Corky Carroll

Oh, the stories we could tell of surfboard fins.

A few days ago I got an email asking me when they first started putting fins on surfboards and who was the first person to do that. So I thought it would be fun to take a little look at the evolution of the surfboard fin and its configuration changes through the years.

There are some that hold to the belief that the fin was invented in Finland, by a Fin, and that is how it got its name. Then are those who do not call the fin a fin. They refer to it as a "skag." That group insists that the first dude to put a skag on a board was a surfing Eskimo from Skagway, Alaska.

While both theories are very interesting, and I hate to disagree with any kind of urban legend or myth, they are both wrong. First off I don't think they had ever heard of surfing in Finland at the time when the first fin was put on a surfboard. Secondly, when referring to the fin as a "skag," it is actually "skeg."

I know that because I always related to that as "kegs" with the "s" stuck on the front. A "skag" is something totally different that I will be polite enough to not get into here and now. Of course if you are asking when the first "Fin" was put on a surfboard, meaning a dude from Finland, then that is a totally different question. But that is not the subject we are looking into today.

O.K., all joking aside, maybe. The very first person to put a fin, or skeg, on a surfboard was Tom Blake around 1935. At that time the boards were huge and weighed a ton or two. They were made of solid redwood or combinations of redwood and other woods, all of which were heavy. The state of the art of surfing was pretty much going straight, as it was near to impossible to do too much turning on these monster planks.

If the fin made a whole lot of difference on one of those boards it wasn't apparent, as they really did not catch on until much later. It was after World War II when boards started getting smaller and lighter that the fin became popular. With the advent of the balsawood and fiberglass surfboard the fin came into its own.

What the fin actually does is to keep the board going in one direction or another without "spinning out," or sliding sideways. With the new lightweight balsa boards and the addition of the fin the art of "hotdogging" was born. People could make hard turns and could "walk the nose" successfully.

At first there wasn't a whole lot of science involved in the surfboard fin. I think they just tried to copy a fish fin or something. One dude would prefer the "shark" while another tended to like the "tuna" shape fin. The Skagway dudes adopted the "salmon" fin.

In the 1960's the shape, rake, and foil of the fins became more and more important as the boards got lighter and smaller. Some of the designs were for function and some just for the look of it. For instance there was the "Dewey Weber Hatchet Fin." It looked just like a hatchet. There was absolutely, as far as I could tell anyway, no great advantage or function to that shape of fin other than to make the board look different than others.

Although I will admit that those fins made great "fish choppers." You could chop up a perch with one of those puppies in minutes.

Multi-fin surfboards did not gain popularity until 1970 with the release of the "twin-fin" design by both myself for Hobie Surfboards and Mike Eaton at Bing Surfboards. The first two-fin board I tried was made by Phil Edwards in the mid sixties. It was a small and wide shape that he made for his wife at the time. He put two small fins on the rails, which would have worked fine if he had not canted them in the wrong direction, which resulted in the board totally NOT working at all.

In 1967 I tried putting three fins on one of my "mini-models." The problem was that these were all big fins and three of them made the tail weigh about an extra ten pounds and created a ton of drag. Almost, but not yet.

The first twin fins were a breakthrough in not only fin technology but also surfboard design. The twin fin led to what is called the "fish" shape and is still in use today. Actually I am riding the exact same twin fin shape today as I did in 1970, only a bit bigger. The twin fin also led to the first "tri-fin" designs maybe within a year or so after the twins. The original tri fin boards had a large, normal-sized, fin in the center with two small fins on the rails.

Later in the 1970's a dude named Simon Anderson developed the design called the "thruster." That is pretty much still the main fin configuration on short boards, and some longboards, today. There are now quads and all sorts of other interesting ways to do the fins too. The fin design is just as important as all of the other facets of the modern surfboard.