I’ve been aware of him as a craftsman and designer for half a century. I’ve known him personally for more than 40 years, ridden some of the boards he shaped, rode his skateboards and used his fins and fin boxes for decades. So, how is it that I misspelled Bill Bahne’s name in print recently? It’s Bahne, not “Bain,” as I wrote it. Sorry Bill, I didn’t mean any disrespect.Who could disrespect Bahne anyway? Here’s a guy whose company, Fins Unlimited, has supplied the surfing world with fins of all sorts and colors for decades, the man who designed fin boxes that worked so well they wouldn’t be improved ever and only briefly dipped out of fashion when molded fins became popular and multi finned surfboards became the rage. Bahne had an amazing skateboarding team and came within inches of inventing the snowboard back in the late ‘70s when he and Mike Doyle teamed up to design the Bahne Monoski.
I first began driving up to Bahne to get fins when my friend Peter “Pinline” St. Pierre worked there as the pinliner, taking already beautiful surfboards and giving them the look of a vintage car. At the time, Mike Hyson of “Endless Summer” fame was developing some early down railed boards and helping take surfboards into deeper and steeper terrain. Around the corner, Donald Takayama, Donnie Mulhern and Gary Brummett were building boards under the MTB label.
Donnie’s son, Pat, who would go on to become a top pro in the ‘80s and eventually a great board builder in his own right, would skate down the bumpy hill that led up to the factory affectionately known as “the hill.”
While Donald and Hynson were essentially the kings of the hill in my opinion, there were others who came by the building whose boards were making a big splash. Mike Diffenderfer would stop by and build some of the most beautiful guns ever made and have them perfectly glassed by his one-time business partner, Tony Channin.
Tom “T Boy” Gaglia made Downhome Surfboards and Steve Moret built some of Bahne’s best surfboards. John Breeden did the airbrush for what would become Rainbow Surfboards, while Hynson shaped those boards with down-the-line speed in mind.
But no matter who shaped or glassed those boards, the purchase was not complete without a trip to Bahne’s to get the right fin. Man, those fins were beautiful, like rainbow-colored lollypops, their perfect hand foils by Willy McLeary or, later, Jack Jenson or “Button” Humphrey, revealing deep bands of color.
My favorite was a Henri Matisse-inspired transparent lime green and pink fin that I applied to my new MTB for, perhaps, the best ride of my life.
Years passed and board makers like Hank Byzak of Pure Fun, woodworking master Jim Phillips, Tom Eberly, Bill Minard, Encinitas Surfboards’ own John Kies, Steve Clark and Brian Symanski all made their homes on the hill. (Sorry if I left anyone out or spelled your name incorrectly.) I have had boards from most of the aforementioned masters and still couldn’t tell you which of them made me the best boards.
One thing is for certain, however, each of those boards have been enhanced by a trip to Fins Unlimited to get their fins from someone in the Bahne family. That’s B-a-h-n-e! Thanks for the ride, Bill.
Chris Ahrens is a surfer and author of four books on surfing. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.