A man putting the finishing touches on a white surfboard

Fins Matter by Donald Brink

1. So I heard you had your maiden voyage on one of our foamies at the Boardroom Demo Day? What were your thoughts at first sight?

"It was a beautiful Sunday morning. All the sleds I had dragged down to the demo session were in the water and the groms were ripping the fun little waves on offer. I was aware of the (Formula Fun) model, but that morning was the first time I got to see one in person. First thoughts were filtered through the lens of design which I find hard to remove in any gaze. I know what Marko set out to achieve was not easy and the plethora of soft craft on the market are mostly lacking in fine detail or hydro dynamic nuance. I know there are limitations to the design by virtue of the manufacturing process, yet still there is a cohesion between obvious elements that need to be balanced to make any board surf decently.

The tail was thick, they all are. First inspection though was refreshing, it was thinner than I expected, a testament to the difficult job done well. The deck insert was impressive. The weight was acceptable and the rails small enough and of a downward orientation so as to imagine ones self being able to draw a line. The outline made sense, the width was narrow enough to rip and the the weight under arm spicy. In short boards, the ones that look and feel fun before you ride them, are so often the best ones. Never mind when you're standing on the beach in a wetsuit with a chance to get groovy all right in front of you.

I rode the red and blue colorway, I don’t have many red boards, the ones I have ridden over the years do seem memorable. I figured they were all identical so choosing the color was really the only dividing option between the craft. I liked the look of the red against the green grass and the partly cloudy skies out to sea. Skipping quickly over the sand and into the shallows with zero ties to the craft, without leash or label connected, it was time for some fun."

2. We have to admit, we did not realize how big of an impact changing up the fin type has on this board until you spoke up. We're just foam guys ya know! ;) Tell us how you initially realized that different fins would work better?

"Lets start with everything what was refreshingly working well together. First off, before a wave was even ridden, the spritely paddle and flow of the little buoyant vestal was a pleasure. I really like small boards and have little to no problem with excess volume so long as the rails are small enough to manage. The flex and spring-like sensation over the swells and ripples gave me confidence in the potential of the rides ahead before a wave was even ridden. Still duck dive-able with ease and uber comfortable with the fancy "squish deck" and no wax necessary. Things were good and the red in my vision added some fun to the aqua marines as I flowed with seamless strokes to the back line.

Sitting on the board you realize just how much air is in the cell structure. It's a small board, but floats lovely; yet once again still with decent enough small rails.

I rode a few waves and began to feel consistent areas to surf around. This is true for most craft, but with design one can pinpoint things to improve or better yet, to commit to. The board accelerates quickly and then this sense begins to fade even though one might be continuing to gain speed. The line it sets is very predictable with the wide tail and parallel rails. This was good and dependable until a longer arc was initiated.

Take off to hi-line flow and down the line section connections was fine. Where things consistently felt lacking was in the bottom turn and holding path. The first part of said bottom turn set up was fine and then things get weird. The board would stop accelerating and the line upward the face would now be difficult to continue on with out speed that one was looking to have gathered in such a turning redirect. Once or twice and its all on me and my poor yet daily progressing technique. Easily changed in the lines you draw, maneuvers you avoid and waves selected. Top turns off and through the white water felt decent and over all the waves I was able to catch were ones many others couldn’t, nor were they interested in.

Twin fin's fins with wide tails are difficult on the back hand in general and thus for me, asymmetry is a great concept to mitigate these frustrations and help one surf the way you stand. Saying this I enjoyed many lefts and rights across the scattered peaks and surfed tentatively off the bottom and with added care on my heel side rail in general.

I was pretty convinced I knew what changes could be made to better the weakest points and maintain cohesion between all the elements and not minimize the many that were good to great. These are all thoughts of one very average surfer with a fascination for design and ultimately a respect for any one dedicating honest value to surfing in general. I love riding waves and sharing the joys this lifestyle can bring.

I got to the grass bank and the now gathered crowd was strong with onlookers and egos. The smile told the biggest part of the sessions story, but I held onto my opinion to be respectful- nevermind a know it all. The questions pressed: “What did you think, did it feel good, man you got so many waves…“ "It’s really fun, I replied and yet my honest feedback is from a light weight average surfer and I could be wrong, but I’ll share it none the less because I feel it's value can help others and is ultimately an easy fix. It's going to sound counter intuitive, but I honestly think the board is over finned." There was a pause in the dialog and quick looks at the fins then one another. "Did you notice every time I laid into a bottom turn I'd bog.”

