Joe Surf: 'Trace' creates new competition

Some of you should be old enough to remember the joke about the "East German judge," the judge that cheats the American, or any non-East German, with a low score in gymnastics or figure skating or whatever sport is scored subjectively.

Judging in surfing contests also is subjective, and though on the whole they seem to do a good job, there's always that one score that might leave you scratching your head.


Well, there's a surf contest underway right now that has only one judge. But it's one judge who cannot be biased or unfair in any way. It's not human.

The Trace Up / Stack Up contest began Dec. 1 and will continue through the end of the month. It is taking place all over the world, including right here off the shores of Huntington Beach, Newport, Laguna, San Clemente, or anywhere a surfer can find a wave.


Maybe you've seen Trace. It's a small black disk — shaped similar to a hockey puck but smaller — mounted on a board. But it's got a whole lot of technology packed into it.

Trace, which has been around a few years now, is a small sensor that tracks a surfer's activity while riding. The Trace app syncs with Trace through bluetooth and gives the user an instant summary and in-depth analysis of the surf session, measuring things like number of waves, speed, calories burned, turns, jumps, airtime, etc.

The contest is the second of its kind, Trace holding its inaugural contest last year. And it's only the beginning.

"This is just really the initial stages of being able to create digital competitions," said Mike Schaefer, director of sales for Trace. "There's really not a lot of limitations to how we can do this. And eventually we'll roll it out into other sports."

The Trace can also be used for other water sports like kitesurfing, windsurfing, wakeboarding, stand-up paddle boarding and kayaking, and snow sports like skiing and snowboarding.

But it is surfing that is the first to have an actual competition. The idea for the competition came from Trace co-founder David Lokshin and Trace COO Brad Blankinship.

"It's a way to showcase a lot of these kids in different formats," Schaefer said.

Last year's initial competition had a specific age range, including groms ages 13-16. The current competition includes 17 surfers, one as young as 12 and the oldest being 19.

Some are local, and some are anything but. This year's competitors list includes Griffin Foy from Huntington Beach, Trey Lockhart, London Almida and Noah North from Laguna Beach, Taj Linblad and Kade Matson from San Clemente, Jackson Butler from Encinitas, Dagan Stagg from Carlsbad, Tommy Coleman from Vero Beach, Fla., Sam Coffey from Santa Cruz, Dane Mackie from Barbados, and Brodi Sale, Dylan Franzmann, Makana Franzmann, Finn McGill, Ocean Macedo and Jackson Bunch, all from Hawaii.

There was no specific qualifying for the contest. Schaefer said many of the kids from last year's contest were invited back, and he also talked to the surf team managers at Billabong and Quiksilver to recommend young, talented surfers.

Now about that judge …

The "judge" is the data acquired by Trace, no matter where in the world the surfer is in the water. There are obvious differences in conditions depending where a surfer is located, but there is a variety of categories that are measured that balances things out.

The six categories are number of waves caught, longest wave, total ride distance, sharpest turn, max speed and number of turns. There will be a winner in each category taking home $400. The surfer with the most category wins is the overall winner, good for $1,000.

And overall second place ($500) and third place ($100) will be awarded. There are also weekly prizes awarded for those who are surfing the most.

Results of the contest can be followed in real time at Through Wednesday of this week, local boy Foy was leading in three categories — most waves caught, total ride distance and number of turns.

"I want to say that kid surfs three, maybe four times a day," Schaefer said of Foy. "First thing in the morning when I pull up the app and at 6:30 a.m. he's already been out in the water and caught 25 waves. Those kids are at it every single day, so it's really cool to see the excitement."

Mackie, surfing in Barbados, is in second place leading in two categories — longest wave and sharpest turn. In third place is Macedo, surfing in Hawaii and leading the max speed category.

So now, there is no more complaining about the judging. If anything, it's the conditions — particularly here in HB lately — that can result in some dismay.

"No one's complaining," Schaefer said. "It makes people, with that competitive nature, say, 'I've got to find a spot where I can catch the longest wave, or whatever.'

"They can surf wherever they want. Be the 'wave hunter.'"


JOE HAAKENSON is a Huntington Beach-based sports writer and editor. He may be reached at