Climate Change and Data Collection

With all the talk about climate change, marine scientists are working daily to collect and document data. However, that leaves them with thousands of kilometers of ocean to cover on a daily basis. As scientists began to think about ways to efficiently collect this data, they thought of those who spend hours on end near coasts all over the world…surfers. Smartfin may just be the answer scientists have been looking for.

Finding a Solution

SmartfinDr Stern, a retired neurologist, now devotes his life to raising awareness about the Ocean. He works with a non-profit called Lost Bird. Stern was working to research how ocean data could be collected when he met an oceanographer who suggested that he talk to surfers. Soon after this conversation, he met Benjamin Thompson of BoardFormula. Thompson, a surfboard engineer, had already been using sensors. He had been placing sensors on surfboards to record information, like the flex of the board during surfing. Stern questioned if they could use similar technology to make ocean chemical sensors and place them within the fin to measure environmental information.


Introducing Smartfin

Stern with Thompson began working diligently to create a fin that could collect this data without affecting the ride of a board. Thanks to their work, a fin has now been created to match a normal surfboard fin so that this data can be collected while still giving the surfer the best performance possible.

“Smartfin is a surfboard fin with sensors that measures multiple ocean parameters including salinity, pH, temperature, location, and wave characteristics.  The data surfers acquire while in the water will become accessible in near real-time. Smartfin will not only serve the worldwide scientific community with valuable ocean data but will also raise environmental awareness about our oceans in general.” –


Testing the Fin

Testing the fin took three years. Over 30 scientists worked on the project. The fin is now ready to be used by surfers around the world.

The fin will save millions of dollars in data collection with each fin costing only $250 to make. However, through generous donations and a partnership with  Surfrider Foundation, this fin will be available to select surfers at no cost. Surfrider Foundation will begin to distribute the Smartfin in San Diego, California, by January 2017 and will add other locations slowly.  By January 2018, the fin should be available to surfers around the world. And, this data gathered by surfers will then be made available, at not cost, to oceanographers and those researching the environment.

Find Out More

For more info or to find out how to help, email Shannon Waters, Smartfin Project Manager at Surfrider Foundation, at [email protected] for more information.


“Smartfin is the result of a partnership between non-profits, engineers, and the scientific community. It is the brain-child of Dr. Andrew Stern of The Lost Bird Project and engineered by Benjamin Thompson of BoardFormula. In 2015, researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, one of the world’s leading institutions for oceanographic research, came on board to validate the scientific application of Smartfin in the surf zone. Surfrider Foundation joined the partnership in June 2016 to provide logistical and outreach support for the distribution of fins to its network of surfers worldwide.”

Why are these measurements important?

There are many scientific instruments collecting data offshore and in the open ocean. However, the nearshore environment, like the surf zone, is a more dynamic ecosystem (think lots of wave energy). This makes it difficult to place sensors, buoys, and floats there. By putting sensors onto surfboards, we can collect data and begin to learn about changes in temperature, salinity, and pH. These are properties that have huge implications for the species that live in nearshore ecosystems. 

Smartfin compatibility:

Developed for a Futures fin set-up, anyone with a Futures board can ride a Smartfin! Read more about the Smartfin technical data here.

How do I get a Smartfin?

A pilot launch will begin in San Diego in early 2017. Smartfins will be distributed through the Surfrider Foundation. Go to Surfrider’s site to learn how you can get yours! 

How much does a Smartfin cost?

The engineering and production of a Smartfin costs about $250 per fin. However, our goal is to make them available to “citizen” scientists at little to no cost at all. Therefore, donations to Smartfin are encouraged to help underwrite some of these expenses! Click here to donate.

Who can I contact for more information?

Email Shannon Waters, Smartfin Project Manager at Surfrider Foundation, at [email protected]  for more information.