Surfing is a complex sport: it requires difficult movements and, above all, a great understanding of how the waves and the surfboard influence the maneuvers in the water. Aware of this, USA Surfing, the United States surf team, and Microsoft have worked together with the goal of using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to improve performance and reduce athlete injuries.
The first step in developing an AI solution for USA Surfing was to identify the key elements that a surfer faces when catching a wave. “Surfing has very high risk movements and our job is to ultimately protect the health and well-being of the athlete”, says Tracy Axel, director of high performance analysis for USA Surfing.
Using ground-based footage, the team captured images of the surfers in motion and used AI to determine both the strengths and weaknesses of their movements.
Motion analysis requires multiple models to work together to analyze the action, as well as taking external elements into account. The USA Surfing team and Microsoft chose to study three main components: the surfer's body (movement), the surfboard (equipment) and the wave (environment). By analyzing the joints of a surfer's body, it is possible to gather important data about their maneuvers, posture, and range of motion; while the surfboard offers information on how the athlete's technique, the currents of the sea and the board itself work together. Finally, by paying attention to the waves, the team was able to discover what forces drive the athletes at each moment.
Azure Cognitive Services provides two main benefits for the team: performance and prevention. For the first, it allows variables such as speed, power and flow to be quantified, analyzed and compared over time , so the USA Surfing team can be more objective: they have more references for training sessions, coaching and scoring. When it comes to prevention, USA Surfing can quickly identify those mechanics that can cause injury and hamper performance. Ultimately, this helps athletes complete more dynamic and difficult maneuvers, prevent accidents, and stay fit for a longer period of time.
“Microsoft AI allows all members of the surf team, in different roles, to interact together. We have analyzed thousands of videos from the WSL (World Surf League) and extracted the most relevant data from them. Now, health professionals, judges, coaches and the athletes themselves can benefit from the large amount of information presented on a platform that everyone can intelligently interpret in real time«, he explains Kevyn Dean, medical director of USA Surfing.
Microsoft technology quickly delivers data to surf professionals, enabling them to better understand athletes' movements in the water. This motion analysis tool shows the information that is not visible in surf videos: the mechanical movements and body patterns that are made at every moment.
“This technology will help younger surfers develop their skills at a much faster rate”, concludes Kevin Schulz, professional surfer from the US.