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Meet Thomas Hrabe of BUIO App

Today we’d like to introduce you to Thomas Hrabe.

Hi Thomas, please kick things off for us with an introduction to yourself and your story.
The way surf forecasting is done nowadays is hugely impressive. Big players like Surfline leverage the highest scientific standards of weather and swell forecasting. Thus in the last 30 years, surf forecasting has changed the way surfers approach their daily session and surf trip planning immensely.

In the last 25 years or so, I have been part of this journey on the consumer side by enjoying improving surf reports. On surf trips through Europe, I spent afternoons in internet cafes in Hossegor, France, in the early 2000s looking at the weather charts and buoy data during our trips up and down the coast. On rainy afternoons, and it rains a lot during the swell season in France, I penciled my personal experience during my surf sessions and the buoy data into an old journal and later into excel sheets – the classic surf journal or surf log. This way I was able to determine what the surf was going to be and if it would be worth it to take a long drive to another spot or stay put.

Writing a surfing journal became a habit during all surf trips. When we moved to California almost ten years ago, I stuck to my old routine, but with a little bit more time on hand, I programmed an app to make the access and entry of my notes easier and to automate the swell and weather data download. As a computer scientist with experience in machine learning and who has worked in personalized medicine, I started seeing patterns and a bigger picture. What if I would put the combined data of personal notes and the buoy reports to work and create a personalized forecast based on these two through machine learning? BUIO App was born. In short, BUIO merges the functionality of a surfing journal with current buoy and weather data into a personalized surf forecast. In short, it’s a smart surf log. Instead of giving you a forecast for the one spot you are looking up in the report, the BUIO app recommends where you should go surfing to have the best experience.

Since 2017, the app is available for Android and iPhone. The app is free and works everywhere in the world, given that there’s enough buoy coverage. BUIO app downloads increased significantly in 2020 and already quadrupled in the first quarter of 2021 compared to the first quarter of 2020. We just released a new update with major overhauls, including fine-tuned forecasting algorithms and redesigned access to key app features, such as adding spots and surf sessions.

We all face challenges, but looking back, would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
The biggest bump for a machine learning service like BUIO App is that one important variable – in this case, the ocean – is not the same everywhere and every day. In order to improve the algorithm and get it to where it is now, we had to go through a few El Nino years to see different swells and weather patterns, just to give you an example. Another aspect that puzzled me at first was international tide predictions, or more specifically, dealing with time zones. Tides are linked to the daytime in their local time zone. This gets tricky because you have to align the tide time zone, the server time zone and the time zone where the app user currently is.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about BUIO App?
BUIO is the first personalized surf forecasting app. It’s a smart surf log. For the first time ever, with BUIO app, the surf forecast is tailored to the surfer who is reading it. This means your surf forecast might look very different to mine. Personalized surf forecasting has a huge potential these days because it means people are spreading out instead of surfing all at the same spot. Getting a personalized surf forecast also avoids long surf checks and a lot of driving back and forth. That not only saves gas money (hello, new board!) but has a positive impact on the environment.

Can you share something surprising about yourself?
The name Buio originated from a typo on my end in the early days. I mistakenly used this typo – “buyo” – throughout the source code instead of “buoy,” and it became a running joke with my friends who were the early adopters. After a lot of pronunciation tests with native speakers, Buyo eventually became “BUIO” [boo-yo (like in yo-yo)], which is compatible with most languages.

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