EARlabs - surfears

Let sound in. Keep water out

The idea behind SurfEars was born when one of the inventors came down with a serious ear infection while surfing in Morocco, rendering him completely deaf in one ear for nearly a week and forcing him to stay out of the water. Tired of ill-fitting earplugs that made normal conversation impossible, he decided it was time to come up with something better.

While not a medical device in itself, SurfEars was developed to protect against a medical issue known as surfer's ear – a bone growth in the ear canal, eventually leading to hearing loss and even deafness.

Most available earplugs on the market had a lousy fit or negative side effects. We needed to create a solution that offered watertight protection without affecting the surfer’s hearing and balance – or the surfing experience itself.   

The phrase “let sound in and keep water out” became our guiding principle for all decision-making. Drawing from previous experience from the headset industry, we focused on five main drivers: form and fit, look and feel, sound transparency, waterproofness and cost of production.

A wide range of tools – from 3D prints to audio simulations – helped create an efficient, extremely iterative prototype process, in a tight collaboration with the EarLabs team.

The first version of SurfEars secured EarLabs’ market position as a premium choice with a superior experience, and attracted distribution and retail partners – a key factor for a startup on a global market.

In SurfEars 2.0, all five drivers were improved and a detachable leash was added to prevent the plugs from being lost. However, the core concept and functionality stayed exactly the same – proof of great teamwork from the start.

SurfEars 2.0
In SurfEars 2.0 the only change to the product drivers which was made was “never lost”, as a result of market feedback and with the repackaging the 2.0 version didn’t only get a removable leach between the plugs, but also a significant improvement in all the 5 drivers from original product, while the core concept and functionality stayed exactly the same, a proof that the combined team did a great job already the first time around!

Finally after a long painful period of avoidance, my left ear was surgically cleared of surfer’s ear, SurfEars couldn’t have come at a better time in my life
— Tom Carroll, surfing legend and 2x world champ
SurfEars 3D Print.JPG

Rapid prototyping
Prototyping and validating the 5 drivers as sub-concepts with tools ranging from 3D prints, scientific studies, renderings and audio simulations helped us move efficiently through an extremely iterative process, always working tightly with the EarLabs team.

Independent tests show that SurfEars® have far superior performance compared to other ear plugs. SurfEars® have close to zero acoustic loss in the frequency range of human speech while the best competitor cuts away about 20-30dB. To give you a reference, 30dB is roughly the difference between the loudest and lowest volume setting on your smartphone. That’s a pretty big difference!

About Earlabs
EarLabs was founded within Above Agency’s core team, and still lives under our roof. The first product, SurfEars, was launched in 2013. Today, it has fans and ambassadors all over the globe; hundreds of thousands of earplugs have been sold in over 40 countries. The original SurfEars product has been followed by SurfEars 2.0 as well as SwimEars, Junior and dBuds. Above has been closely involved in the development of all products, as well as their brand identities, in a tight collaboration with the EarLabs team.    



  • Branding

  • Industrial design

  • User experience

  • Visual design

  • Packaging design

  • Mechanical engineering

  • Supply chain management