Fixing Our Gaze On Big Wave Surfing

Jenny Force Jenny Force, VP of Marketing

As winter descends upon North America in the months of January and February, a pretty cool phenomenon happens on the west coast. From California to Hawaii to Oregon, winter storms and dramatic swells prompts the return of big wave surfing.

At places such as Nelscott Reef in Oregon, Mavericks in California and Jaws on Maui, daring athletes wait for waves that reach up to 60′. Through the magic of images and video and apps such as Instagram, the entire world can follow along with big wave surfing from the surfer’s point of view.

Also, by using Sysomos Gaze, we can key in on conversations around big wave surfing on both Instagram and Twitter like never before and surface amazing images such as these:

Repost @patagonia and local Jason Slezak at #NelscottReef #beauty #nature #ocean #surf #awesome #blue #art

A photo posted by Blue Collar Agency (@bluecollaragency) on

Getting Set Up With Sysomos Gaze

Before the event began, I worked with our Gaze team to configure my Gaze instance. To track the activity around big wave surfing and specifically Nelscott Reef in Oregon and Mavericks in California, I chose keywords #bigwave, #Nelscott, #Mavericks, etc. Normally I’d include logos and other images to help refine the search and to be able to search visually, but in this case, the subjects are mainly men and women surfing with waves, beaches and cliffs in the background.

Gaze - Nelscott

Looking at the screen above, this is the main Gaze screen. I’ve narrowed the date range to be centered around the Nelscott event that took place on January 10th.

In the Gaze filter set on the left hand side, I can set hashtag filters using AND or OR tags, depending on the logic I’d like to apply.

Seeing Context

With 60 million photos being uploaded to Instagram each day, keeping tabs on the images that matter to your brand or campaign can be daunting. This is why Sysomos Gaze has been built with powerful filtering ability by algorithmically scanning photos to establish contexts around the image.

In the case of Sysomos Gaze, context in an image includes objects in the background, the physical environment where the photo was taken, whether the photo appears to be a selfie.

For Gaze, context applies to visual elements that allow me to further filter based on exactly the type of image or video we seek across Instagram or Twitter.

In Sysomos Gaze, you can filter on:

  • Verified vs. Unverified accounts
  • Food: Looking for french toast, guacamole, fish and chips and more? Filter based on food preferences
  • Scenes: choices include beach, coliseum, snow mountain, store and so much more
  • Selfie photos
  • Brand (when Gaze keys in on a brand’s logo)
  • Media Type: video or images
  • Address
  • Number of comments; based on thresholds you set
  • Gender
  • Language
  • Username
  • Geotagged

Put those filters to work

The filters above, alone are quite cool. However, they become super powerful when you use them in combination!

For instance, say I’m a sponsor of one a surfing event at Nelscott Reff and I want to see how many times my logo appeared on Instagram because I bought a $30,000 placement of my logo near the surfer’s staging area, I could set a filterset to key in on my brand’s logo and target the address of the Nelscott Reef event in Lincoln City, Oregon.

Nelscott geofilter

Think about that, digital marketers! You can now track images shared to Instagram and Twitter that are based on a location filter and combine those filters for amazing visibility into live events. This is huge for event such as store openings, music festivals and concerts, art gallery openings – or any situation where location is important to a marketing campaign.

I was lucky enough to meet and have lunch with 6 of the most elite big wave surfers in the world, who came to Lincoln City, Oregon in early January to surf Nelscott Reef. These amazing athletes, though laid back in personality, are serious about their sport.

Cut through the noise. It just so happens that one of my filters in my filter set isn’t really useful to my business objective of finding amazing surf photos. You see, #Mavericks is also the name of Dallas’ NBA team, so in this case, if to see relevant photos to my efforts, I’ll enable #Mavericks and then set the Beach filter, revealing the creme of the crop – surf photo magic! If I want to go one step further and see only videos, I pull up amazing drone footage like this one, shot by my friend and photographer, Brad Scott

Let’s get analytical

So far I’ve focused this Sysomos Gaze walkthrough on finding amazing images and videos in a powerful way. But Gaze can also look help in the numbers game as well.

For instance, flipping over to the Insights tab shows insights such as:

Gaze Timeline

This graph shows the number of mentions over time. In this filter set, I have it showing me photos narrowed down to two hashtags and keyed in on a specific geography. The big wave event I was tracking happened around January 8, and accordingly, there’s a spike during that timeframe.

Gaze - time of day

This graph shows times of day where posts are shared to Instagram in UTC. In this case, the spike occurs late in the day because that’s when surfers are on the water, in the Pacific Ocean in Oregon. 🙂
Gaze - Associated hashtags

Desire to see what hashtags are posted alongside your chosen hashtag filters? Yes, Sysomos Gaze can do that too.

Also, Gaze can display the top personalities that are contributing content of interest to Twitter and Instagram:

Gaze Influencers

Surfers As Savvy Athletes

In January on the Oregon Coast, I had the honor of spending time with 5 of the globe’s most talented big wave surfers. Spending time with Trevor Sven Carlson, who was on the water earlier that day at Nelscott Reef, was incredible.

These surfing athletes are vagabonds this time of year and are constantly keeping an eye on weather. Trevor and his peers are constantly checking their iPhones and tracking swells, weather systems and how they’ll hit each location on the Hawaiian Islands or west coast.

Still blown away at how scary perfect the waves were at Mavericks a few days ago!! 📷 @pedrobalaphotography

A photo posted by Trevor Sven Carlson (@trevorsvencarlson) on

In fact, Trevor let me know that he was able to surf the same storm in Maui, fly to Oregon and surf it again here on the west coast. After being in Lincoln City with me, Trevor and his squad flew back to Oahu as conditions were ripe on North Shore; then after 2 days there, they flew back to California to hit Mavericks.

To get noticed, surfers are playing the social media game as well. Immediately after the surfers get out of the water, they’re looking at images captured by photographers to see the best shots. Then, using Instagram and other channels, they try to get the action online as soon as possible, in hopes that Surfing Magazine or a similar online property will pick up the image, boost their impressions and get noticed in hopes to get placed on tours. On a couple times over lunch, these elite athletes said “It’s all about the impressions, bro!”

So, the next time you think of surfers chillin’ on the beach waiting for the waves to roll in, know these amazing athletes are also at work too, watching and waiting for their chance to make a splash, like the rest of us. 🙂

(Image Credit Flickr User dullhunk)

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