Mr. Anderson discovered the tri fin arrangement provided a key feature the others didn’t: thrust. His innovation changed the way we surfed since then, for good. The vast majority of surfboards sold today are shortboards, with minor differences between one another, all of them using three fins as the default configuration.
Standard modern 3 fin set up. Image source: comparesurfboards.com
This happens because they work well on a wide spectrum of waves for most surfers, allowing tricks thought impossible with other fin arrangements. Before his invention, a bottom turn was the maneuver where most of the momentum was lost, forcing surfers to ride on a very particular way in order to keep up with the speed. If you watch surf films from pre-thruster eras you’ll miss aerials, sharp turns, and deep bottom turn because it was painfully hard to pull one of those off.
However, this doesn’t mean other fin arrangements do not work, it means they work different and can offer memorable sessions, but they do have limitations. Personally, I’ve spent years surfing with retro boards alone with different fin sets, on different conditions, enjoying every second of it and would recommend you to do the same. I think we all have to find our surfing style and there’s no better way than trying different boards such as the ones below:
Steve Lis inspired twin fin fish. Image source: Pinterest
If you’re an experienced surfer and are already familiar with the different types of surf boards, Mark Richards may be the first name that comes to your mind when picturing a twin fin. These boards are usually wider than the modern shortboard from nose to tail, thicker and with a fishy look. With only two big fins, one on each side, a lot of hidden volumes, low entry rocker and flat bottom.
These boards have the following advantageous features:
- Fast on the face. It is child’s play to make it between sections
- Very easy to paddle. The number of waves you can surf per session increases dramatically
- Loose. Sometimes too loose.
On the other hand, they are:
- Almost completely directional. Making it hard to close wide turns as they tend to go forward.
- Hard on the rail to rail transition. Not ideal for progressive surfing styles.
- Tricky to land a steep take off. Make sure you paddle hard to make it on time.
They are perfect boards if you are looking to catch more waves or are finding trouble to make it between sections as they will help with both tasks. You can choose a traditional Lis fish with wooden keel fins or a more progressive Mark Richards model with fiber glass ones, either way, you are going to have fun!
Rob Machado single fin. Image source: surfysurfy.com
Have you seen Gerry Lopez at Pipe? Well, that’s the definition of flow at surfing and that’s exactly how a retro single fin feels like. Tom Blake was the first to put a fin on a board back in 1935, they are smooth and easy to paddle as well as predictable on turns. They usually have the wider point forward, full rails and narrow tails.
The pros of having one of those under your feet are:
- Easiest paddle you will ever experience.
- Smooth turns like surfing on oil.
- A Barrel making machine – Getting barreled has never been so accessible.
Of course, that comes at a price:
- Forget about going vertical, too much weight on the nose.
- You’ll have to walk up and down along the board in order to do tricks.
- It has a limited set of tricks you can perform.
Single fins surfboards are a good option if you want to improve your technique, you can combine it with sessions on thrusters to enhance that bottom turn, just like Mick Fanning does. Make sure you play a bit with different fin foils and flex options to find your sweet spot, the fin plays a major role on the overall performance and is the key on singles.
Paulownia wood Alaia. Image source: Pinterest
It was Tom Wegener the one who resurfaced finless surfing, the Alaia, and created a huge buzz back in the time. We have all watched that video of Ryan Burch making smooth stylish 360’s and Eric Snortum going 100 mph down the line. After that, we all wanted to try one of those ironing-looking boards made entirely of Paulownia wood.
These boards are flat, one inch thick, about 16’’ wide and have parallel rails. Surfing with one of these boards will provide:
- Speed like you have never experienced
- Easy smooth 360’s
- Fun on really flat days
Despite the options for the lazy ones that minimize the effort, having (literally) a stick under you also comes with:
- The hardest paddle ever. Seriously, it is like swimming.
- The hardest take off ever, it has no rocker at all
- A steep learning curve
There’s no other reason to try these boards but the challenge of riding. They feel like learning to surf again and are a great option for experienced surfers looking for new sensations. If you still want to try it but painless, go for a Wegener Albacore or Tuna and have fun with an easier finless board that resembles the original.
Tuna finless board. Image source: tomwegenersurfboards.com
Surfboards come in different flavors and you should taste them all before deciding which one you like the most. Deciding what type of thrusters is you favorite fin setup should come after trying several different options, after tasting the whole menu. If you are looking to find your style, or just want to feel different on the face of a wave go to your local surf shop and rent any of the boards I’ve mentioned.
Can’t wait to hit the waves with these awesome boards? Why not sign up for a surfing vacation in Asia & Oceania? From Indonesia to Fiji to Australia, you’ll be sure to have unforgettable surfing sessions!