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How HP Found The Best And Biggest Wave That’s Never Been Surfed

New short documentary uses technology to help big wave surfer Ian Walsh seek out the Ghost Wave.

The mission was clear–find a wave that no one else had surfed before and go get it. Sounds simple enough, right?

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That’s what HP and agency 180LA aimed to do with Ghost Wave, a new eight-minute doc to help promote the new Pavilion x360 tablet/laptop hybrid that follows big wave surfer Ian Walsh as he seeks out a wave that’s never been surfed. It took five months of constantly monitoring ocean swells, weather patterns, and more. The brand had Walsh and legendary surf filmer Taylor Steele ready to go. It just had to find the right wave at the right time.

“Unlike your typical event idea where you can plan everything out to a certain point, or a piece of content that you go out and film and know what you’re going to get, this was unusual in that it was a hunt to find this ghost wave,” says 180LA chief creative officer William Gelner. “Waiting and scouring the entire globe, trying to find a big swell that would be impressive enough in a spot where no one was surfing. We looked all over the world, from places like Chile, New Zealand, Madagascar, Easter Island, there were tons of spots that would pop up, but this is the weather and waves and it’s unpredictable. It doesn’t matter how many wave-modeling algorithms there are, you can’t really ever be 100% sure.”

The agency and surf crews worked with Surfline.com and finally ended up in a remote stretch of the South African coastline, somewhere between Cape Town and the Namibian border. Big wave surfers tend to all flock to certain areas when swells hit and many had made their way to a well-known Cape Town spot called Dungeons, but little did they know just a few hours away Walsh was slashing huge waves in front of an empty beach. “It didn’t really hit very well at Dungeons,” says Gelner. “We had waves all day whereas Dungeons may have got about two hours’ worth. We were in the best place to surf in the world on that particular day and no one else was there.”

For Gelner and HP, the biggest challenge was balancing Walsh’s ongoing social efforts with fans under the campaign’s #bendtherules banner, and actually finding the wave in time. “You could end up hunting this thing forever,” says Gelner. “We had marketing realities we needed to hit and having those practical limitations–timing and budget–was pretty stressful. It was in the laps of the gods and you just hope it’s going to pan out.”


The result is a branded surf flick that still feels like a real surfing film. It helped to have Steele behind the lens. The director says both brands held that authenticity as a top priority. “What I found the most inspiring was that they were truly concerned about being authentic to a surfing audience,” says Steele. “They didn’t want the film to come off fake or staged, they wanted it to feel like a surf trip. So the best way to do that was to capture what really happened.”

As content becomes a key cog in many brands’ marketing strategy, action sports like surfing offer up exciting and accessible possibilities. Steele says Ghost Wave will appeal to surfers and landlubbers alike for one simple reason. “The main thing is a good story,” he says. “We had a real story that was interesting and difficult to know if we could pull it off. Plus, big waves appeal to a wide audience. To the non-surfer, it’s a man-versus-nature kind of thing. To the surfer, it’s showing the rush, enjoyment, and challenge of the moment.”

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About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.

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