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More to surfing than good vibrations - scientists

posted 27 Apr 2011, 10:48 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 27 Apr 2011, 10:50 ]

Researchers in Spain have teamed up with a surfboard manufacturer to unravel the scientific mysteries of surfing. It's thought to be the first time that the dynamics of a surfboard have been analysed in such detail and the researchers hope it will lead to the design of better boards in the future.

The art of surfing is going hi-tech with researchers in Spain teaming up with a surfboard manufacturer to analyse for the first time in detail what makes a surfboard surf.

Spanish board maker Pukas says today's surfboards are the result of decades of 'trial and error' and they want to replace feelings with facts.

"What we are trying to do is to measure the sensations," said Pukas Production Manager, Ignacio Abaitua. "We want to know why this type of board works the best, we want to measure how it works, to measure also how the surfer uses it," he said.

The idea is to understand how much flexibility surfers require to perform certain turns or tricks -- and to design software tools to help choose the correct materials and reinforcement to get the best out of a board.

The result is the first surfboard with built-in sensors that communicates in real-time with a computer on the beach, recording the position and pressure being exerted on the board.

"What we are trying to do is define patterns - the behaviour of the board with the actions of the surfer - so that can improve the manufacturing of the board as well as the tricks the surfer does in the water," said Tecnalia's project director, Inigo Lazkanotegi.

The researchers have now moved from trying to understand the behaviour of a surfboard to applying their knowledge to new construction methods - with the ultimate goal being the perfectly optimised board, customised for the individual user.

"We are putting together the knowledge and tools that will enable us, lets say in a short period of time, hopefully, to be able to develop the perfect or the optimised board for each surfer because maybe there is not really a best board for all of the surfers," said Tecnalia's Plastics & Composites Manager, Riccardo Mezzacasa.

The project could yet see the kind of electronic connectivity now commonplace in Formula One motor-racing being applied to the beach and give surfing competition judges more than just good vibrations to pick a winner.