Brian (vice president at Oceanweather) Pioneering surf forecasting

Brian Callahan is the vice president at Oceanweather, in Stamford, USA. Oceanweather provides Swell Navigator with the global weather data our users need to make very localized and detailed predictions for their surf spots.

A Life of Surfing

The beach and the ocean have always been an important part of Brian’s life. At 12 he discovered surfing and never looked back.

‘I grew up on an Island and we would spend every summer day at the beach at the end of our street. We would mainly go swimming each day but would also fish and boat. The love of being in or near the water developed at an early age. While we lived near the water it was not on the ocean. I rode my first wave on my oldest brother's surfboard at about the age of nine while on a family vacation in the Hamptons. Surfing really started for me at the age of 12 when I bought my first surfboard. Once I had a surfboard, surfing became the prime focus in my life.’

‘There are many aspects of surfing to love, such as the simple sensation of speed while riding a wave. A sense of freedom while in the water, the fun of dawn patrol with good waves and good friends. I loved the challenge of riding bigger and better waves.’

Studying the Ocean

The first job he got was with Oceanweather, a private company that was spun off from an ocean research group at New York University. He was one of the first forecasters at Oceanweather.

‘With my love of the ocean I thought I would go into oceanography. After graduating high school in June I worked over the summer and moved to California with a friend. We rented a house overlooking the ocean, we surfed every day and lived off the money we had saved over the past summer. We eventually got part time jobs and still surfed daily. After doing this for a year I went back to school and started college.’

‘At college I would surf in the morning before class and then look at the Pacific analysis weather maps at the school weather station. I wanted to figure out when the swell was going to build and peak at my north San Diego county surf spots.’

‘After taking both a class in Oceanography and Meteorology I realized I wanted to get a degree in Meteorology since the meteorologist does wave forecasting. I had been wave forecasting as a hobby before I decided to get a degree in Meteorology. I did not know if I would get a job in meteorology after college but I felt it would be a good degree and would always help me forecast waves for myself.’

‘For the first six years of Oceanweathers existence, the company was doing work on wave model development and using the wave models to simulate conditions in historical storms by hindcasting. I was about to graduate and found out Oceanweather needed to hire a marine meteorologist to do wind and wave forecasting for a major client.’

‘The client was working 150 miles away from the beaches where I would be surfing. This would benefit both the client and myself since my knowledge of the local wave conditions would improve the forecast for the client, and my access to the clients private wave buoy would give me better insights into the local surf forecast. I would send the wave forecast to the client and then I would go surf the waves that I had forecast, a true win-win.’


Brian started the 540-Surf Hotline from the Oceanweather offices the '90s. Surfers from around New York would call in to the phone line, and Brian would give them an update on the surf report.

He did this all by himself, and besides his regular job at the company. To do so, he drove away from home at 6am to beat traffic so he could take a 1.5h detour and check some of the NY beaches on the current conditions.

‘Some companies in California were doing a surf phone hotline for California breaks, but none were available for the New York area. Since I was wave forecasting for myself every day and the technology became available from the local phone company, I suggested to the President of Oceanweather that I could setup and run a surf forecast line through Oceanweather. He gave the go ahead and I setup everything needed with the phone company and started the surf forecast service.’

‘I would put two messages a day on the surf phone line service. Each morning I would drive to the beach. And give a surf report and forecast by 7:30 in the morning. At 7pm in the evening I would give a forecast, for the surf conditions expected the next day. The personal benefit for me was, any morning with good surf was a morning I would surf, and then go into the office after a good surf session.’

Working with Swell Navigator

According to Brian, customizable forecasting and being able to set different profiles for the same break, is what makes Swell Navigator the next step in surf forecasting.

‘Swell navigator allows the surfer to customize the forecast to the conditions in which he is most interested. The user can also customize different profiles for the same break. An example of this would be to have a lower wave height alert for longer period waves. If a break has bottom contours that focus long period swell then 2-3 foot forecast deep water waves at 16 second period may have more juice at the break then 4-5 second period forecasted 4 foot deep water waves. So by having different profiles for one break you can filter the forecast by height, period, wave direction, wind direction, tides. Thus making it less likely that you might miss a good day because you may not have noticed a specific set of conditions that would work at that spot.’

‘So, I see Swell Navigator as an alert system and advanced filter for each spot of interest. The long period swell will jack up more then the short period local wind swell when it hits the reef. The App user can use this knowledge when setting up his personal surf criteria. The Swell Navigator App can be used as a surf forecast filter to reduce data overload and improve the search for good waves.’