In January 2022 I created a year long project for myself… a weekly surf education series sharing tips & tricks on surf technique, board design, ocean knowledge and more.
One motivating factor for this project was a number of personal goals I had in mind, such as to:
- Try and create something of value for an underserved market.
- Teach myself how to use Webflow & put my Figma designs into action.
- Continue honing my design process & product sense including various research & discovery techniques, ideation & iteration, and ultimately delivering value.
- Tap into the power of consistency by setting a plan and sticking to it. I post on the same day each week with a plan for 52 posts (50 tips + 1 opening/closing post to complete the year).
- Try and build an engaged online audience with content that stands out from the digital noise.
- Force myself to ship because done is better than perfect.
But I could have chosen anything to accomplish these goal, so why this series in particular? Because I knew I was addressing a real issue in the market.
Real surfers with real problems
After noticing how some of my friends (and most of the lineup to be honest) who were earlier on in their surfing career were struggling to get the hang of it and progress their surfing, I started to pay more attention & let my curiosity take the lead.
I spoke with 10 or so different people to learn more about their journey, what they were struggling with, and why they weren’t progressing. I also spent time researching online looking for resources that might help – online courses, YouTube channels, surf schools, coaches, etc.
While there were a few options, they were certainly limited & most of them were addressed to total beginners or those wanting to go pro – not the everyday surfer. And as I began to expand my own surfing into the realm of longboarding, I too ran into these same issues & the lack of resources were even more apparent.
A weekly content series sharing targeted tips to become a better surfer (with a focus on longboarding) shared to Instagram, a blog, and a weekly newsletter.
There could have been any number of solutions to this problem, but creating a series and sharing bite-sized pieces for the entire year was both:
- a low barrier of entry for me to get started (I was already on Instagram with around ~1,000 followers within this niche, so a great way to test the waters)
- a great way to build an audience & learn from them before investing any time or resources into building a product people might not actually care about
Growth & traction so far
For the series itself, the response has been overwhelming positive & it’s clear that this is a problem worth solving. Here’s a few key numbers since beginning this project 6 months ago (Jan 2021):
- ~1500% growth in audience size (from ~1,000 to 16,000+ people)
- 13% average engagement rate (where 4.7% is the industry average)
- Without any paid product, $420 earned from 26 people. That’s just from people voluntarily handing over cash (via Buy Me a Coffee) for content I already shared for free.
Not to mention the number of people who DM me asking for personal advice 😅.
Testing my hunches by surveying 1,000 community members
There’s clearly a lot of room for this project to grow & evolve into something more, so to help determine what options are to explore it further I’ve been conducting research to better understand who exactly is in my audience & what their specific pain points are.
While I have a few hunches, it’s the members of the community who really have the answers.
Posing the questions
As with any design research, you never want to outright ask about the assumptions you have. In fact, it’s best to leave the assumptions at the door.
And while surveys are a great way to collect data at scale, they don’t allow for rephrasing of questions or digging deeper if/when needed in order to illicit the info you need like you can in an interview so it’s important to ask the right questions and strike a balance between too broad and too specific..
Here’s a look at the questions I asked and why…
Why I asked it
1) How long have you been surfing?
This helps me build the picture of how far along their surfing career this person is, how much knowledge they have about surfing as a sport in general, and gives me an idea of what their skill level might be.
2) What type of board(s) do you ride?
This question gives me insight into the styles of surfing they like to do. It’s also a fun way to keep people engaged because surfers love talking about their equipment & the boards they ride.
3) Where are you on your surfing journey? (skill level)
I gave 4 options here with varying skill levels. This question helps me pinpoint where their skill level is (or where they think it is) and paired with question 1 gives me an idea of their speed of progression.
4) Why are you following along with this series (other than to “improve your surfing”)?
I asked this question to try and find out why people were actually following along. I assumed people wanted to improve their surfing (yes, I know I said to leave assumptions at the door…😅), but I wanted to know more – why did they want to improve their surfing? My real assumption here was “to have more fun” which I made sure to leave out.
5) What has been your biggest takeaway/”ah ha” moment so far?
This gives me really good insight into what content in the series made a real impact so far so I can dive deeper on these topics or potentially package them up into an info-based product.
6) If there was one thing you could learn/improve that would take your surfing to the next level, what would it be?
I asked this question to help give me an idea of what people thought their blockers were so I could then find a way to help tear them down. Again, a potential opportunity for an info-based product.
7) On any given day, would you rather…
Here I gave options for the different styles of surfing to let them pick just one. Although I learned about the different styles they like in question 2, this one helped determine which is the most important & a priority for them.
8) Have you ever seen footage of yourself?
One of my ideas to explore is “video analysis” so here I’m testing the waters to see if people would even have footage to analyse!
As far as demographic data, luckily Instagram already provides that info which is why I didn’t include any of those types of questions here.
I’m currently in the process of collating and reviewing the ~1,000 responses I received to confirm and/or squash my hunches 😅 which I’ll be sharing here at a later date.
Until then, you can check out the live project here:
Surf More Better
Surf More Better drops weekly tips on all things surfing spanning topics such as technique, board design, reports & forecasting, reading waves, general ocean knowledge, random surf hacks & more. As told by the perspective of longboard enthusiast & all around surfer @chrishetem.