Ryan McDonald

Hermosa Beach designer’s app lets surfers emote on waves

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Chris Prenter checks the surf on the south side of the Hermosa Pier. His new app features ways for surfers to communicate on surf plans and conditions. Photo by Ryan McDonald

by Ryan McDonald

Chris Prenter remembers hearing in a college anthropology class that the Inuit, the indigenous people inhabiting regions ringing the Arctic, had hundreds of words to describe snow. The message was that things that seem indistinguishable to most people — snow is snow — are in fact subject to vast variation in the eyes of those who experience them most.

The native Hermosan thought that the same concept applied to surfing, with its cabinet of etymological curiosities to describe waves and conditions that the uninitiated might not discern. Now, years later, he’s found a way to make that communication a little easier.

Prenter has designed an app called Surf Report — Core Surfer Stickers. Available on Apple’s app store, Surf Report allows people exchanging messages on iPhones and iPads to select from a gallery of different images to describe surf conditions or plans.  

The app came about from his own experience of trying to communicate sessions or morning surf-checks with friends. He was looking for something that was both quicker and more expressive than a conventional text message.

“The idea is to give a visual vocabulary to let surfers quickly share the conditions and their thoughts,” Prenter said.

Though it would be impossible to fully encapsulate the many moods of the ocean into a single gallery, Surf Report makes a good go of it. Images highlight wave size, prevailing winds, hollowness and a lengthy list of qualities that can make or break a session. Others indicate when and where a future session might take place — a wave obscuring the purple sky of a sunrise for “Dawn Patrol,” a series of lined up waves for “The Point” — or provide board recommendations, from gun to log.

Prenter, who works in graphic design and digital marketing, said Surf Report was his first venture into the world of app-making. He recently showed Surf Report around at the annual Mira Costa-Redondo Union alumni surf-off — a contest marred by tiny waves — and has tested the app out with surfing friends from around the South Bay.

“It’s like the old saying, a picture is worth 1,000 words. The 70s images and stickers on the app do it right,” said Jose Bacallao, a friend of Prenter’s and fellow Hermosa waterman, in an email.

Bacallao said that the app was valuable at a time when people are increasingly relying on Internet-based surf reporting websites, like Surfline. While obsessively checking such websites is a tick of the modern surfer, they can over overhype good days, or dismiss promising ones. Prenter’s app, Bacallao said, combines the rapid response of new technology with the intimacy of hearing about it from your friend.

“Sometimes what you see on Surfline is so wrong. It’s good to get first-hand reconnaissance from a buddy, and this app makes it super easy,” he said.

For the future, Prenter plans to increase the number of stickers available, and also create different “packages” for different languages and surf regions. Though he doesn’t want the app to become unwieldy, his experience so far has shown him the reach of the possibilities.

“I started out by sitting down and making a spreadsheet of words I wanted to use to talk about waves, and it just expanded from there. With surfing, you can get into lifestyle, culture, just about anything,” Prenter said.

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