Chris Friend heating up the surfing industry

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What does your mobile phone, getting barrelled, and an undergraduate degree in commerce have in common? They all lead to professional surfer and Elite Athlete Program alumnus, Chris Friend.

Growing up on the Sunshine coast, Friend was your textbook surfer boy: blonde hair; freckles; surfing stickers all over his school books and a routine surf before and after school. From 8 years old, Friend was out amongst the waves on his foam nipper board teaching himself how to surf.

However, in the beginning it wasn’t all about surfing. Friend was thrown into the deep end at a young age when his dad persuaded him to start surf lifesaving. “My Dad was really into surf lifesaving and tried to get me to pursue a career in Ironman.”

Despite Friend’s subsequent progress through the nipper ranks at his local surf lifesaving club, his love for surfing was still undisputable. “I remember winning the under 12’s Queensland Ironman Title and was interviewed by the local news station afterwards. They asked if my dream was to make the Nutri Grain Ironman Series. My response was, ‘no, actually I want to be a pro surfer!’ so I left the surf club the next year and focused everything on becoming a pro surfer.”

So what distinguishes Friend from any other great Australian surfer? Well other than his multiple representations at World Juniors, or the fact that he turned pro just out of high school and spent four years full time on the World Surf League; Chris Friend is the first ever professional Australia surfer to be awarded a university degree.

Friend wasn’t a ‘P’s-get-degrees’ kind of student either. He maintained a distinction average and was awarded the joint SUSF and USYD Business School Scholarship for Outstanding Academic/Sporting achievement in 2013-2014. His excellent achievements also earned him a nomination for the University’s 2015 Nigel C Barker Graduate Medal. But the hard work didn’t stop there. Friend’s degree in commerce and interest in developing the surfing industry led him to the creation of a successful surfing App and software known as LiveHeats. “I met a guy named Fernando Freire out in the water one-day surfing at Bondi, he was a software developer at ThoughtWorks. I invited him down to Bondi Boardriders Club to one of our monthly comps. When he saw the way the surfing contest was run, he was shocked. It was all completely manual and paper-based, with judges writing their scores down on paper, and volunteers having to manually add up results, complete chaos! After this comp he asked me whether I’d be keen to help him build an app that could take the whole surfing contest process (entries, heat draw, scheduling, scoring, results, progression, club ratings) and digitise it.”

From here, they pulled in another developer and the LiveHeats team was born. After three weeks of late night brainstorming sessions, the first prototype of LiveHeats was created and tested at a Bondi Boardriders Club event.To say the least, it was a huge success. “Word leaked out that Bondi had started using a digital system and all of a sudden I started getting calls from other clubs around Sydney and the South Coast that were keen to get on board!”

Prior to competition, LiveHeats allows surfers to enter and register for competitions from their mobile phones. Then come competition day, judges enter scores through mobile devices or tablets and LiveHeats provides automated results and progression that can be viewed by commentators and spectators on any device. “At the moment we have over 1,000 surfers that use the App to enter the comps, watch live scores, and track their performance every month.” The flexibility of LiveHeats means the App is unique to the individual using it. It allows users to customise registration, the duration of heats, and the competition format, ultimately making LiveHeats a simplified tool suitable for your weekend warriors, or your pro-level competitors.

Since the testing of the initial prototype of LiveHeats, Friend now has 16 Boardriders’ Clubs using the software to run their events across Australia, and another 10 Clubs from Australia and New Zealand are soon to be added to this list. While Friend believes the immediate focus is to continue growing the network of Boardriders’ Clubs across Australia and New Zealand, he has big aspirations for LiveHeats. “Over summer we will start to bring on Grassroots surfing organisations in Indonesia, Fiji, Japan, and the US.” But it won’t stop there. Through all the work that Friend and the LiveHeats team have done they are starting to discover other sporting organisations having similar problems with manually managed competitions. “We’re keen to find out what the next sport is that would most benefit from a move to digital software would be!”

So there you have it. A Sunshine Coast surfer boy, turned pro-surfer, and Sydney University commerce student, turned digital software creator; Chris Friend has successfully challenged the typical surfer boy stereotype and is now riding the waves of a very bright entrepreneurial career.

Click here for more information on LiveHeats.