Waterspot: Board fins up for debate

Waterspot: Board fins up for debate
Making matters still more confusing, fins come in various shapes and sizes. Courtesy photo

It is generally believed that surf pioneer/inventor Tom Blake was the first person to fasten a fin on a surfboard. 

While generally considered a good idea, this event, which occurred in Hawaii in the mid 1930s, is still being debated by the few who prefer riding finless.

Finless surfboards lack the control of finned boards, but, because of reduced drag, are faster. 

Masters of finless surf craft, including Tom and Jon Wegener, Ryan Burch and Derek Hynd, make it look fun and easy. Having tried to stand on one such board I can tell you that for me it was neither fun nor easy, but difficult and frustrating.

The difficulty in controlling a finless surfboard is one of the main reasons finned boards are commonplace with surfers. 

For the most part the debate over the using fins or not is settled, but continues to rage in the areas of what sorts and how many fins to use.

For decades a single fin was all that was available to a surfer. 

Then, in the late 1940s Blake and a man named Bob Simmons shook things up by employing two fins. While this never did catch on with the masses at the time, the idea proved to have merit and has drifted in and out of style many times since. 

I first became aware of twinfins when surf legend and Bing shaper Mike Eaton built one for 1969 World Surfing Champion Rolf Aurness. 

The board proved a winner and was soon shared with Rolf’s friend, U.S. Surfing Champion Corky Carroll, who had a similar model made by his sponsor, Hobie. 

This one-two punch set a short-lived revolution in motion. Hawaiian surfers including Gerry Lopez and Barry Kaniaupuni, who once again had the world worshiping at the feet of the single fin, eventually put down the rebellion.

Twinfins were dead until soon-to-become world champion Mark Richards began riding them in the mid-1970s. 

This led to Hawaiian standout Reno Abellera and others adopting twinfins into their quivers. At around the same time a San Diego kneeboarder built a swallowtailed twinfin he called the Fish. 

Revolution was once again in the air when Oxnard surfers Malcolm and Duncan Campbell designed a radical three-finned, double concave board called the Bonzer. 

Aussie Simon Anderson adding a third fin to his board and naming it the Thruster followed this. The Thruster has remained the standard for most pro surfers, but not before it opened the door for four- and five-finned boards, mixing and matching in various combinations.

The single fin never did completely die, but it took the longboard renaissance of the mid 1980s to breathe life back into it. 

My assessment is that single fins allow for a certain type of pivotal turn and are more predictable, twinfins are more stable and trifins allow a surfer to ride higher and tighter. 

Still, the choice for a novice must seem overwhelming: one, two, three, four or five fins? My advice to them is to not worry about it — until you are carving hard turns you won’t notice any difference. 

For more advanced surfers I have even less to say, so I will leave you with the wisdom of a sage who long ago advised, “Ride whatever you like, but have fun.”

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