Sean Collins, Trusted Forecaster for Surfers, Dies at 59
Sean Collins, who created Surfline.com, whose forecasts and real-time views of beaches reach 1.5 million surfers a week, died on Monday in Newport Beach, Calif. He was 59.
While playing tennis, he had a heart attack, his business partner, David Gilovich, said.
Before Surfline, dedicated surfers would hang out on the beach for weeks at a time, dropping everything, including work and relationships, when the surf came up. Mr. Collins’s forecasts meant surfers could use their time more efficiently. It allowed them to continue to chase swells through what he termed “the responsible years,” and gave rise to a breed of plugged-in surfers who make their living through high-dollar contests or by chasing monster swells.
“Sean was a renaissance man,” said Bill Sharp, director of the annual Billabong XXL Big Wave Awards and a longtime colleague. “He could see something that was needed long before anyone else. From looking at an isobar line on a weather chart to having a sense of how people would want their information delivered decades down the line. He was surfing’s Leonardo da Vinci.”
Mr. Collins’s forecasting prowess was self-taught. He scrupulously logged daily surf conditions, studied obscure National Weather Service archives and used a short-wave fax machine — stringing antenna wire across Baja cactus plants — to receive weather reports from New Zealand and understand how Antarctic storms could send waves across the Pacific. His predictions astonished friends.
He joined a telephone forecast venture called Surfline in 1984, and two years later began a rival service called Wavetrak. He bought out Surfline in 1990 and five years later started Surfline.com.
Forecasts were refined with the help of Jon Chrostowski, a NASA scientist who hacked into data streams broadcast by weather buoys, and William C. O’Reilly, an oceanographer with the Scripps Institute who modeled the interaction of waves with the sea floor.
Mr. Collins was born on April 8, 1952, in Pasadena, Calif. He sailed the coasts of California and Baja, Mexico, with his father, a Navy lieutenant, and developed into a talented competitive surfer, following waves to Hawaii and financing his surf addiction through magazine photography.
He explored the Mexican outback extensively. “We’d spend months camping out and waiting for swells,” he said in an interview in 2002. “You can’t do that and live a normal kind of mainstream life.”
He is survived by his wife, Daren; two sons, Tyler and A. J.; his mother, Gloria; and his siblings, Whitney Jr., Gloria Burdette and Robert.
The way Mr. Collins’s friends and colleagues relied on his forecasts could be stressful — particularly when he became a go-to forecaster for California lifeguards, Navy Seals, the Coast Guard and major surf competitions.
In 2008, Mr. Collins phoned his friend Mike Parsons to demand that he and five friends abort an attempt on Cortes Bank during one of the worst Pacific storms on record. But Mr. Parsons had already left on an expedition that found waves a hundred feet high.
“Sean worried about us,” Mr. Parsons said. “If you were a loyal friend, there was just an incredibly strong bond. I learned so much about the ocean from him, but he was the authority. Now when we launch a mission, we’ll just sort of never know for sure.” – Taken from NYtimes.com