Thursday, May 11, 2017

Blake to Greenough - A Brief History of Surfboard Fins

The difference between most recreational surfers and the salty few who live to slide & shred is an astute understanding of Fins... I say few, because most surfers take their surfboard fins for granted. Yes, most surfers spend sleepless nights pondering and fretting over their next board’s shape, length and airbrush design, but give little thought to the fins they plug-in underneath it. Many just go with whatever FCS or Futures fins their local surf shop grom recommends. Well, hopefully this little surf history lesson will help you better understand and appreciate the foiled rudders helping you steer from beneath your waxed deck.

The debate of where surfing began is yet, and may never be, settled by historians. Some claim that the ancient Polynesians owned the wild surf first, while others point back 2000 years to the pre-Incan, Moche Civilization, and their “Caballitos de Totora” (Straw Seahorses) as the world’s first wave riders. However, what is not debated amongst surf historians is who bolted on the first fin. It was surf pioneer Tom Blake, who in 1935, had grown tired of his 12 ft. heavy paddle board continually sliding out on him while riding Hawaii’s Waikiki surf. The solid wood paddle boards and hollow “kook boxes” of that era offered little directional control. So Blake came up with the clever idea of attaching a fin to gain better control.

And like a true, hardcore surfer… Blake “borrowed” the materials to craft that first fin from a ditched speedboat that he happened to stumble upon! "My first wave revealed the truth," Blake was later quoted by the Encyclopedia of Surfing. "Never before had I experienced such control and stability."

Like most progressive changes, Blake’s fin design did not take root amongst surfers until the 1940’s. Even then, most of the wood and fiberglass fins were just crude lumps; fashioned to resemble a dolphin’s dorsal fin. That is, until a sun-bleached blonde Santa Barbara kneeboarder named George Greenough began getting noticed for his high-speed wave performances punctuated by radical, deep turns. Greenough was among the first to pay attention to fin design and drew inspiration from the anatomy of fast swimming fish. This caused him to created narrow based fins with long rakes; similar to the tails of Marlin and Tuna. It was upon this new fin design that Aussie, Nat Young, was able to accomplish the bold maneuvers that led to his 1966 World Surf Title.

Without the combination of Greenough’s fin forethought and Nat Young’s ‘66 performance much of the late 1960’s shortboard revolution would have never taken place. A revolution that led towards the 1970's totally unstable twin fin design to Simon Anderson’s 1980 three fin, much more stable, Thruster. Both of these later fin systems were crucial to surfing’s progression and we will discuss them later. In the meantime, please feel free to chime in or comment here about your thoughts regarding surfing’s early fin designs and significant pioneers.

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