Leo Burnett Tailor Made in Brazil reveal how some clever tech helps champion surfer Gabriel Medina stay connected
While amateur surfers are all about disconnecting from the mainland to commune with the ocean, the competitive world of pro surfing has no such luxuries. For world champion Gabriel Medina, the biggest challenge was staying in touch with his coach during open water training sessions – so his sponsor Samsung and their agency Leo Burnett Tailor Made in Brazil stepped in with an ingenious solution. They combined the technological power of the Samsung Galaxy S7 with traditional board shaping skills to create a tool to help Gabriel to stay connected.
LBB’s Laura Swinton got in touch with Leo Burnett Tailor Made creative directors Marcio Juniot and Pedro Utzeri to find out more…
LBB> What were the origins of this project? What sort of conversations were you having with Samsung that nudged you in the 'smart surfboard' direction?
Marcio Juniot, Creative Director> Samsung is the sponsor of the World Surf League and also the surfing world champion, Gabriel Medina. Professional surfing is a very competitive sport, so we created something that could help him during practice to improve his performance and to motivate him further. The professional surfer faces a real problem while practicing: the distance between him and his coach. He is usually out at sea, over 100m away from his coach on the shore. This distance prevents the two from communicating, making it difficult to send instructions and for the athlete to evolve technically, since the coach has to wait until the end of the practice session to be able to give feedback, make comments or give any orientation.
LBB> What was the research and development process like?
Marcio Juniot> The Samsung Galaxy Surfboard has been modified to include two sealed waterproof side drawers: one to hold a Samsung Galaxy S7 smartphone, the other to house batteries. Once the surfer is on the waves, two PCB micro controllers inside the surfboard receive information from the smartphone and show it in real time on an LED display constructed and installed on the surfboard deck.
Tweets tagged with a predefined hashtag appear for five seconds each, and information about the waves, winds and swell appear as graphics beneath the motivational messages. The data about beach conditions is received directly from an exclusive app, which allows the surfer to select the continent, country and beach, and then gives real-time forecasts to help the athlete catch that next great wave. Brazilian champion Gabriel Medina was the first to test the board several times on the waves in April.
LBB>What sort of input did Gabriel Medina have into the design and functionality of the board?
Pedro Utzeri Creative Director> Gabriel Medina is an athlete sponsored by Samsung, and so the brand saw as its obligation to help him evolve, so we developed this board in order to eliminate the distance between him and his coach. According to Gabriel Medina and his official shaper, Johnny Cabianca, the board should be made taking into account Gabriel’s measurements (height and weight), so as not to interfere with his performance.
LBB> Why was it so important to work with Johnny Cabianca and what did he bring to the finished board?
Pedro Utzeri> We invited Johnny Cabianca for a simple reason: he has made Gabriel Medina’s surfboards ever since Gabriel was 15 years old. Even the board with which Medina won the surfing world championship was made by him. Cabianca knows better than anyone Gabriel’s style and his needs as an athlete. To create the board, Cabianca was inspired by the diamond. According to Cabianca himself, Gabriel is also a diamond, one that is being shaped and polished every passing day. One of the challenges was making a board that didn’t exceed 2.8kg, including the technology that needed to be built into it. Carbon fibre was also used to increase its strength.
LBB> From a tech standpoint, did the salty, wet conditions present any problems or challenges? If so, how did you get around them?
Marcio Juniot> It proved to be a great challenge. The board went through numerous leak tests before going into the water for the first time, so as to ensure that the electronic components remained intact and working. As with any prototype, we learned along the way and improved the project with every practice session.
LBB> What are the long term applications for this tech? A training board for coaches? A safety feature to keep surfers 'connected' with the mainland or emergency services? Have you any plans to take the board further?
Pedro Utzeri> With this project, Samsung reinforces its concept of connectivity anytime and anywhere. Taking an innovative look at how to break down barriers in sports, we could see how technology can help to bring professional athletes and coaches closer together, as well as give them an accurate picture of their environment in real time. This technology could be used in several other sports in which the sportsperson is isolated.
LBB> What sort of response have you had from surf fans?
Pedro Utzeri> As with any innovation, there are people who support it and people who are contrary. The first point is to differentiate professional surfing from amateur surfing. The overwhelming majority could see that the board is there to help the professional surfer, with the purpose of improving communication between the athlete and his coach during practice. And that has nothing to do with the amateur surfer, who is out in the water to disconnect from everything - which is, in fact, an initiative that we also support.