Surfboard Fin Fun: Height, Base, and Rake

So, as an average surfer who wants to maximize my fun, I wanted to share what I’ve learned over the years about what to look for in a fin. I don’t want to get knee deep into what some big time Pro who surfs perfect point breaks says. I’ve seen those mucky details debated out on lots of forums, and really, I’ve found there are really only a few things for the recreational surfer to consider when looking for a fun surfboard fin, at least from my non-Pro surfer viewpoint.

  • Height (sometimes called Depth)
  • Base
  • Rake
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Choosing a fin shouldn’t be rocket science

Anything past that and the changes will probably not be readily noticeable to an average surfer like me. Sure, Mr. Kelly Slater will be able to tell you how a different cant on his two outer thrusters changed his aerial game at the Huntington Pro long ago. Goody for him, but I’ll never be Kelly. Da truth hurts. Here’s a good link to more in-depth info. Knock yourself out.

Festivus for the rest of us, then….

Height (Depth)

This is essentially how tall the fin is, measured from the bottom of the fin exposed when your fin is in your surfboard (flush) to the point that will be furthest into the water. Do not include the section of fin that goes into the fin box in your measurement.

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7” fin (left) and 9.5” fin (right)

Most longboard fins run from 7″ to 10″ in general. Often, more fin height is recommended as your board size increases, but more height can also create more drag when paddling into waves, especially the weak mushy variety we have here in Florida. In addition, your weight also becomes a consideration- the less you weigh, the less fin you may wish to have in the water. Conversely, if you are large and in charge, you may desire a bigger fin to make effective turns.

I’m a small person (under 5’5″), so I usually ride 7″-9″ single fins on my 9″+ surfboards and SUPs these days. I don’t surf waves over 3′-4′ on my longboards, so these are sufficient.

Base

This is the span of the fin measured across the bottom just above the surface of the surfboard when the fin is mounted in the board.

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Narrower base (left) and wider base (right)

If a fin has a wide base, you can expect to take your time on turns. If a base is skinny, it’ll help you turn quicker, but the trade off may be speed going down the line. In longboarding, once you get the board “locked in” on the wave, going down the line, the force of the breaking wave will be pushing against the back of the board and the broad side of the fin. With a wide base fin, there’s more area to push, increasing board speed- not so much with a skinny base. That doesn’t help much when you’re trying to get to the nose of the board for a hot second (when I do it, there’s NEVER a witness around, boo).

Rake

This is the sweep of the fin’s base to the tip of the fin.

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More rake (left) and less rake (right)

Rake is probably the most debated of these basic features, and where a lot of innovation has happened. The early surfboard fins resembled true boat rudders- straight up and down, or hardly any rake. This stabilized the boards quite well. But later on, George Greenough was the innovator of the heavily raked fin of the 1970’s, that opened the door to carving and cutback styles that we see today.

Essentially, minimal rake gives extra stability when cross stepping, nose riding, or hot dogging (doing tricks). Heavier rake increases turning ability as well as increases speed from turns, since the fin tends to become more flexible with more rake, creating a whip motion off the fin out of turns as it flexes back into place. This also requires a wave that that has enough push to make a turn that would accomplish that.

Mmm yeah, when I read that again too, this is what I thought…..

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Oh, that Alan!

***

Take just these three characteristics, vary them, and now you have endless combinations to play with. However, some fin shapes (templates) seem to have a fan club, and are prevalent in many surf shops. And my little collection.

In the next post, I’ll share some details about some of my current fins and the types, and the boards I usually ride them with. There are also ones I had to let go from my collection like Princess Elsa and her issues. Yikes.

If you’re wanting an opinion about the best fins for Tahitian barrels, you’re in da wrong place.

But if you can appreciate this surf maneuver as much as I do (surfer or not) you’re in da CraftySurf Zone….

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This is the type of surfing I want to achieve, yo

Surfboard Fin Fun: History

I wanted to devote a few posts this April to surfboard fins. Sometimes fins may be called skegs, but it is an older term, usually reserved for longboards.

