Inspiration for GoPro camera came during surfing trip

November 15, 2012 7:29:48 PM PST
A tiny video camera is taking the sports world by storm. And the company that makes it was started right here in the Bay Area by a local surfer, looking for a better shot.

Professional and amateur athletes now have a new view on the sports they love and they are sharing them in videos on the internet. It's all because Nick Woodman made a big splash with a tiny camera.

Woodman is the man behind the GoPro camera. More than 800,000 sold last year. He recently tested out the company's newest camera in Nicaragua. Surfing is where GoPro's CEO and founder came up the small, lightweight, wearable, waterproof cameras. We caught up with him at the company's San Mateo headquarters.

"I was in between jobs, didn't know what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, so I was looking for some inspiration," Woodman said. "So I decided to go on a surf trip, get back to my passion, and hopefully find inspiration." That was in 2002, "So I went to work on an idea I had in college which was for a camera I could where on my wrist."

That first camera took photos only. It cost just twenty bucks and was sold mostly in surf shops. Woodman borrowed money from family to build inventory and cut marketing costs by modeling the product himself on the packaging.

He called his camera the GoPro Hero, noting, "I thought, what does the camera do? It helps you capture photos that make you look like a pro; it helps you capture photos that make you look like a hero."

But it wasn't until Woodman took up race car driving that he realized the full potential of his tiny camera, "In racing school they wanted to charge me a hundred bucks for a half hour to rent out a video camera. I thought that's crazy, I'll take my wrist camera and strap it to the roll bar."

In 2007 he turned his still camera into a video camera and put it on the market. Users snapped them up, strapping them to bikes, boats, cars, helmets, even pets.

"One of my favorite videos is from a teenager in the UK," said Woodman, "He built a weather balloon with his dad and sent it into near space with a toy robot on it."

GoPro's newest cameras are HD, costing between $200 and $400. Some models even connect to your iPhone for so you can see what you are shooting. The company just released a model that comes with a remote control as well.

Based on data supplied by its retail partners, GoPro estimates that it owns 90 percent of the rugged camera market, making it the fastest growing camera company in the world.

Woodman says the company is constantly looking for ways to improve its products. And he is still amazed by how popular it's become, "It's just so far beyond my initial vision for GoPro. I mean, I just wanted to help surfers capture photos of themselves and their friends while they are surfing."

And it's not just athletes who are finding a use for GoPro's many cameras. They can go everywhere the big cameras can't. In fact, director James Cameron recently used one to explore the depths of the ocean.

Written and produced by Ken Miguel

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