Meet Your Maker: Shane Helm of Rip Curls & Rip Curl's Search GPS Watch

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posted by James Willmott

We caught up with Rip Curl’s Global Chairman of Watches and Equipment, Shane Helm, to talk all about their amazing Search GPS watches. These watches are, well to put it quite simply – next level, and it sure is exciting to learn all about their functionality and what is to come next!

What is your position at Rip Curl?

Global Chairman – Watches & Equipment Division.

Where are you based?
Torquay, Victoria, Australia.

How did you dream up such a unique product?
The concept for the Search GPS watch came about in the mountains of Hokkaido, Japan, an unusual place to come up with a surf watch.  A few key members of the Rip Curl watch team absconded from our usual Hong Kong supplier meeting drudgery, to catch a few days of powder snow in Japan, a couple of hours away.
We couldn’t believe how much fun we were having with our smartphones and a couple of GPS tracking apps we had downloaded.  A competitive spirit quickly overtook the trip. Coffee breaks were forsaken, lunch turned into a quick, half hour re-fuel, and squeezing in two runs during “last lifts” became the norm.  All for bragging rights over a few key metrics at the end of the day.  Fastest speed, most vertical meters, total ski distance & maximum daily runs.
It didn’t take long for our minds to turn to work and start discussing how we might bring this same fun into our surfing lives.  We weren’t the first to have this idea, but we did find ourselves in the fortunate position to be working for a company that not only encouraged this sort of idea, but openly craved it.

How long had the Search GPS Watch been in the works before it was released onto the market?
It took about a year to develop the concept and blueprint for the product.  How it would work, designing the watch, the screens, what components were required and how they would all connect and interact with each other. After that we underwent a year of solid development work creating the watch, the App and the website.  Finally we were ready for testing, which took another full year to iron out all the bugs and add a few new ideas. Three years in total.

What were the main complications you experienced? No doubt there were a few hurdles you had to overcome when creating the Search GPS watch?
GPS tracking watches had been made before, so we knew that it was possible.  The real challenge was finding a way to take the raw data and sort it out into waves and laying them out on a map that was visually appealing.
Surfing is a unique and incredibly diverse sport. The Search GPS watch has an inbuilt set of “rules” it uses to determine each time you catch a wave. The rules use speed, acceleration, deceleration and direction changes to define “a wave”. Applying one set of wave counting “rules” to everything, from one foot shore breaks to 25 foot Waimea is almost impossible.

Where did all the development and testing take place?
All design work was done in Torquay and Sydney. Development of the watch took place in Hong Kong, and development of the App/Website was handled by our digital partner firm in Sydney.
The Search GPS watch was thoroughly tested all over the world.  We had 200 testers in many remote and far flung places including Australia, USA, Indonesia, Brasil, Europe, New Zealand and many more.

Did you use people on the ground (team riders, etc.) to assist with the development and testing process?
Absolutely. The Rip Curl pro team was an integral part of developing the features and testing the product. I owe special thanks to Owen Wright.

Are you a surfer yourself?
Yes. Since May 2014 I have had 178 surfs, Caught 2,362 waves, and paddled a total of 772km.

We understand the main features of the Search GPS watch are monitoring surfs, but can you describe it’s functionality in more detail? Is there anything nifty that we may not know about?
Auto_set is an incredible feature that often gets overlooked for the more exciting elements of speed, wave count etc.  The Search GPS watch will set your tide and time anywhere in the world with the simple push of one button.

In your opinion, what is the Search GPS Watch’s coolest feature?
Having an automatically created logbook or surf diary.  Having all my surfs recorded with almost no effort on my part is pretty cool.

What happens after the data is recorded?
Once you finish your surf you can easily sync the data from your watch to your iPhone or Windows/Mac computer. The data is then transferred to Rip Curl cloud servers to display a rich graphical analysis of your surf. 

Is the Search GPS useable worldwide, even in remote areas with no phone reception?
Absolutely.  The watch will gather all your surf data and you can send it to the App to see some really cool details of your surf.  However, to get maps and some other graphical displays you will need to wait until you get back to some internet reception.

Tell us more about the App that works alongside the watch.
The App is your personal surfing logbook.  It will keep record of all of your surfs and calculate some really amazing stats for your wave counts and paddle distance. It also comes with a fully integrated social network so you can follow your friends and see where they have been surfing.

What’s next for the Search GPS Watch?
2015 will be a big year for Rip Curl Search GPS. We are listening to our customers ideas and have some really cool new features to bring into the app. Stay tuned…

Shop the Rip Curl Search GPS watch here.