Surfers Become Citizen Scientists as Surfboard Fin Collects Critical Ocean Data

August 26 2016

For more than 30 years, the Surfrider Foundation has leveraged citizen science to identify and solve issues facing their coasts. Once again, Surfrider will be engaging the community, specifically surfers, to collect critical data in a nearshore environment using a surfboard fin, called the Smartfin.

The Smartfin is a surfboard fin with sensors that measure 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 to the global scientific community.

“Smartfin is not only about the data. It’s also an effort to connect surfers and their communities to larger issues affecting ocean health,” said the Surfrider Foundation’s CEO, Chad Nelsen. “Using the data collected with Smartfin, we can better understand trends in ocean warming and acidification and mobilize our communities to take action to combat these problems caused by climate change.”

Smartfin is the result of a partnership between non-profits, engineers, and the scientific community. It is the brainchild of Dr. Andy Stern of The Lost Bird Project and engineered by Benjamin Thompson of BoardFormula. The Surfrider Foundation will provide logistical and outreach support for the distribution of fins to its network of surfers worldwide, and joins a long list of collaborators that includes Futures Fins and Scripps Institution of Oceanography, one of the world’s leading institutions for oceanographic research.

“Smartfin is an incredible tool to raise awareness about the urgent environmental challenges of today that we all face together. Surfers are an amazing bunch — passionate, connected to the ocean, and committed to a healthy way of living and a healthy earth,” said Dr. Andy Stern. “To see how surfers are so enthusiastically embracing Smartfin, and stepping up as citizen scientists as a way for them to contribute to ocean and climate change scientific research, gives me hope that what we need to do, we can do.”

Beta testing on the fin has been underway for several months. In early 2017, the Surfrider Foundation will begin distributing Smartfins with a pilot program launch with the Surfrider Foundation San Diego chapter. To find out more, visit

See Surfrider and Smartfin featured on NBC’s Today Show


The Surfrider Foundation is a non-profit grassroots organization dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of our world’s oceans, waves and beaches through a powerful activist network. Founded in 1984 by a handful of visionary surfers in Malibu, California, the Surfrider Foundation now maintains over 250,000 supporters, activists and members worldwide. Learn more at