"Most young people today have grown up in the Internet age," said Collins, 58. "They don't realize what it was like in the '70s and '80s. Before we had Surfline, it was really like the Dark Ages.
"It was hard to find data to forecast storms, let alone swells. Basically, you had to rely on satellite information and usually half the satellites were down. There were not very good global weather models.
"When I learned how to forecast, the primary challenge was finding information at all, let alone having the network to distribute the information like now."
Collins became a pioneer in forecasting. He was a self-made meteorologist of sorts, where he started out using weather charts obtained through shortwave radio. He eventually developed his own system of forecasting thanks to years of research, experimenting and record-keeping. He then would amaze friends with his accurate forecasting.
"We'd look out at Huntington, and it would be 2 feet," Collins said. "Then I'd say, 'It'll be 8-10 feet tomorrow.' And they'd say, 'Yeah, right.' Then it would be huge the next day. They thought I was a witch doctor."
His accurate forecasting led to a gig with Surfing magazine. Collins said the magazine would take surfers on a trip for a photo shoot, but might have to spend two to three weeks before getting good swells, which cost the magazine plenty of money. But with Collins' expertise, the photographers and surfers were able to get in and out in two or three days, timing their trips perfectly to get the good swells and saving lots of money.
Once Collins became the surf forecasting guru, getting that information out was the next big hurdle. He created Surfline in 1985 as a phone number — 976-SURF — then graduated to a subscription fax service in 1992. Fortunately for him, the Internet age was upon us. Collins ran with it, creating Surfline.com in 1995.
Collins moved into Surfline's offices on Main and PCH in Huntington in the early '90s and is still there today. At the 1995 U.S. Open of Surfing, they posted still images taken from video because streaming video was not yet available.
By the 1996 U.S. Open, Collins spent the $10,000 for their first surf cam and presented the first live surfing webcast in history. Now, Surfline has 150 surf cams around the world.
Collins, who was inducted into the Surfers Hall of Fame in 2008, lives next to the Seal Beach Pier, and still goes to the office in Huntington a couple times a week when he isn't traveling the world looking for the perfect swell. Back surgery and a hip replacement prevent him from surfing much, but he shoots video and still photography, is into standup paddleboarding, and supports his two surfing sons: Tyler, 27, and A.J., 21.
A.J. is sponsored by Hurley. Tyler, though he is sponsored as well, is focused on his own career in search engine marketing. He's also created myrashguards.com, a chip off the ol' block.
"Both are really good surfers," Collins said. "They're my lifeguards now."
And to think, it all started with that simple search for the perfect wave.
"The secret to it all is that I've surrounded myself with great people," Collins said. "I have 35 full-time people, and if the waves are good, they can go surf and still do their work later in the day."
JOE HAAKENSON is an Orange County-based sports writer and editor. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.