Next big break

The USA Surfing Team is tapping into AI technology that improves performance while reducing risk—by breaking down everything from a surfer’s movements to surfboard position to the motion and patterns of the waves.

Surfing is a beautiful yet complex sport that requires intricate movements and a vast understanding of how the waves and surfboard factor into maneuvering on the water.

When USA Surfing and Microsoft first began working together, the goal was to use artificial intelligence to improve performance and reduce injuries for athletes. The partnership originated with a grassroots hackathon project where Microsoft engineers worked with the team and athletes to develop some basic technical ideas. Since then, it has evolved into something much greater.

A new wave of technology

To develop the AI solution for USA Surfing, the team and Microsoft engineers had to first identify the key challenges that a surfer faces while maneuvering on a wave. “Surfing has very high-risk maneuvers and our job is to ultimately keep the longevity, health, and wellness of the athlete,” says Tracy Axel, Director of High-Performance Analytics for USA Surfing.

Using a single camera view on land, the team was able to capture a surfer in motion, using joint mechanics and AI to determine both strengths and deficiencies in their movement.

Breaking down the motion

Motion analysis requires multiple models working together to analyze action, while factoring in surrounding elements and forces. The USA Surfing team and Microsoft broke down the surfing motion into three major components to better determine what those models are: the surfer’s body (movement), the surfboard (equipment), and the wave (environment).

Diving deeper into AI

Azure Cognitive Services provides two major benefits for the team: performance and prevention.

For performance, key variables like speed, power, and flow can be quantified, analyzed and compared over time giving the USA Surfing team the ability to insert more objectivity into a very subjective sport. This will provide important reference points for training, coaching, and scoring.

For fitness and prevention, the team can quickly identify the poor mechanics that may lead to injuries and hinder performance. This will ultimately help athletes complete more dynamic, difficult maneuvers, prevent injury and stay healthy for a longer period of time.

Microsoft AI enables all individuals involved in the sport of surfing to interact cohesively. Drawing on the rich data insights from thousands of WSL video clips, healthcare professionals, judges, coaches, and surf athletes will benefit from myriad information presented on one platform that can be intelligently interpreted by all in real time.
Kevyn Dean
Medical Director, USA Surfing
Surfer riding wave and graphic overlay noting critical wave section and stance
This technology is going to help younger surfers develop their skillset at a much more rapid pace
Kevin Schulz
Professional USA Surfer

Looking ahead

Microsoft technology is bringing coaches, surfers, and judges more data at a faster pace that will allow them to better understand what a surfer is doing on the water. The motion analysis tool is able to do something the traditional surf filming cannot—you can now see each mechanical movement and body pattern in an instant.

Microsoft and USA Surfing now have their sights set on expanding the breadth of maneuvers that this tool can capture, with the eventual goal of bringing this technology to the entire team—and beyond.