I got my hands on a new GoPro® HD HERO2 Camera for Christmas and promptly fell in love with it. It’s been a fantastic camera for use in the ocean and I’ve subjected it to plenty of heavy surf with no problems… these are the same waves that broke my bodyboard leash last Saturday and sucked the fins right off my feet the week before. The only real issue I’ve been having is figuring out how to best use it for swimming. Its shape doesn’t lend itself well to being tucked in a swimsuit like a regular point and shoot camera and the existing mounts aren’t really geared towards swimmers so I had to come up with something myself.
I started to brainstorm and doodle a bit and my first though was to mount the GoPro to something that I could tow behind me. My first attempt was using an adhesive surf mount on one of my rescue cans. Although effective, the can was a little squirrely and didn’t track well. I started to consider finding fins to put on it but before I got that far the mount broke off. The surface of the can was a little curved and didn’t give me enough contact with the adhesive patch.
My next thought was I needed to physically drill the mount into whatever my platform was going to be much like I did with my bodyboard. At this point a kickboard became an obvious choice and I went to Big5 to buy a big thick kickboard. After that I went next door to Orchard Supply Hardware to buy a handle I could attach a rope to and some screws to hold it on along with a bolt that would fit a camera tripod hole. I ended up buying a cabinet handle which has worked out pretty well. After that I had to hit BestBuy to buy some GoPro Mounts.
With all these pieces in hand I went to my parents’ house to borrow a drill and start making a mess. My dad and I drilled in the Surf Mount and used those same screws to hold on the handle on the bottom of the board. We also put the tripod bolt and GoPro tripod mount in the back of the board. I knew this by itself wouldn’t track very well and would be prone to flipping over so I wanted to get some fins for the bottom of the board to fix that. I contacted my buddy Vince at SLO Coast Kayaks to see if he had some extra plastic SUP fins for the boards he rents that I could buy off of him. He did so I ran to Avila on my lunch break the next day and then drilled them into the board that night before going to the pool.
My first outing with Frankenfish V1 was partially successful. I used the tether from a FINIS parachute and a surf leash as connectors to the board but neither was quite right. Once I hit a certain speed it pulled the nose down and submerged the camera. It proved the concept could work, but it needed some work.
I talked out some ideas with my swim buddy Dan in the pool and got a lot of input on Facebook. After practice I went shopping again and came out with some weights for the back end of the board to keep the nose up, a stretchier rope to use as a tether, and some bonus bolts/hardward to attach things. The next day I installed the weights and switched tethers then took Frankenfish V2 to the pool. I tried different weight set ups with Mike observing from the deck to let me know how things went. It turned out I needed all the weight I had to make it work, but it did work. I could swim at a normal pace without digging the nose and even sprint a bit without trouble. Victory! At this point I was ready to take my contraption to the ocean for a real test.
I had a Monterey swim planned for the weekend and was very excited to take my bolted together masterpiece to the sea. When I got to Lovers Point the water was a little rougher than I would have hoped but I figured worst case scenario if I couldn’t tow it successfully the whole swim I could turn around early or give it to one of the paddlers assisting the swim to hang onto while I swam. I did a mix of photos and video to try out both settings. I was very pleased with the photos I took. The vantage point is very cool and almost every single shot was above water. When I ran the video the camera dipped below the surface a little more but that was because of the direction the water was moving. It was going over the camera as opposed to the front end of the board digging into the water.
As far as actually swimming with the Frankenfish goes it wasn’t too bad. I did feel it pulling and I did have to stop once to tighten my belt because it wasn’t tight enough. For the most part the board stayed out of my way but in the rough water it did get tossed into my feet occasionally. I think I’d like it better if my rope was about a foot longer (currently 3 feet but it stretches to 5 feet). The board tracked really well with the help of the fins on the bottom and it never flipped over. The fins did however catch some cross current and would pull the board to my left side on the swim to the buoy. Overall though I can’t really complain, it did exactly what I wanted with minimal disruption to my swim. I’ve included a long version of the Monterey swim below for you to see how it handled over time in rough waters.
So in looking at the practicality of my current design, I don’t know how great it is. My concerns are the board breaking from all the weight and bolts and whatnot attached to it. Kickboards aren’t really made for this. Other concerns are rust since there’s a lot of metal involved and a head injury from getting hit with it in a wave…. from all the metal involved. I have to be really careful getting in the ocean to keep it above the surf to protect myself and the board. There may be a Frankenfish V3 where I try and fix a lot of that but not right now.
After doing all this I sat down to figure out what it cost me to do all this. Here’s the rough breakdown:
Classic Speedo Full Sized Kickboard – $13
Liquid Shredder Plastic SUP Fins cut down to size – $18
GoPro Surf Mount Kit – $20
GoPro Tripod Mount – $8
Metal Cabinet Pull – $3
Various Bolts, Nuts, Washers – ~$3
Weight Plates (2.5 & 1.25 lbs) – $7
3 Foot Stretch Rope – $14
Finis Parachute Belt – $0, already had it
Total spent in this endeavor – $86
Most expensive kickboard ever. Considering a ready made device would probably be that much or more I’m cool with what it cost me to make. If any of you guys have built something similar that solves the same problem I’d love to see it! Drop me an email or a link in the comments, alternatively post what you’ve got to the Rob Aquatics Facebook page to check out.