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The Idiot’s Guide To The Finless Club

Where ditching your fins isn’t encouraged, it’s required. Welcome the world of free friction! 

hardware // Jul 4, 2017
Words by stab
Reading Time: 5 minutes

It’s been 136 days since I last rode a conventional surfboard.

I had a problem. I couldn’t say no. I was blowing through money thanks to my addiction to the pure, white foam. My rack was loaded with …Lost Carbon Wraps, Slater Design Bananas, Tomos, Channel Islands and too many versions of my favourite Trunk Model by Cole Simler to count. I was gluttonous. Even worse, I was stagnant.

Some years back, while I was employed at The Surfer’s Journal, Derek Hynd breezed through the office. If memory serves me, he’d been on the road for the better part of six months and showed up with two plastic grocery bags of personal stuff and a highly unorthodox surfboard wrapped in a sleeping bag.

Previous to his arrival, I’d been enraptured by a grainy YouTube edit of his “far field free friction” (watch it above) theory in action at J-Bay. The enlightened wave riding approach piqued my interest. It wasn’t stagnant. It was spontaneous. Surfing sans fins, flirting with disaster, speeding along on the edge of a high-speed trim and a slide-out into oblivion. Derek said it’s “like jazz.” And nobody’s cooler than Miles Davis.

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Bryce Young lets his hair down on his wood plank.

Photography

Jack Coleman

“He’s the best surfer in the world,” plainly noted Journal founder Steve Pezman the next day in the office. “What he’s doing, it’s taking wave-riding to a whole different place. Kelly Slater can’t do what he’s doing.”

Let that sink in for a minute. Pez, who has critiqued everyone from Phil Edwards, to Miki Dora, to Tom Curren, Kelly Slater and Dane Reynolds in their respective primes, seemed certain that Derek’s modernist/minimalist approach was the clear path forward. Derek’s far too much of a humble gent to concede such things, but free friction disciples Ari Browne and Jordan Rodin are keenly illustrating what’s next.

While Derek’s broken the ground, Ari’s taking things next level. Popularising California mystic shaper Ryan Lovelace’s Rabbit’s Foot design, the Byron Bay acolyte is able to bring the energy and creativity of youth to the act, demonstrating what’s possible and how truly dynamic free friction surfing can be. Meanwhile, Jordan, who’s based in the Perth area, has been taking design cues from Derek and excelling on his unorthodox sliders. Both surf with the same free-range, spontaneity as their mentor.

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Spontaneous with the occasional brush with disaster, Derek Hynd’s style is anything but boring when put it into a controlled motion.

Photography

Jack Coleman

Other notables to embrace the art of the drift include design savant Ryan Burch and Malibu stylist Jimmy Gamboa. New Zealand’s Rangi Ormond is switched on, as well. And there’s crew of guys that are indulging in the softboard drift experience, including NSW’s Harry Henderson and Brodie Jackson.

It’s not a huge crew, but they are talented. And when viewed as a rogues gallery they comprise the beginnings of an underground, grassroots movement akin to the early days of the Shortboard Revolution in the late ‘60s, when experimentation ruled and any idea was a good idea.

Free friction surfing is intriguing for a number of reasons. First and foremost, the speed. Even Terry Fitzgerald, the Sultan of Speed, would be jealous of how fast Derek’s flying at J-Bay these days. With no fins to get in the way, straighter rails and flatter rocker the boards are faster than just about any other design, save maybe the new, space-age foils. Surfing unencumbered, that’s the idea of riding without fins, and once you lock into a high-line trim there really isn’t anything that compares. The reduced drag also makes paddling a pleasure.

https://player.vimeo.com/video/199802096

For the past four months I’ve been riding a 7’10” Blue Gill model shaped by Jon Wegner and have had zero problems going up against guys on 10-foot logs at spots like San Onofre and Trestles. Previously, I’d been riding a lot of short, high-volume boards but couldn’t manage to buy a corner off the guys on bigger boards when it was crowded. Free friction has been a great equaliser. 

Talking with Bobby Martinez some months ago, he said something interesting. “I’ve been doing the same turn my whole life, I don’t need to keep doing that turn to feel like I’m surfing good. I already know what it feels like,” he explained.

Don’t hold your breath, Bobby hasn’t ditched the fins (yet), but his point was spot on. Repetition breeds boredom. Look no further than how sterile the tour has become. Everyone’s basically riding the same board the exact same way. There’s no Michael Peterson experimenting with fang tails or Cheyne Horan playing with his star fin. The closest we have is Kelly and Tomo’s collaboration, which is killer, but it’s not exactly eccentric.

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Ari Browne, a surfer whose style and personality are equal parts unpredictable.

Photography

HARRY TRIGLONE

Free friction surfing opens up new opportunities and new ways of approaching a wave. Late drops and steep, slabbing sections will continue to be a challenge without the reliability of a fin under foot, but everything else is open country. Especially long, open-faced point surf. Rail slides across running sections, whip spins in the pocket, reverse fades up into the tube, there’s nothing standard or conventional about it. And when done right, it appears almost effortless.

Compare that to even the best surfers on tour today. For starters, the basics of their board design haven’t changed since Simon Anderson first unveiled his Thruster. Yes, they’ve been dramatically refined and materials have evolved, but a shortboard, for all intents and purposes, is still a shortboard. Off the bottom, off the top, on rail and in the air, those are the basic choices. It’s not dynamic. After experiencing it first hand, free friction surfing offers a sensation more akin to an improvisational jazz jam. There is no opposing your will or lording over the ocean in free friction surfing. The wave provides the rhythm and tempo, it’s up to you to find the melody and accent notes.

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Yes, the author is an advocate of fins free. He also told me, the gentleman laying up this piece, “You can chuck this on in there too. Yew! what a kook!” So here, Mr Howard slides in all his glory.

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