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Joe Surf: Collins made huge impact on surfing industry

January 04, 2012|By Joe Haakenson

Surfline has planned a paddleout to honor its founder and one of the most influential surfers in the history of the sport, Sean Collins, at 11 a.m. Sunday on the south side of the Huntington Beach Pier.

Collins, 59, passed away after suffering a heart attack while playing tennis the day after Christmas.

While the paddleout will be a moving tribute to Collins, I can't help but wonder if there isn't more the city and its citizens can do.

Would it be too much to ask that the Huntington Beach Pier be renamed the "Sean Collins Memorial Pier"? Or how about the "Sean Collins Memorial Pier at Huntington"?

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Collins' influence on surfing and the exploding surfing industry cannot be overstated. Surfer Magazine named him one of the 25 most influential surfers of the century in 1999, and in 2002 the magazine named him the eighth most powerful surfer in the surf industry.

But it's so much more than helping surfers find a good wave. His forecasts have helped event organizers determine where and when they would hold their contests.

Contests got bigger and better when the waves were optimum. And consequently, the surfing got better, and interest grew and grew.

Now, the surf industry is a billion-dollar business. It's why a farm boy in Nebraska can go to his local mall and buy a Hurley T-shirt and board shorts.

And it's why surf towns — like Huntington — have thrived. Sure, there are the old school surfers who don't like the big hotels and all the tourists, but the economic boon to the city has been an overwhelming positive on the whole.

Collins' influence stretches past surfing and the surfing industry as well. Surfline provides weather and forecasting services to every lifeguard agency in California, the Coast Guard, the Navy Seals, National Weather Service, television and movie production companies, and domestic and international governmental agencies.

I interviewed Collins for a column last April, and he said he simply saw a need and filled it.

"It was hard to find data to forecast storms, let alone swells," Collins said in April. "Basically, you had to rely on satellite information and usually half the satellites were down. There were not very good global weather models.

"When I learned how to forecast, the primary challenge was finding information at all, let alone having the network to distribute the information like now."

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