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Surfline Catches $30M in Funds, New CEO

Surfline has plans to carve through the new year with a new chief executive and $30 million in fresh funds.

The Huntington Beach-based firm, billed as the world’s largest surf report, forecasting and content creator, announced Kyle Laughlin would take the helm as chief executive last month, the same time the company landed the new funding.

“It starts with an admiration for the Surfline story,” Laughlin said of his decision to join the company.

“It’s a story of heritage and true grit. The team has built a successful company with a world-class product and a massive, global audience.”

Laughlin joins Surfline after leading a hardware and software team at Amazon; that team oversaw connected hardware and software experiences for Amazon Echo and Alexa. He previously held leadership roles in tech positions at Walt Disney Co. and Yahoo.

He succeeds Jeff Berg, co-founder and former chief executive, who will remain involved as executive chairman.

The $30 million round from Playa Vista-based venture firm TCG marks the first institutional investment for Surfline, and comes amid growth for the sport of surf, in part spurred by its upcoming debut at the 2020 Summer Olympics (now scheduled for 2021), Laughlin said.

It ultimately speaks to “the realization of a massive opportunity” to grow the company’s brands and tech offerings for its some 3 million annual users, he said.

TCG, the venture affiliate of The Chernin Group, invests in brands that it says “define culture.” Along with Pandora and Twitter, it has several sports media-related firms in its portfolio, including Barstool Sports and The Athletic.

Chernin Group co-founder Peter Chernin is well known in Hollywood for his movie hits like Titanic and Avatar and shows like American Idol and Modern Family.

Waves & Riders

Surfline, founded in 1985 by Sean Collins and Berg, started as an advertising product before becoming one of the best-known mobile applications for surfers.

The primarily subscription-based company makes “the product you needed to help you understand whether you should be surfing or not,” said Laughlin, a Chicago native who started surfing and using the product when he moved to San Diego in 2012.

Surfline uses wind and weather data and a network of over 700 high-definition cameras to keep track of waves and riders, with most of the cameras in the U.S., but also covering parts of Europe, Australia, Morocco and Central America.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning are worked into the mix to improve accuracy.

Insights delve into the quality and frequency of waves, as well as other factors such as how many people are in the water at a given time or if there’s been a shark spotting.

The company makes money via a mix of advertisements and premium subscription services.

The company also owns brands for surf-related sports, fishing and marine navigation.

Tech Advantages

Artificial intelligence and machine learning make predictions and recommendations based on real-time and historical data, so that surfers don’t need to spend 20 minutes reading wave and weather conditions to decide where or when to surf, Laughlin said.

These tech capabilities “make Surfline act like a personal assistant, helping users make those decisions without studying all the data we make available,” he said.

Another example of the company’s tech-enabled offerings is the Surfline Sessions app, which launched last August.

The mobile app connects with various smartphones and helps users capture video footage of their rides, which is delivered straight to their smartphone.

Surfline Sessions also provides GPS-driven insights including number of waves ridden, top speed attained and the length of a person’s longest ride—in both feet and seconds. 

As for those looking to pick up a new hobby this year, the company’s products “will make the barrier to getting into water much lower,” Laughlin added.

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