trump-hairMaybe you thought science and surfing were already well-acquainted. Sports are often stated in the same sentence as science, and surfing is a sport, but studies of the mental science of surfing are about as hard to find as flattering images of Donald Trump.

(If you find either, please let us know).

So, when researchers from the German Sport University Cologne recently published a study of mental factors at work during the time a surfer picks which waves to ride, they were also opening a new field of scientific inquiry.

“To date, no empirical research has been conducted investigating the perceptual-cognitive skills underpinning surfing expertise,” the article read.

Perceptual-cognitive = a fancy way of saying sight and mind.

And they had silly fun in the process, naming the resulting article, “‘Eddie would(n’t) go!’ Perceptual-Cognitive Expertise in Surfing,” a play on the expression, “Eddie Would Go.” (See Eddie in the feature image).

They sought to find out whether or not expert surfers are better at selecting waves than their novices and those with absolutely no experience and whether the experts are better because of perceptual-cognitive reasons, such as one’s ability to read the speed of swells, reflecting light, ocean conditions and whatever else may come into play.

A still frame taken from videos used for experimentation

A still frame taken from videos used for experimentation

“We created video stimuli resembling the perspective a surfer has when waiting for waves and asked surfers to decide which waves they would try to catch and which ones not,” the researchers said.

A panel of expert surfers judged each wave in the videos as good or bad, so participants’ responses could be tallied as correct or incorrect.

Because the experiment demanded that participants make decisions based on sight alone, any difference in the participants’ skill would be attributed to perceptual-cognitive skills.

The results showed that all participants could identify a good wave more than 70 percent of the time. However, experts made a good decision significantly more often than those of the other groups.

Experts were also much more confident in their decisions than the other groups, which may be because they felt like they were guessing less often than the others.

Lastly, the key finding was that experts were significantly better at identifying bad waves than the other groups. This means they knew best when they should(n’t) go, and all this was just from visual cues.

Graph from Surf Article

A graph showing the percentages of good decisions made based on surfer experience levels

“Taken together, the pattern of results shows that experienced surfers demonstrate perceptual-cognitive skills that allow them to ‘read’ their performance environment more effectively which contributes to their superior performance,” the article stated.

While the results may reinforce what surfers would already expect, the new relationship between science and surfing emerges with an exciting future.

Any ideas for a future surf study?