Surfing’s New Virtual Reality

GoPro is venturing into the realm of virtual reality, and they're taking surfers with them

Ever wondered when you'd be able to virtually transport yourself to lineups like Jeffreys Bay, Pipeline, or Mavericks without having to leave the comfort of your couch? Well, the time is almost here: GoPro is making a serious venture into the world of virtual reality.

During last month's Re/code's Code Conference (a gathering of tech and media moguls who discuss all things digital), GoPro CEO Nick Woodman announced a new product that could take POV filmography into an entirely different dimension (literally). At this stage of the development, it's a handheld object that rigs together six GoPro cameras in a cubical array—essentially enabling people to capture a 360-degree view of world.

The rig is the result of years of multi-camera testing and prototypes. In fact, the above clip of Mikala Jones surfing and filming with an early version was shot more than two years ago. All they were missing was a user-friendly technology to seamlessly stitch together these videos to create a completely immersive product. They found the missing link in April when they acquired Kolor, a virtual reality and spherical content start-up that helps users combine the images in a not-so-shoddy way.

"When you look at something complex like water, waves, or lineups from within the barrel, each water drop has to be in place. In virtual reality, the real key to success is having a solid software to sync the images together," explains Brad Schmidt, GoPro's Creative Director. "Making spherical content is heavy in post-production, so you'll always need a software. You can't just sit there, click the shutter, then plug it into your computer and have this, ‘Oh my God, look at this spherical clip’ moment. We've been shooting spherical content for a while, but we've been holding back on the project because the solution for stitching it together had never been elegant until we started our collaboration with Kolor."

GoPro's six-camera spherical array prototype model, from the Re/code conference. Also, loafers.
GoPro’s six-camera spherical array prototype model, from the Re/code conference. Also, loafers.

The hardware designed to view VR is becoming more accessible as well. Devices like the Oculus Rift and Sony’s Project Morpheus are set to be released next year, while Google Cardboard (the poor man’s VR headset) has already shipped over 1 million units to consumers. As virtual reality machines and software become more streamlined and affordable, we’ll be able to step into synthetic worlds regularly, with full control of our viewpoints.

Imagine being able to step behind a lens and simulate getting barreled out of your mind alongside Kelly Slater. You can choose to look down at his stance, observe the positioning of his shoulders, or see how close he is to the reef. Surfers, photographers, filmmakers, and audiences will all soon have a lot more angles to explore.

"I think what's cool about this is that this is just a start," says Schmidt, "This is the way imaging and cameras evolve. This is just the beginning stage and hopefully the smaller we can get the package, the more user-friendly it will be. I think the dream will be when it becomes one single camera and all the stitching and everything happens within the camera. That would be the ideal scenario. Obviously it's a long road to there and as it progresses it's going to be a transformative experience. Eventually, it'll feel like normal video is like looking at the world through a straw."

Experience the immersive virtual reality experience below in GoPro’s Land, Air, and Sea: