Introduction: Build a GoPro Surf Pole
The surf in San Diego is not that great, and I'm not that great of a surfer. I started playing with the GoPro in 2011 to send video to my mother who lives in Oregon to let her know what her old man of a son is up to. :-) I've tried board mounts, head mounts, helmet mounts, and figured out that nothing gives you the feel of what it's like to surf like a surf pole.
Head mounts are fine, except that you get a view of the water and no point of view of what it's like to actually surf. Board mounts have two problems. The first is you're locked into a single (cliche) selfie view, and the second is I've got a few friends who have lost their board mounted GoPro's in rough surf - even the backup tethers didn't help. The hand held pole is the only one that gives you some sort of feel of what it's like to be out on the water, and with the leash, it's not going anywhere.
The problem with a surf pole is you have to get it out there somehow while being able to, umm, actually surf, which generally requires the use of both hands. Most poles you can buy are metal, which is pretty much impossible to hold in your teeth while picking up a wave. Here is how you build your own GoPro surf pole out of plastic PEX tube that will stay out of the way while paddling.
With this pole I'm able to throw it over my shoulder while paddling out, then when I choose a wave, turn on the camera, grab it in my teeth, pick up the wave and drop in for the ride. See the video above (spoiler alert: remember what I said about small surf and not being that great of a surfer. :-) )
Warning: PEX plastic is known in the state of California to be a carcinogen (but then, what isn't.) Use of this pole will mean you're willing to hold the PEX in your teeth while picking up a wave. I have the feeling that if you're paddling around in toxic water with stingrays for the love of surf, this probably isn't going to deter you.
Step 1: Materials and Tools
- GoPro Camera (duh)
- GoPro double-joint mount, you can get it in the accessory kit for $19.99 here.
- At least 24" of 1/2" PEX pipe (see notes,) measures 5/8" outside diameter.
- 4 1/2" 3/4" PEX pipe, measures 7/8" outside diameter. The smaller pipe should fit nicely inside the larger one, which becomes your handle.
- 1/2 rubber pipe cap, kind of optional, but cool to have.
- Large plastic wire connector, measures 7/16" outside diameter, should fit inside smaller PVC pipe.
- Coiled Bicep (not wrist!) body board leash, I recommend Dakine.
- Tube of Goop or ShoeGoo (same stuff)
- Plasti-Dip, dip or spray (I used spray for this project)
- Epoxy glue or super-glue (not shown, see step 5)
- Small sheet of 50 grit sandpaper
- Masking Tape
Warning: just about everything in this list is known by the state of California to contain carcinogenic agents. :-)
- Fine tip permanent marker pen or equivalent
- Drill and 3/16" drill bit
- Hack saw, an old rusty one like mine will do
- Small spring clamp (not shown, see step 5)
- Ruler or tape measure
- X-Acto knife or equivalent
- Protective glasses
- You might want rubber gloves and a paper respirator (shrug)
- Newspaper or cardboard and outside space to spray
- Dremel moto tool or equivalent, if you don't have one a file will probably work
- Cut off wheel and drum grinder bit for the moto-tool
- Short skinny stick or an old paintbrush handle
Warning: These tools can be dangerous if you've never used them, and this project will create dust and airborne toxins known to cause cancer in the state of California. If you don't live in California, it's probably a good idea to at least know how to operate the tools safely. :-)
The second picture shows the rubber caps and the parts we need for the mount. I'm not sure where I got the caps, but generally when you buy copper pipe it comes with a cap over the end, or they might have them at any building supply.
Let's start hacking.
Step 2: Cut and Prepare the Pipe
I chose PEX pipe over PVC because it is flexible, if you've ever surfed you know how easily things can get broken (boards, bones . . . ) Additionally it's not so hard on your teeth, especially if something unexpected happens and you find yourself in a washing machine with it still in your mouth. It comes in a variety of colors, so take your pick (red, blue, and white last I checked.)
The length is going to vary per person, and because it's flexible, the longer it is the more bend you'll get when the weight of the GoPro is on it. 24" doesn't give you too much bend. I've thought about running some 1/4" PEX inside the smaller pole to stiffen it a little, which you'd probably want to do if you go beyond 24".
Cut the 1/2" PEX pipe to 24" long, and the larger 3/4" pipe to 4 1/2" long.
Use the 50 grit sandpaper to sand both the inside and outside of the shorter handle piece (pictures #1 and #2,) and round the outside edges. You want to do this so our adhesives and coatings stick well.
Please note: the position of the handle may vary if you use a different leash. This Instructable uses the Dakine Bicep Body Board Leash, which measures 1" wide at the board end.
Use the permanent marker to make two marks on the smaller PEX pipe at 2" and 6 1/2" from one end of the pipe; this is where we will fix the handle. Use the sandpaper to rough up this area as well by wrapping the pipe in the sandpaper and twisting it with one hand as shown in picture #3.
When you're satisfied with the result, wash all the dust off with acetone.
Step 3: Set the Handle and Plug One End
The next step you want to do all together before the glue sets up. Have the Goop glue, old paintbrush or stick, and electrical connector ready. We're going to glue the handle, then glue the connector down in the tube under the handle. The reason for the plug is it will make the pole itself float, and we don't want water in it.
Please note: the position of the handle may vary if you use a different leash. This Instructable uses the Dakine Bicep Body Board Leash, which measures 1" wide at the board end.
Run a spiral of Goop around the area you sanded as in picture #1, and slide the handle piece onto the pole. Wipe away the excess with a paper towel. Put a decent blob of Goop inside the end of the pole, and position the connector in the end as shown in picture #2.
Take the paintbrush handle and lay it next to the ruler with the end at 2 1/2" and pinch it as shown in picture #3. This will be your gauge as to how deep you will push the connector into the pole.
Why is this important? In our next step we are going to cut the slots for the leash, and if it's not pushed in far enough you'll cut the connector. :-)
Use the paintbrush to slide the connector in up to where you have it pinched between your fingers as in picture #4. If you like, you can put a good blob of Goop on the end of the paintbrush and massage it in behind the connector, this will insure it gets a good seal.
Take caution in the next step to not move the handle from it's position, you should still be able to see your original marks (or at least the sanded spots.)
Step 4: Cut the Leash Slots
The goal is to cut slots below the handle to accommodate the leash. Your task may vary based on the dimensions of the leash you are using.
Make a mark 1/2" and 1 1/2" from the end of the pole. Temporarily slide the end cap on the pole to make sure it's going to be clear of the slot you are going to cut (pictures #1 and 2.)
Once verified, remove the cap, don your protective glasses, and get out the Dremel with a carbide or diamond cutoff wheel. Carefully cut a slot, 1/8" wide, from mark to mark as in picture #3.
Warning: if you use a carbide cutoff wheel, there is a very good chance the wheel will shatter or explode while cutting soft plastic. Use the glasses!
Turn the pole over, and repeat the steps, cutting a slot in the other side exactly across from the first slot. A simple way to insure it's centered is to make a mark on the end of the pole where the first slot is, then make a mark exactly on the opposite side of the pole. Use this mark to locate where you're going to cut the other slot.
When you're done, test the slots for a fairly snug but do-able fit on the leash. Set the pole aside and let all the glue harden, it's time to turn our attention to the mounting head.
Step 5: Prepare the Mount for Shaping
Our goal is to slide the mount down into the pole, drill a hole, and fasten it securely with one of the short GoPro thumb bolts. We can't do that directly because the mount is too big to fit inside the pole and even if it could slide into the pole, once we tighten the thumb bolt it would crush the pole, the fingers of the mount would snap, and it wouldn't hold. This may not make a lot of sense now, but it will at the end of this Instructable.
Our first step is to glue the mating fingers of the short piece into the bottom of our mount so it won't collapse under the pressure of the thumb bolt. Locate the two piece mount and note there is a long piece and a short piece. The long piece is going to wind up in our pole and we're going to destroy the short piece in this step. :-)
Take the short piece, use pliers to wiggle the nut out, and cut off all three fingers from that end, shown in picture #2. We're going to glue these into the down-end of the long piece so when we tighten down the thumb bolt the fingers don't collapse.
Note there is one piece that is a little thicker than the other two. This piece goes in the MIDDLE SLOT of the bottom of the long piece (see picture #3.) Get out the 5-minute epoxy glue and mix up a small blob.
You can use super glue, but frankly, I used to build RC airplanes and that stuff scares me. Or maybe I just got tired of people laughing at me with my fingers glued to my nose. In any case, epoxy will give you more of a chance to make sure your pieces are properly lined up before setting the clamp as in picture #4.
IMPORTANT: Don't get confused here. When the project is complete, the long piece will have THREE fingers and a nut at the top of the pole. Don't glue the short fingers to the wrong end!
Sand all the surfaces you're going to glue, then slide the fattie in the middle and the two skinny pieces on the outsides of the bottom of the long mount. Don't worry about the raised portion where the nut was, we're going to deal with that later. You can use one of the thumb bolts to align the holes, but don't worry about a slight misalignment, if it's a little off you can drill it out later.
Once you're confident the holes are fairly aligned, put the clamp on it and set it aside to harden. Let's turn our attention back to the handle.
Step 6: Plasti-Dip the Handle
Plasti-Dip is one of those inventions right up there with Velcro and Duct Tape (not duck tape . . . UGH. :-) ) If you've never used it, you'll love it. It provides an easy rubberized coating for tools and in our case, our handle.
If you use the actual Dip (on the left in picture #1,) note that once you open it it's probably going to harden in a couple months, so you might want to get out any tools you want to dip within the next couple days. The spray works just as well - problem is though they say it comes in multiple colors all I can ever find is black or white. You can find it at most building supply stores.
In either case, run a couple pieces of masking tape around the pole right where you want the coating to stop as in picture #2. If you're worried about your aim, you can tape or mask off the whole pole. :-) The Plasti-Dip spray shoots a stream that is taller than it is wide, and it's only about half an inch wide, so it's pretty easy to hit. Take the Plasti-Dip, pole, and newspaper or cardboard outside.
Warning: To heck with what the state of California thinks, this stuff is downright NASTY. You don't want it anywhere inside, even your garage, and it will stink for a couple hours after applying, so take the operation outside.
Shoot a test spray on the newspaper/cardboard to get a feel for how it shoots, hold the pole in front of you over the paper, and make short left-to right (or right-to-left) strokes over the handle as you rotate the pole handle. It goes on thick, so let it, and be sure to spray the cracks where the handle meets the pole. If it starts to run, don't panic - set the can down, and point the pole upward, guiding the run back down the handle, and keep rotating it.
You're going to want to touch it. DO NOT. :-)
It should set in 10 or 20 minutes depending on how warm it is, and begin to look less shiny. Give it another quick coat, then when you're sure it's not running, set it aside somewhere to dry without being touched. I used a mini- bench vise, but over the edge of a table will work. When it's dried it will look a lot like picture #3.
You're going to want to touch it. I say, DO NOT. :-)
Now that you're totally in love with Plasti-Dip, turn the can upside down and spray it into the newspaper/cardboard until it clears the tip so you can use the rest of what's in the can later. Use acetone and a paper towel to clean up any overspray or accidents you might have had (I TOLD you not to touch it!)
Set the pole aside and move on to the next step, shaping the mounting head.
Step 7: Shape the Mounting Head
Now that the epoxy has set from step 5, let's shape the head. The goal is to shape and round the head so it slides snugly, but not so tight we can't remove it, into the other end of the pole.
This is by far the most tedious part of our build because we have to take our time and remove material slowly and evenly so it stays centered. Take your time and don't rush - it took me about 30 minutes to finish this step. Don your protective glasses. Every time you make a cut, hold it to the end of the pole to see how you're doing.
Warning: again, if you use a carbide cut off wheel, it's very likely it could explode during this step. Use the glasses!
Warning number two: this operation will create plastic dust that I'm sure is known to cause cancer in the state of California. If you live in California, it's probably a good idea to also wear a respirator mask. :-)
Begin by cutting a small line, just deep enough to see it, around the head even with the tops of the slots in the head as in picture #1. This is your guide, you won't remove any material above this line.
Then use the cut off wheel to remove the raised portion that held the nut as indicated in picture #1. Cut it off flush.
Now carefully cut off all four corners of the lower portion of the mount on an approximate 45 degree angle as shown in picture #2. It doesn't have to be perfect at this point, but what you do want it to make sure you're cutting them all about the same. With each cut, hold it up to the end of the pole to see how you're doing. It's probably looking pretty ugly at this point, but it's going to get worse before it gets better. :-)
You will find that after the corners are all cut, you'll need to start shaving a little off what used to be the "flat sides." Shave a little off those, check your progress against the pole, and eventually the piece will begin to take on a round-ish shape. When you are close to fitting it into the pole, start looking at how "straight" your cuts are along the length of the piece. At this point it's probably a good idea to take the cut off wheel off and start working with a fine drum grinder bit. Take your time!
When you're done, your piece should look a lot like picture #4, and should fit snug like picture #5, but you should be able to twist it a little bit and pull it back out. Sweep away all the dust and use a little acetone to clean up the final piece.
Almost done! Let's drill the hole!
Step 8: Drill the Hole and Glue the Head
Next we drill the hole in the pole that will fasten the head in the pole.
The hole in the head should be just about 7/8" down into the pole (angle in picture #1 is deceiving.) However, a note of caution here, because in the Real World, there is no Undo function. If you should get it wrong and your hole is too high on the pole, the head is going to "stick out" a little bit and possibly affect the strength of the head. I suggest that if your measurements say it's 7/8", make your mark a little bit lower on the pole, because you can always shave off a little from the end of the pole to fine tune it.
So make your mark, get out the drill with a 3/16" bit, and drill the hole through the first side. To make sure it's properly centered, you can turn the pole so you're looking in the hole to eyeball that the drill bit is perfectly centered before drilling through the other side.
Carefully sand a little bit off the end of the pole (picture #2) until the head perfectly lines up with your drill holes as in picture #3.
Remember we sealed the bottom with the electrical connector to water-proof the pole? We want to make sure the top is sealed too. Slather the mounting head up with Goop as in picture #4, slide it in, rotate it to align the holes, and put one of the short GoPro thumb bolts through. It may be tight, that's GOOD, you may have to thread it through. Put the nut on the other side and tighten the thumb bolt down snug as in picture #5. Don't make it too tight - we are dealing with plastic and going macho on it can split the plastic of the pole.
Clean off the glue, and you should see almost no "squashing" of the pole due to our work in step 5. Done!
Step 9: Mount the Leash and Camera
You're going to have to experiment with the best position of the leash for you, it depends on how you surf. Generally I like the leash coming out of the same side as the bolt (behind the camera) as in picture #1. Slide it through the slot and use the Velcro strips to attach it firm.
Mount the GoPro to the pole, rotate the camera all the way forward as in picture #2 to provide enough slack, and tie the tether to the back thumb bolt with a double knot. Do not ever take your GoPro out without a floatie or a tether. In the next "step" you'll see a set of extra holes in my old pole. This was because I tried it first using the short piece in the two-piece swivel and the shorter head snapped off. The only reason I have my GoPro today is because I tethered it to the lower thumb bolt.
In the next step are some recommendations on how to actually surf with your new pole, and what to watch for to avert disaster.
Step 10: Tips on Using Your GoPro Pole
Wearing the Pole:
Generally, you always want the pole in the hand behind you, not in front of you. I've tried it the other way, and it doesn't work for me. What that means, since I'm a goofy foot, is that I put the pole strap on my left arm so when I pop up I'm grabbing the handle with my left hand. If you surf right-foot, you'd probably want to put the leash strap on your right arm.
Mount the strap above your bicep and snug it up, but not so tight it constricts the muscle. There are times this means it's going to slide down your arm, so just watch for it.
Once you're strapped in, run the coiled cord across your neck and throw it over the opposite shoulder so the pole and camera hangs down your back. This keeps your arms free and keeps it out of the way when you're paddling out. No, it won't choke you. :-)
Picking up a Wave:
When you choose a wave, hit the record button, put the pole between your teeth with the handle on the same side as the side you have the leash strapped to, and get into position as usual.
You will now have a pole level with your head when you're trying to pick up a wave. While the leash should present no restriction on your movement, if you're the type to windmill when you're trying to pick up a wave this is going to present some challenges for you.
What I have found is surfing with the GoPro pole has forced me to paddle properly - rather than windmill, I reach forward close to the water, and give straight arm thrusts down into the water that dig deeper and get the full push out of my strokes. Maybe that's just me, but it has improved my paddles.
The angle of the camera while it's in your teeth is VERY important. Unless you want shots of the sky or closeups of water rushing by, this should be the first thing you familiarize yourself with. When you pop up you're just going to grab that handle and ride, you're not looking at how the camera is facing. If you look at the video at the start of this Instructable, it's turned so it's facing at my neck . . . . while that is an unattractive angle, it should be somewhere in that range so when you pop up and grab it it's following you.
"Not me, right?" :-) There are times I'd forgotten I have a piece of plastic in my teeth when crashing, and been thankful it WAS a piece of plastic. That's pretty much the whole point of the leash - when you get in trouble, let the pole and camera go. It's not going anywhere. Get in the habit of letting it go.
Zero, but after a while it's going to look a little like a dog bone, see picture #1. :-) When it gets to that point it's going to be a bit more bendy, but that's okay - it's soft plastic, bend it into shape before the next wave.
I've already written about the head breaking; I've never broken a head off with the long mount - BUT - as you can see in picture #2, the fingers CAN eventually crack and break. In this case it's still usable, the nut side shown in picture #2 just holds it all on the mount, but it now places all the weight on the remaining two fingers. If you get any fingers broken, it's time to re-visit this Instructable and build another one.
Hang loose everyone, see you on the waves.
"We all come from the sea, but we are not all of the sea. Those of us who are, we children of the tides, must return to it again and again, until the day we don't come back, leaving only that which was touched along the way."