Hunting the ultimate wave
© Schaeffler
October 2023

Hunting the ultimate wave

By Björn Carstens (with material from Schaeffler)
Anyone who wants to ride waves 50 metres high needs not only courage and skill, but also a surfboard design that is second to none. Big wave surfer Sebastian Steudtner has found the perfect technology partner for his "Mission Wave Alpha" in Schaeffler.

A 26 meter high wave is building up behind you. All that separates you from it are a few meters of air and your surfboard. You pick up speed. Your heart is pounding. Faster and faster you glide over the water until the giant wave finally reaches you. Its shadow is already above you. But you are faster. You escape it before it crashes thunderously over you.

Your first thought? You have the world record! Your second? Now you want to ride a wave that is twice as high. 50 meters! But is that even feasible?

Schaeffler is technology partner for Steudtner's record attempts

It is this question that led to the collaboration between Sebastian Steudtner and Schaeffler. Steudtner is no stranger to the world of big wave surfing. At the latest with his world record, when he conquered a 26.21-meter wave in Nazaré, Portugal - that's about as high as the Brandenburg Gate - he also made a name for himself outside the surf scene.

Hunting the ultimate wave
Schaeffler provides Sebastian Steudtner with several board variants for his test runs© Schaeffler

Schaeffler, on the other hand, has decades of experience as a leading supplier in surface technology and coatings. This is where the company, as a premium partner, contributes its comprehensive know-how of functional surfaces and coatings for automotive and industrial components and systems. In addition, the Schaeffler has a wide research network that can also be used for the maritime sector. As a technological pioneer, Schaeffler is able to tailor individual coating solutions for special requirements - such as for surfboards. The complexity of conquering such a high wave makes Steudtner and Schaeffler true pioneers of movement, who see sustainability as a commitment and share the pursuit of technological excellence.

Today, Schaeffler is supporting Sebastian Steudtner as a technology partner in his "Mission Wave Alpha" project to surf even bigger waves and achieve new records with its expertise in surface coating. In the process, the record-breaking surfer is penetrating areas where conventional surfboard designs simply no longer suffice.

Surface coating as a key technology

When Sebastian Steudtner rode the record-breaking wave at Nazaré, the big wave world champion accelerated to around 80 km/h. For his "Mission Wave Alpha," in which he is aiming for a wave height of 40 to 50 meters, even higher speeds are needed. However, these are only possible with the use of state-of-the-art coating processes and materials as well as adjustments to the aerodynamics and hydrodynamics.

Hunting the ultimate wave
Sebastian Steudtner inspects the new surfboard before the tests© Schaeffler

Schaeffler is testing selected coating options in close coordination with Sebastian Steudtner's technology team. Schaeffler is also testing surface energies, such as the water-repellent lotus effect, for their suitability for use. Overall, the company offers an entire engineering kit in the partnership to simulate the board's operating conditions. The kit ranges from data acquisition via measurement technology to modulation by computer simulation based on fluid studies to an overarching network of experts to advance the interdisciplinary work with the athlete. In this way, Schaeffler and Sebastian Steudtner will work closely together to advance the technologization of big wave surfing with innovative solutions.

The exchange between the Schaeffler project team and Sebastian Steudtner's technical team takes place both digitally and in person. Among other things, Sebastian has visited laboratories at the company's headquarters in Herzogenaurach, as well as the Schaeffler plant in the Portuguese city of Caldas da Rainha.

From the Schaeffler lab to the ocean

What board tests look like in concrete terms when they are moved from the Schaeffler laboratories to the water was demonstrated in Nazaré at the end of March 2023. The Portuguese coastal resort is known for the highest waves in the world and attracts many top surfers every year.

Hunting the ultimate wave
Components such as footstraps and fins are attached to the boards just before they are used© Schaeffler

Still in the harbor, the boards coated by Schaeffler were prepared for the world record holder's driving tests. After fitting the fins and footstraps, a jet ski pulled Steudtner into the wave zone in front of Nazaré's lighthouse, where he extensively tested the new surfboard designs. Back on land, the extreme athlete reported noticeable differences compared to his previous boards. The surface coating had an effect and felt much smoother in the water, according to Steudtner.

However, as the waves in Nazaré were relatively low during the test, further high-speed trials will be carried out in domestic climes. On the Wolfgangsee, so-called towed rides take place, which simulate those speeds that are reached during a record wave. These runs are particularly important because the lowest surface friction is needed precisely during the speed phase. The reason: During this phase, a lot of pressure is exerted on the board via the front foot, so that about 70 percent of the surface is in contact with the water.

New type of board for the giant wave

And even this does not mark the end of the development. The surface coating was still tested in Nazaré with Steudtner's previous board shapes. For the actual record attempt, he will also receive a new type of board that will be optimized through flow simulations, so-called CFD analyses. In addition to the perfect coating, this further increases the speed potential on the water.

At the end of May 2023, Sebastian Steudtner will present his new board design together with Schaeffler. One thing is already certain: It has probably the most advanced surface coating ever used by a board to tackle the giant waves of Nazaré. But will it also set a new world record? This is not least in the hands of wind, current and weather - because they decide on the wave height. Sebastian Steudtner will be ready.

Off to the water

The sea has given Sebastian Steudtner a lot. The big wave surfer wants to give something back from these moments of happiness and founded the WIRMACHENWELLE project with his sister Johanna in 2017. Since 2018, the non-profit association has been in charge of social surfing projects for young people and brings German teenagers out into the waves and onto the surfboard.