Surfers Buy Waves Online
Entrepreneur-surfer finds a way to cash in on the business of waves. Enthusiasts decry what they say is yet another commercialization of the coastline and a degradation of the sport.
By George Wolfe
MALIBU – The so-called "surf ‘n turf" wars over the right to surf certain coastline areas have led to the formation of a company which allows surfers to purchase the rights to surf specific waves.
Lance Lurie says he founded BuyAWave.com after
he was involved in a watery brawl while surfing at a cove, vehemently
guarded by locals, just north of Santa Barbara.
"What about those of us who just like
to surf without having to pay for services? You can't buy nature."
— Bill Chisselle,
"Yeah, it’s gotten really ugly and
chaotic out there the last few years," says Lurie, "there
are so many people and only so many catchable waves. I didn't know
much about business before I started this whole thing, but at the
time it seemed like a management issue to me. I knew something had
to be done."
Through satellite technology, programmers at the company have developed software that can identify a fledgling wave as far out to sea as 300 miles. They can then "tag" a wave with an alphanumeric name that’s based upon the type of break it is as well as the geographical location at which a wave is scheduled to break. On a computer screen, the waves look something like "zuma\p-b.60.484.65a… zuma\p-b.60.484.65b… etc."
Defending the cost of waves, Lurie notes that, "You just can't put a price on the perfect wave. I can remember about two dozen such waves in my life — ones that really stuck with me. But the reality has been that you can no longer get that experience with guys cutting you off and throwing punches. I think it's a small price to pay for getting that possibility back."
Surfers surf the net and can purchase a wave for as little as $1.89. Medium-sized waves cost about $3.49, and one-of-a-kind "monsters" command a premium of up to $9.99. There's talk of a bidding process as seen on the auction site, EBay, but that would likely up the cost per wave even further.
Once the wave is purchased and the surfer hits the water, he waits out in the water near a "wave coordinator." The wave coordinator straddles a surfboard out beyond the break while consulting a waterproof handheld device (WHD) used to track the waves and direct the correct surfer to the wave he purchased. After that, it’s up to the individual surfer to make the best use of the wave. BuyAWave makes no guarantees on the quality of the surfer's experience.
Sven Legstrom is an avid surfer/client of BuyAWave.
"It's totally awesome! Lance rocks, man. At my desk job during
the day, I can log on and buy a few gnarly ones that'll be incoming
after I get off work. I fantasize about them. Well, you know what
I mean... catching the break just right, getting in the curl and
riding it all the way. I get off work, grab my board and head over
to the beach. I can catch the 5:36, the 5:44, the 5:50, the 5:57,
the 6:02 and the 6:08. After that, I'm pretty spent. It’s
the greatest thing for surfing since Gidget rode the airwaves!"
Detractors, however, argue that the sport is being
bought out. Bill Chisselle has been coming to Topanga Beach for
the last eight years. "What about those of us who just like
to surf without having to pay for services? You can't buy nature.
You don't pay to sit on the beach, or to take a hike — why
should you pay for this? I can't believe everybody is going for
this thing! I'm sorry, but it's just way wrong."
POINT BREAK: Lurie points to the spot where his
"wave coordinator" direct straffic on Zuma Beach.
SITTING PRETTY: Lance Lurie, founder and CEO of BuyAWave.com, with revenues of $18 million in 2003.