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How Olympic Surfing Is Trying to Ride the Machine Learning Wave


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Carissa Moore of the U.S. won gold in the womens surfing competition.

Machine learning algorithms could further shape surfing in years to come, helping to improve wave forecasting, and making inroads into training, injury prevention, and recruitment of top athletes, according to researchers and coaches.

Credit: Francisco Seco/Associated Press

South African surfer Bianca Buitendag uses some apps and websites to gauge wind and wave conditions before she competes, but she doesn't consider surfing a high-tech sport. It's mostly about trying to gauge the weather. 

"That's about it," she said this week. 

Carissa Moore, who on Tuesday faced off with Buitendag for the sport's first-ever Olympic gold medal, takes a different approach. She loads up on performance analytics, wave pools and science. The American, who beat Buitendag by nearly 6.5 points to win the gold medal on Tuesday, has competed on artificial waves and uses technology such as a wearable ring that tracks her sleep and other vitals to help her coaches fine-tune her training and recovery. 

Their different approaches go to the heart of a long-running tension in surfing: dueling images of the spiritual, naturalist wave rider versus the modern, techie athlete.

From The Wall Streeet Journal
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