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Words: Mark Sankey  Images: Alexa Poppe

Genesis of a Fin Free Journey

You could say the story of this finless surfboard started in Bali Airport, 2008. Alexa and I had just fallen out of the void of long haul travel. Standing by the baggage collection belt eager to get out of the airport and get on with our Indo adventure, we already had all of our baggage except for Alexa’s board  – her beloved 9ft Corduroy single fin speed shape with a raspberry ripple resin tint. Everybody else had left the baggage collection area and once we were alone by the belt that sinking feeling that something wasn’t quite right set in. Standing there both of us were paralysed, partly by jet lag and partly by the feeling the trip wasn’t going to start as we would have liked. Then the board came out, but the bag was ripped. Alexa pulled the bag off the belt and inspected the board. The whole last ten or twelve inches of the tail was smashed into small pieces – the board was dead.

This board was so dear to Alexa that she brought it all the way home and it has stayed in our shed ever since. Last summer I stripped the glass off the board, which came off cleanly leaving me with eight foot of workable foam. I wanted to recycle it and bring the foam back to life back in some way, but was unsure which way to go with the rockerless foam slab. I was concerned my hatchet man shaping skills would render the very useable foam into a very un-useable form.

Most of my surfing last summer was done on a finless Tom Wegner Albacore, I was literally obsessed and frothed over the small but glassy swells we had. I also took it to Sri Lanka this winter and spent half of my surfing time on the trip riding it. For me finless surfboard riding isn’t some kind of surfboard redux or enlightened surfing coup d’etat – it’s just fun – and it injected my surfing with a challenging form of simplicity that made surfing feel brand new again. So I decided the raspberry ripple longboard was going to be reincarnated as a finless board. I just needed a Victor Frankenstein to properly strike a new life into the dead sled’s remaining lifeless foam.

When I mentioned my idea to Steve Croft of Empire Surfboards, he was more than happy to take up the challenge as he had already been thinking about making a finless board. Plus he likes nothing better that a bit of Gothic fiction and recycling. “Finless surfboard design intrigued me after seeing a video of Derek Hynd surfing a finless board at big J-Bay,” said Steve. “From a design point of view it’s interesting to see the drive and projection that he gets from a board without fins – all of it just from the rail and bottom shape!”

So, Steve looked at the project as a way to explore the possibilities of finding traction and friction through concave, rail shape and template design, blending it with the speed and freedom that comes with a board sans fins. “Using the water flow beneath the board is going to be a key element in creating drive,” he explained, “but the broader idea is to get more drive from every aspect of the design, by applying everything that I have learned about finned board design to the finless board. I guess in some ways a finless board strips everything back, without fins each aspect of a surfboard design becomes more critical – there is no room to be lazy.”

Steve approaches every project with an open mind and a genuine enthusiasm, whether it is a wafer thin thruster, a full bellied hull or a cardboard Storm Trooper mask design. He loves nothing more than a challenge that allows him to stretch his creativity and craftsmanship. So, it will be exciting to see what he will come up with. I just hope he doesn’t expect me to surf it like that flying and spinning one-eyed pirate, Derek Hynd.