Rob Keaton’s photo of Kelly Slater riding a wave, via Wikimedia Commons.
Rob Keaton’s photo of Kelly Slater riding a wave, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Surfing Life, with Kelly Slater

Rtwkeaton [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], from Wikimedia Commons.

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About This Episode

What does it feel like to ride the perfect wave? Can you artificially create the perfect wave? What’s the key to surviving a brutal wipeout? On this episode of StarTalk Radio, Neil deGrasse Tyson sits down with world class surfer Kelly Slater to uncover the science of surfing and making waves. In-studio, Neil is joined by comic co-host Chuck Nice, journalist and author William Finnegan, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life, oceanographer Travis Schramek, and Adam Fincham, the lead wave scientist at the Kelly Slater Wave Co. Surf Ranch.

Kelly tells us about his connection to NASA and his intimate memories of the Challenger disaster. Find out what’s it like to ride a wave, physically and emotionally, and how hard it is to find the “sweet spot.” Kelly tells us how the surf board interacts with the waves and the delicate balance a surfer must maintain between managing forces from the ocean and exerting force from their board and body. You’ll learn how waves are formed based on the topography of the ocean and deep energetic water. Chuck leads us in a game of “Surf Talk” where Neil tries to guess what certain surfing lingo means out on the water…and he’s better than you think. Immerse yourself in the physics phenomenon that happens when you’re riding in the barrel of a wave. You’ll hear which elements of physics are most important in surfing.

We answer fan-submitted Cosmic Queries about the impact of the Moon and the Sun on the creation of waves, our “souls surfing waves on another dimension,” and the best place to catch a wave in the solar system. We dive into the secret science of artificial wave creation at the Kelly Slater Surf Co. Wave Ranch. You’ll explore how Kelly, Adam, and their team created the perfect artificial wave. William gives us some context about the importance of this creation in surf history. Discover how to survive a wipeout no matter how gnarly the fall. Bill Nye the Science Guy checks in to give us his thoughts on surfing science. All that, plus, Neil gives us the cosmic perspective from one of his favorite poems. Surf’s up!

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