If you love your fins, set them free
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Surfboard fins and the circle of life

Surfboards go better with fins, but the question is how many is best?
Written by Craig Jarvis
4 min readPublished on
When humans started riding surfboard-type vehicles towards the shore, whether it was in Hawaii or Peru, those first wave-riding craft were finless. The boards were simply pointed towards the shoreline, and the boards did not need to make any direction changes en route to the sand. It was a simple time back then, but this was soon to change.
It was American athlete and inventor Tom Blake who stuck the first fin on a surfboard, and started changing direction while sliding towards the beach. This singular invention changed surfing forever, for the better, and we would not have much of a sport without fins on our board. It can be argued that fins would have eventually found their way to our sport, but Blake was the pioneer who brought it forward. The single fin was the preferred surfboard for the start of competitive surfing.
Australian surfer Mark Richards was the surfer who decided that two fins are better than one, and developed the twin-fin. It was another invention that changed the face of surfing as we know it, as Richards, with the board design that was first mocked, went on to win four world titles back-to-back with his newfangled board.
J.O.B knows the score...

J.O.B knows the score...

© Domenic Mosqueira / Red Bull Content Pool

The looseness of the twinnie however, didn't suit large Australian surfer Simon Anderson, and he developed the first thruster, a surfboard with three fins on it. He too went on a winning spree with his new equipment, winning the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach, the Coke Surfabout and the Pipe Masters the same year, 1981. The Simon Anderson Thruster became the most popular board in the world, and Anderson didn't bother to seek a patent, so it was copied for free worldwide.
Australian goofy-footer Glen Winton from the Gold Coast, also known as Mr X in his heyday, went one step futher and put a fourth fin on his surfboard. The original four fin surfboards were simply tweaked-out twins, with the two smaller rear fins providing a little bit more stability, but still allowing for the speed and squirt of the twinnie design. Mr X went on to some competitive success with his designs, but not as much as MR or Simon.
The five fin Bonzer surfboard by the Campbell Brothers was an anomoly in the fin set-up process. It was a very technical theory to organise water flow and reduce drag. The fins on a Bonzer are small, and there is very little resistance, but the Bonzer design only picked up a very die-hard fans and stalwarts in comparison to the standard board designs and fin set-ups previously discussed.
Glen Winton came back into the scene a few years ago with a six-finned board called a Steg. It too garnered minimal interest, although the few people, including Glen himself, swore by them, especialy when the waves were bigger and clean. As far as we know, no one has gone beyond 6 fins so far.
On the way back down, quad fins came back into the scene, and in particularly via William "Stretch" Riedel who introduced the quad-fin set-up into the big wave arena. As opposed to the four-finned version that Mr X used to ride, the big wave quad is based more on the three-fin model, with the two back fins basically an expansion of the thruster’s standard third fin. Quads are still the go-to for many big wave surfers the world over.
The end of the line however, goes to Australian surfer and writer Derek Hynd, who opted for a theory called Free Friction or to be precise, Far Field Free Friction (FFFF). Hynd hasn't surfed with a fin on a board in well over a decade now, and has become exceptionally good at it. It honestly seems, at six-foot days at Supertubes, that he is the one surfer out there having the most fun. That, according to Phil Edwards, is the best surfer out there. The one having the most fun.