How a former pro surfer is using crowdsourcing to grow LA's surfing community

by John Siegel
August 3, 2016
In many ways, technology serves as a force of inclusion, allowing others access to things they might not have been aware of before and uniting people in the process. As far as we have come in the past few decades, however, there are certain segments that remain outliers, refusing to adopt technology, opting for tried and true methods rather than something new.
Malibu-based GoFlow wasn't created to enact some sort of grand shift in thinking; it was developed to help surfers find and share surf conditions. Yet in the four years since the app was created, its communal nature has become just as important as the technology it uses.
Created by former professional surfer Roni Eshel in late-2012, the app's purpose was twofold: create a platform where surfers can crowdsource to-the-minute surfing information, and create a community of loyal users.  
“I originally envisioned the app as something that would allow surfers to spend less time searching and doing more of what we love,” said the Israeli-born Eshel. “As they share, they’re also growing a community, too." 
Though she had no startup experience to speak of, Eshel did have a background in business, having studied it in her native Israel, and working in marketing for her sponsor, Red Bull. Still, following the decision to embark on what would become GoFlow presented a tremendous challenge.
“The first year or two of starting the company were the hardest of my life,” she said. “From the right features to the right experience to the right design, and how we start building a community, I had no experience with any of those things before, and I needed to learn how to do them, and fast.”
And so she did. In the nearly four years since founding the company, GoFlow has grown to include a number of outdoor sports, with the growth coming largely from the demand of the app's community of users. In April, GoFlow, with help from investors Go4it Sports and Tech & Experience, closed a venture round of funding worth nearly $1.5 million.
Just last month, GoFlow introduced its "Booking Experiences" feature, which is currently available in an LA-exclusive beta. The feature allows users to book local experts for lessons, and the concept actually predates Eshel's original vision for GoFlow. Upon her retirement as a pro surfer, Eshel found herself in great demand as a surfing instructor.
"It' a great way to earn an income, but it's not scaleable," said Eshel. "Over time, I sort of got more clients without doing any marketing or anything, and I really feel that people had the best experience if they’re taking part in an experience with a local expert. Especially if they’re not from the area, having a really local experience like that is the best way to learn about the area.”
Moving forward, Eshel is focused solely on improving user experience, in particular within the marketplace aspect of the app.
“To make all of the experience we have in GoFlow even better,” she said. “Because it’s still in beta, there’s a lot we can improve, so it’s just about tightening things up because it’s still in beta. Launch more locations and eventually to expand to more countries.”
As the GoFlow's community dictates the pace at which the app scales, a pastime often associated with a “locals only” mentality is being dragged into the 21st Century, one swell at a time.
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