Measuring ocean health

IoT / Project Management /
Citizen Science




Project: Smartfin
Tech elements: Hardware & software
My role:  Project Manager (East Coast)

As the East Coast Project Manager, I helped launch the 2016 Smartfin pilot program.  I liaised among project partners (researchers, engineers, citizen scientists, and non-profits) and oversaw outreach and education.

What is Smartfin?

The Smartfin is a surfboard fin with built-in sensors that collects important nearshore ocean data to help researchers better understand the effects of climate change on coastal habitats. With the Smartfin, surfers become citizen scientists by turning wave sets into data sets.

Why are these measurements important?

The nearshore environment is compromised, and climate change is playing a large role. To understand trends in ocean warming and acidification, scientists need to know how seawater chemistry is changing over time. Although vitally important, nearshore ocean health measurements are notoriously difficult to gather. By putting sensors directly onto surfboards, surfers can collect seawater measurements within the surf zone.  

Temperature and motion data collected by a Smartfin at Salt Creek Beach (Orange County, CA)

How does it work?

Sensors are sealed inside the fin.  The data collected during a surf session is made accessible via a smartphone app.  This data will be distributed online and accessed in near-real time by scientists globally.

Early Smartfin prototype fabrication
Smartfin iPhone app, 2016
Desktop mockup - Smartfin user portal

The initial pilot program tested the temperature sensor. The purpose of the pilot was to validate the scientific application of Smartfin in the surf zone.

The Smartfin Project is an innovative collaboration with researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, one of the world’s leading institutions for oceanographic research, Surfrider Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to the protection of the world’s oceans, and Futures Fins, the world’s leading surfboard fin manufacturer.


Smartfin - The Surfboard Fin That's Saving the Ocean, produced by Great Big Story/CNN Digital


Smartfin Project - Concept Video, produced by Lost Bird, Inc/Frannie Laks



Want to know more about Smartfin? It's an amazing project with enormous potential to demystify the secrets of the sea and climate change.  Here's some recommending reading and viewing.

🏄‍♀️On Smartfin's development status and challenges, read this Liquid Grid article (April 2018).
🔬Read this Surf Simply article to learn about the intersection of surfing, science and the Internet of Things.
📰 ForbesHow Surfboards and IoT Are Making Waves In Climate Change Research
🎥 BBC Earth Unplugged How Surfers Help Scientists Study the Ocean