Jeffreys Bay
By Carol Posthumus, Tue Oct 30 00:00:00 GMT 2001

Surfing entrepreneurs: On a hardcore mobile mission in epic J-Bay.

Mobile entrepreneurs can blossom: anywhere and everywhere. In one of planet's most famed surfing towns, Jeffreys Bay in South Africa, surfing is not the only thing that is addictive for locals, these days. In a place where surfing with dolphins and spotting whales is part of the reality of life, mobile technology is offering new entrepreneurial waves for surfers to ride and enjoy.

The lifestyle of surfing might've generously lent its name, its cooldom and some of its free spirit to the beginnings of the Internet. But, the cultural exchange - that transformed the home or office-bound practice of sitting and gazing at computer screens for hours from a new species of couch potatoedom into glamorous sounding "surfing" - has been largely one-way.

Not surprisingly perhaps, sedentary, immobile, fixed, first generation Internet surfing, though, does not seem to truly grab, in a big way, as a part of lifestyle, real world surfers. It's not a massive part of their daily play. Mobile Internet and mobile technology, though, look to be a different story.

Consider that one of the world's most renowned surf states, the town of Jeffreys Bay on South Africa's eastern shores is not only proud host to epic waves, one of the world's longest practicing (it is claimed) true hippies Bruce Gold; it also sports some moving young mobile technology entrepreneurs. One company (all the directors are surfers!), Surf2Day provides a flagship service of daily surf and weather reports via SMS to a community of surfers, body boarders, fishermen and windsurfers. Perhaps, Surf2Day's service reflects Bruce Gold's dematerialized life quest to "live truly in the moment."

Surf reports on SMS

Surf2Day, though, do a lot more than wave and weather reports for their communities. The young business is based firmly as a local - but also operates globally. They have a buzzing business going delivering bulk messaging, locally and internationally.

Duvenhage comments: "Our bulk messaging service is used by companies globally. The reason we can offer the service is that our messaging software allows us to send messages abroad for less than what they cost in destination countries. For example, a local SMS in the UK costs up to 400% more than what we charge our clients."

Interestingly, the start-up for Surf2Day followed Duvenhage's experience of the mobile phone industry in Jeffreys Bay, working as an employee in a cellular phone enterprise. He saw the potential in SMS weather reports at that time for a new business. As a surfer he had got tired of calling expensive daily "phone-in" reports and saw that SMS could fill a great need in a niche market. "Phoning for reports was adding up to a small fortune every month. Meanwhile, I had realized the effectiveness of SMS. I started sending bulk SMS to my friends, four years ago. Most had no clue how to even read an SMS back then."

When he teamed up with "long time surfing buddy" Paris Basson, Surf2Day was in business.

Mobile services for surfers, by surfers

Today, the entire board of directors is comprised of surfers - they believe in their motto: "By surfers, for surfers."

"Surfing is a niche market in which you need to know people's needs and wants - and how to deliver them without looking like a kook!" reckons Duvenhage. Perchance, Surf2day is one of a few companies in the world with the directorate wholly made up of surfers? "If it's a world first - we'll take it!" he retorts.

Surf2Day view mobile as a perfect vehicle for providing information on timing. "Mobile communications and information distribution make for a gripping combination. Being on the move and knowing where the best place to be next is priceless. Conditions are so variable that looking at the clouds and deciding where to go just isn't enough."

Within the surf community, new age surf reports - that unite surfing with sophisticated technology - have unleashed a fiery debate. From all accounts, surfers, like many other communities, are debating the classic high-tech (robotic) versus low-tech philosophies - and have taken time to explore the merits and demerits of the extremes.

Some surfers object to technology artificially speeding up the surf information grapevine. They say this can take the spontaneity out of the search and may direct crowds to a spot at one time. Duvenhage says that they participate constantly in this debate (they have a detailed version of their views on this on their company web site).

Surfers hate spam surf reporting

"We feel we found a way to deliver the necessary information without leading the masses to less crowded spots. We report on the same, most populated beach breaks, across South Africa. In this way the search for waves is still there: and that is often just as good as a surf itself. Our company did not invent surf reporting, it's an international trend - we are just perfecting it!"

Furthermore, Duvenhage points out that spam type surf reports have been the main culprits in stirring up anti-surf report sentiments. As per habit, spam style tends to upset a community, even the laid-back surfing one. Explains Duvenhage: "Some Internet based companies spam information of low accuracy to the masses for free, just to get hits on their sites. They often name less crowded breaks, thereby tarnishing the image of surf reporting."

Besides being an entrepreneur, surfer and fisherman Duvenhage is an anti-spam protagonist. "Bulk messaging must be personalised. There are countless uses for this. Individuals must indicate a willingness to receive messages or we will have a cellular circus."

Keeping the spirit of the search for waves

In contrast to the high volume, detailed, non-selective approach, the Jeffreys Bay-based operation offers more generalized reports. This retains the spirit of adventure they strongly feel. "We offer an accurate, but more general report thereby keeping the spirit of the search: only letting you know which direction to travel. We see our service as helping fellow enthusiasts plan their lives by letting them know when conditions are good. Knowing if you should leave work early or when would be a good time to contract a mysterious rare tropical (surf) fever and will need to take a few days away to surf can be essential to the survival of any wave rider."

While based in Jeffreys Bay, amidst shell covered beaches and truly unspoiled natural surrounds, Surf2Day is not isolated and far from mainstream. The company services the international surf market as well. Comment Duvenhage: "Another beauty of mobile communication is that it doesn't matter if one is based around the corner, or around the world. We have teamed up with existing surf reporters worldwide to augment their services, be they phone-in or Internet-based, with SMS messages."

Epic waves, fishing and working the local biz

Duvenhage says the upsides of being based in Jeffreys Bay are numerous. His lifestyle consists of a "balance of work, surfing, fishing, other stuff - and more work." According to this surfer entrepreneur: "J-Bay and the Eastern Cape in South Africa are epic. The weather is superb, waves epic, fishing great. It is the least spoilt and developed part of South Africa. This brings all sorts of bonuses, natural beauty and business opportunities."

He feels that advanced mobile technology in the future in South Africa will be heavily used. "We are looking forward to the time when live video streaming, music and full color are widely available. We are looking forward to when they are affordable. It's a chicken and egg story - we need the customers with the equipment, but who wants to buy expensive equipment when it can't be optimized? Either way, it's going to be exciting and mind blowing."

Duvenhage, like J-Bay classic, hippie extraordinaire Bruce Gold, has a "philosurfical," but entrepreneurial, take on life, in general.

"It's not hard. Let's all get along. One world, love it. One life, live it. And always remember, if you don't surf enough, surf2day!" he suggests.

Carol Posthumus is a freelance author, analyzing how mobile technology impacts our lives. She lives in Midrand, South Africa.