other sports, surfing is a naturally difficult activity to cover. Beaches are in relatively remote areas where broadcasting would normally be either impossible or require very expensive equipment to do. But Surfline, the world’s #1 resource for surf forecasts and weather, has found a different way. Here’s how they provide flawless video to their viewers:

A Swell Start

“Surfline was started over 30 years ago in Huntington Beach by our founder Sean Collins, who was an avid surfer and sailor. Back then, Surfline was actually a 976 hotline you could call and get the surf forecast, and they charged you per call. Remember that this was before the internet, so the only way you could really determine if the surf was good on a certain day was by either going to the beach yourself, or calling Surfline to get the detailed surf report. That went on until the fax came out. Subscribers would get a fax once or twice a week with the surf forecast and synopsis of the week. This got posted in a lot of surf shops and when I was a kid, I went to go see these.” - Marc Beaty, Senior Video Editor at Surfline.

Jack O'Neill Memorial Paddle-Out at Pleasure Point, Santa Cruz, CA.

“When the Internet came around, it was the perfect match for Surfline to grow into. The company became an online subscription service. In 1999, Sean Collins decided to put up the first live surf cam for people to access online. Surfers could check swell and wind conditions, and use the live footage to see what the waves actually looked like that day. It wasn’t the greatest quality back then, but it was very ahead of its time. Fast forward to today and we have over 500 live surf cams all over the world. From our home in Southern California to Northern California, Hawaii, Australia, Portugal, Indonesia.”

Streaming From the Sand

“We really started streaming surfing action live in 2012 when there was a good hurricane swell in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. All of the best East Coast surfers were in town for the swell, and we had one of the 1st-generation Teradek Cubes there using a single LTE card that helped us stream successfully from the sand strip. From that point, we went on to stream from Pipeline in Hawaii to Lower Trestles in San Clemente [California].”

“Streaming comes with a lot of challenges in our sport. The first is that in many locations, there’s almost no internet where the competition is being held. The cell service is often really spotty, and if we dropped a connection, we’d lose half of our audience. There’s also a problem with congestion. If you have a big wave swell, you’ll have a lot of spectators. At Waimea on the North Shore of Oahu, there were over 1000 people out there with their cell phones using the same cell signals we were trying to stream from. It’s not enough to just have a single LTE connection anymore.”

Bringing the Bond

“The Bond Backpack is what really changed the game for what we do, and something we’re excited to bring to our upcoming events. We stream directly from the field during these contests, with multiple cameras and a switcher all set up on the sand. To help with the internet, we have the Bond taking in 2x Verizon, 1x AT&T and 1x T-Mobile SIMs that are loaded into the Nodes. We took the Bond Backpack to a broadcast at Waimea Bay last month, where we were sponsored by the Kona Brewing Company to capture surfers out on big waves. We were able to stream almost 3 hours of video without a single issue. We’re looking forward to having it on our upcoming events. There’s a good chance we’ll be streaming from the Rip Curl GromSearch Championships and the USA Surfing Championships, which is at Lower Trestles.”

“How much money would these broadcasts have cost just 10 years ago? You’d need to get a satellite connection, hire personnel, get the right permits and worry about your footprint. It’s amazing that now we can stream high quality video without spending hundreds of thousands of dollars. Suddenly this is within our realm of possibility. And with the Bond, we can provide our fans with the quality surf broadcasts that they want to see. You guys are helping us bring content to enthusiasts around the world.”

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