Drone surfing footage is amazing, but is it a violation of privacy?


Dan Ross negotiates a rocky ledge as a drone hovers above. Photo via Instagram @Iambrittjones

Drone surfing footage is amazing, but is it a violation of privacy? That's the question being asked as more and more sessions are being filmed from above. There is no doubt that the use of drones in surfing has led to spectacular footage and dazzling new perspectives. The Instagram shots here, taken by Britt Jones, girlfriend of Australian big-wave surfer Mark Mathews, for example, show the dangers of riding waves over solid reef in a way only a drone can provide. Elsewhere, footage from this winter's Hawaii season, especially of the infamous break of Pipeline, has been nothing short of incredible.

The wave knowns as Ours, in Sydney, captured by a drone.  Photo Instagram @Iambrittjones

The wave knowns as Ours, in Sydney, captured by a drone. Photo via Instagram @Iambrittjones

However, with drones becoming increasingly popular with video enthusiasts, a few flashpoints have arisen, with some surfers unhappy about being filmed without their permission. A recent, graphic example from Daniel Beck at Lunada Bay in Palos Verdes, California—a beach notoriously and fiercely protected by the locals—shows surfers on the shore throwing rocks at the airborne camera, narrowly missing the drone.

Apart from indicating the obvious ire of the surfers being filmed, the footage also illustrates the noise these drones add to the lineup and how close they fly to the waves. The wide-angle lens used by these cameras often tricks the viewer into thinking the drones are much farther away than they are in reality. Some surfers have taken offense to the presence of the drones, and the legality of being filmed without permission is unclear. The areas filmed are often public places, yet surely being filmed against your wishes, when there is no anti-crime or safety benefits, can be considered an abuse of your privacy.

Recently in Queensberry Bay, East London, a few South African surfers have rallied against the use of drones after an incident on March 15. A surfer known only as Tim told the South African surf magazine Zigzag that he "paddles out to get away from all the craziness of the modern world and to escape 'phones and iPads and computers and stuff.'" It's perhaps understandable, then, that he finds the presence of an automated aerial camera documenting his waves as upsetting. The camera operator in this case, however, was unrepentant, telling Zigzag that it is a public beach and that he has every right to be filming. It poses an interesting question as more and more drones appear at our beaches and the footage is shared on social-media platforms: What rights do the surfers have not to take part?

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