“We thought you were just bailing out of the wave”

I know it sounds strange but this board felt over finned for me. You see these are broad brush stokes, but hear me out because I think it's fitting for whats going on in this situation. The fins are there to allow one to stay on the engaged rail. Would you trust 5 feet of rail to hold an accelerating line over 4 and half inches of fin base. Good surfing happens on rail and that's what we are striving toward. Connecting one curved piece of ocean to another as we carve and bounce between or over them. If the fins are too small one can't engage the rail for long enough and one looses the line desired or slides out at worst. If they are too big and enter the conversation too much as a driving factor, they can begin to dictate a direction or influence against what the rails dong and hold one off the rail line or break the track at worst too.

Small wave surfing is different in that one can push and surf off the fins really hard to generate squirt and speed through sections. This is true and does happen, my feedback and confidence in suggesting such changes was due to the fact that the hold off the bottom turn showed to bog, once one rail was isolated and a line drawn out the fin (T1 thermotech Futures) flexed then stopped and then steered the craft in a different direction than the rail was being driven and the fail.

It's easy to make a board go fast. To add the ability to turn is every designers challenge, embracing cohesion and predictability against expected technique and able athleticism.

I figured the hardest part was done, waterproof, light, recyclable, good looking, soft, affordable and fun looking. A simple tweak to the only interchangeable element seemed a good shout for little to no effort for the confidence that could be gained. "

3. For the novice, How important is fin type and fin placement when riding any surfboard?

"Surfboards function as a whole. To isolate any one part without relationship to the others is limiting. Saying this though, the fins are usually the only removable element that one can change and then isolate it's influence with regards to the others. I’m careful not to tell people what I think any one part of a board does, there are certainly areas of intuition that I defend and reference for prescribed effects, but it's an assembly of things working together. Most shapers would agree there is still so much to learn and understand about fins and the effect they have on these slow speeds we are doing and the forces being applied through maneuvers. To answer your question, fins are hugely important. They can make and break a boards magic. If you don't know what they are doing or which ones to use, at least set out with an open mind and change them out to build your own understanding of the things you like and what you depend on. Technique will ultimately always be the most import element and improvable part of most surfers path, thereafter is a beautiful world of design and fun. "

4. What fins would you recommend for our 5'3" Fish and why?

"Could I suggest “fishy or fish like”? I guess it is parallel, flat and got a wide swallow, but without tight down rails and full length keels its beginning to be something more resampled. The T1’s I felt were too big, it's clear that the smaller fins were a massive improvement for most riders. This brings us to me thinking what I'd change since, suggested direction feels along the right lines. I quickly did some rough calculations to back up my theory. I would suggest Thermotech AM1’s for smaller guys, and AM’2 for larger lads. That's 25% and 19% reduction in area respectively. The Futures F series cascades nicely to suit as well. With T1’s as our reference looking to reduce area in fin with mostly similar base lengths.

I think the Al Merrick rake in the template would be the better choice to add some feeling of connectedness through the turn with the raked back tip.

I'd Say AM2’ s in Thermothech, affordable and within conceivable range from reference.  

To add to the can of worms and this is yet to be tested; I’d propose that this board will feel really good as a small thruster. I'm expecting one to play with and fiddle with fins on. Perhaps we can circle back there after I let you know my findings as it relates to this current conversation."

5. Your a creative and brilliant shaper, what would your fin picks be for the average surfer looking to surf?

  • Fast-
  • Fluid and responsive turns
  • Traditional and retro feel

"Those are kind words, I really love surfing and the design elements.

These are the fins I reference and go-to, but it's board specific of course.
AM2’s Techflex.

AMT Alphas usually with T1 alpha trailer.
S-wings performance fins."

6. So are we going to do an asymmetrical foamie together or what ?

"It’s not a bad idea; as much as I'm passionate about hand shaped crafts! It sure beats supporting big box, off-shore, unsustainable mega store flotsam. "