By Ian Grayson

It sounds strange that a surfer would wait for internet access before a good break. But that?s just what Mark Flanagan is willing to do.

That?s because Flanagan is national events manager for surfing company Rip Curl, which runs the prestigious Rip Curl Pro event held annually at Victoria?s Bells Beach.

Bells Beach is one of the country?s most iconic surfing locations, thanks to the way the big swells from deep in the Southern Ocean break over the pristine reef in Australia?s first Surfing Recreation Reserve. Regular competitors rank it as one of the most challenging spots in the world to ride a wave.

But sometimes weather conditions mean the waves at Bell?s are not up to the standard needed for high-level competition. When this happens, Rip Curl organisers ?go mobile? and scour alternative venues for the best possible waves in the region.

Flanagan says the decision to move an International event brings with it some big logistical challenges. ?We keep a close eye on detailed weather forecasts in the days leading up to competition, and can hold off making a decision to move until as late as the afternoon before it starts,? he says. ?Then it?s a big push to get everything to the chosen spot and up and running in time.?

No web, no surf

But the biggest challenge of them all is telecommunications, because one of the most important elements of the Rip Curl Pro is the webcast of the event that streams the action to a global online audience of hundreds of thousands of people.

?The webcast is a crucial component of the event for us,? says Flanagan. ?It?s the primary way our fans can stay in touch with the live action, regardless of where they are in the world.

?The event webcast is so important that if for some reason it wasn?t operational, we?d consider slightly delaying the start of competition until it was.?

While organising the necessary communications links for the webcast is relatively easy at the event?s headquarters at Bells Beach, when it moves to another location, things become more difficult.

During this year?s event, weather conditions meant waves were less than ideal for competition at Bells. After monitoring weather patterns and consulting maps, organisers opted to move two-and-a-half hours south to a remote beach inside the Cape Otway National Park.

None of the required communications infrastructure existed at the new location so organisers needed to be sure that a reliable alternative system would ensure web-connected fans around the world could still enjoy the action.

From the beach to the world

To help with the challenge, Rip Curl has teamed up with Telstra and the Next G mobile network, whose reach to 98.8 percent of Australia?s population even extended to the remote beach selected for the competition.

A temporary production and editing suite was set up in tents on the secluded beach. Vision from three fixed and one mobile camera was fed into this facility where it was mixed and made ready for live viewing on the Ripcurl site.

A series of notebook computers equipped with BigPond Wireless Broadband were set up in the tents. Connected to the Next G network, the cards provided a high-speed wireless broadband link between the beach and the internet.

Using the links, web staff streamed live video footage of the event to the ripcurl.com website. Highlights packages were also pulled together and posted to the site for fans to view on demand.

Friendly help

?The crew from Telstra Country wide were great,? says Flanagan. ?Within a few hours of us arriving at the new location, they had our communications services up and running.?

The wireless broadband speeds offered by Next G meant that high-quality live video footage could be reliably transmitted. Large video and photo files also could be easily uploaded to the website throughout the event.

?The benefits for us are considerable,? Flanagan says. ?It means we can move around if needed and be sure to find the very best waves available, knowing that the mobile communications systems will still allow us to webcast the action to fans around the globe.

?Telstra?s Next G network means we can reach our fans regardless of where the chase for the best waves takes us. It?s a good feeling.?

Pro Surfing?s ?Wimbledon?

The Rip Curl Pro at Victoria?s Bells Beach is the longest-running professional World Tour surfing competition in existence, having helped decide every male World Champion since 1976 when pro surfing?s global circuit was established.

Rip Curl and Bells Beach are inextricably linked, with the company?s founders choosing to establish their business in 1969 in nearby Torquay because of the great waves on offer in the Bells area.

The company started out making surfboards but quickly realised the market for wetsuits. Wetsuits became the company?s signature product and helped Rip Curl become a globally recognised surfwear brand.

And as one surfer Go spoke to says ? ?I?ll only wear Rip Curl!?

Photo Credit: ASP Tostee © Covered Images

Source: Australian GO magazine