The Coast News Group
Sea Notes

Finless boards the wave of the future?

It’s been more than 70 years since Tom Blake attached a fin to a surfboard and changed the way we surf. Seventy years of reverse fins, hatchet fins, raked fins, removable fins, glass-on fins, turbo fins, hollow fins, wooden fins, plastic fins, two fins, three fins, four, five and six fins, rail fins, finger fins, spring-loaded fins, stiff fins, flex fins and various of an attachments aimed at helping control a surfboard.
For all seven decades, a fin has been considered a necessary part of a surfboard. Then, about five years ago, a few surfers ventured out on Ailia surfboards from the Bishop’s Museum in Hawaii. Then came a small flurry of Ailia replicas, as surfers internationally began realizing that finless boards were faster than those with fins. The result was anything but a revolution, but did provide a handful of surfers, including Tom Wegener, Ryan Burch, Richard Kenvin and Derek Hynd with an opportunity to further understand hydrodynamics.
Like many of you, I only gave a passing thought to fins causing drag and slowing down my board.
Not until I realized that a surfboard moves sideways as quickly as it does down the line, did I understand how much resistance fins gave a surfboard. In response, I tried tiny fins and riding finless, generally slipping my way over the falls.
The Ailia changed my perception, but inch-thick pieces of wood seemed nearly impossible to ride for most of us. Continuing to experiment, some people went thicker or made finless boards of foam and fiberglass, only to find that the Ailia flex they so craved had been sacrificed in the process.
Resident designer, board-maker and inventor Carl Ekstrom had an idea — a composite Ailia-styled board, with side cuts to hold the board to the face and extra foam on the deck for increased floatation. This solution caused the board to retain its flex, while increasing floatation and control.
The first generation of Ekstrom finless surfboards are making their way down the beach as riders report success.
Kenvin, in particular, claims to be reluctant to want to return to surfboards with fins.
Even still, finless surfboards are too difficult for the masses, and remain the domain of those with the luxury of three to four hours a day of water time.
This could all change, as Ekstrom is busy experimenting with finless boards that a surfer could ride from a more upright position, rather than the low, rotational squat currently required to keep from spinning out.
These new boards, if successful, might be just the jumpstart surfing needs to take us from the heavy and huge boards that have been clogging the lineup, causing something the equivalent of replacing the horse and buggy with jet-aged mind machines.
Not to say that it’s not fun to take a horse and buggy around the block for a nostalgic romp through the park from time to time.
A look back is healthy, good for the soul. I, however, don’t want to get stuck in the 1965 time tunnel that has infected North County.
Open your mind, try something new, stretch yourself. See you in the future, whatever that may be.