It took me several years of surfing to truly appreciate the difference in fin types. I’m forever learning, of course, but I’d like to share some things I’ve discovered along the way. I also really need to thank Core Surf Shop– they always put up with my endless questions about surfing and fins.

A little surfboard fin history…

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Tom Blake is DA MAN

Fins for surfboards were first added by one of the most brilliant surfing pioneers EVER, Tom Blake. The fin as we know it today was updated by Bob Simmons in the 1940’s. Simmons studied naval architecture to incorporate the fin into his surfboard designs, making the surfboard MUCH faster than its’ predecessors- even frightening some of the first surfers who tried them! The Surfing Handbook has a great rundown about the history of the fin.

Essentially, having a fin on a surfboard created a “rudder” on which the craft could pivot and turn. This allowed riders new freedoms in the emerging sport of surfing. As boards became smaller and lighter, board designers were creative with fins, essentially splitting the original single fin into two (keel fins), three (thruster), or four (quad).

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Single Fins are most popular on longboards

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Twin Fins can sometimes be called Keels, depending on the placement and shape

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VERY popular in the 1980’s with the shortboard craze

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This setup has become very popular trend

Central Florida’s sandy beach breaks and small waves year round (barring Hurricane season) are ideal for longboarding. Therefore, most of my personal collection of surfboard fins are mainly longboard fins, usually around 7″ or bigger.

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Part of my longboard fin collection

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One of my fins- this one measures 7.5 inches. Don’t include the part that rests inside the board when measuring a fin’s height

Next time, I’ll post about basic fin structure- it took me a LOT of time to figure out what the hell other surfers meant by all those crazy terms to describe a fin’s shape. It’s a science onto itself, and there’s some amateur surfers out there who focus SOLELY on fins like it’s their freakin’ job. Intense, brah.

I’m more like the naïve Little Mermaid of surfboard fins….but there’s worse things I could collect.

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Even mermaids are materialistic, sheesh

Baggies, Jams, Boardies….Just DIY ‘Em

The “history” of surfing shorts varies depending on the surfer you ask. Some may say the original surf short began with Duke Kahanamoku and his scratchy wool swim shorts. The original big wave Hawaiian surfers of the 50’s and 60’s may tell you that Mr. Nii’s in Makaha was THE place to get a pair custom made- even personalized with your name.

I remember the “Jams” of the 1980’s…the tacky,

Clearance Bin Find!

comfy, long and super baggy shorts that EVERYONE had to have, from the Hawaiian beaches to the innermost cornfields of Iowa. That’s the version I’m down with. So, appropriately, I chose a SUPER easy pajama pant pattern I picked up from the clearance bin for 39 cents that I cut to a knee length short. Score.

The fun flamingo cotton print I got from fabric.com, with some contrast print I got from my cotton fabric scrap bin. I won’t go through the entire process in detail, but I did add custom pockets I designed myself to the front of the shorts, as well as a simple square patch pocket on the right rear. I also added the contrast fabric as a hem facing to the bottom of the shorts, as well as the lining of the pockets. It doesn’t readily show, but I know it’s there, so…..cool. Here’s a breakdown of some of the process in pics….

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My custom made pocket pattern- checking for placement

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Making the front patch pockets with lining

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Top stitching the pocket onto the front part of the shorts

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Making the back square patch pocket and lining

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Positioning the back patch pocket

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Attaching the hem facing

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The hidden elastic waistband!

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Threading the waist tie through the front buttonholes

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Finished hem detail

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Finished front pocket detail

Done! This was a very easy level sewing project, and a great first sewing project for anyone if you forego the pockets.

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Front of the shorts

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Back of the shorts

Here’s the modeling shots by a non-model. It makes things a lot easier when you don’t have to Photoshop my face out of the pics. Yikes-a-Rama. Try to find Max Chill….

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Where’s Waldo???

So flamingo, so tacky, so FLORIDA. I don’t know if I’ll surf in these cotton boardshorts, but I’ve said it before- Jams like these are Florida’s version of sweatpants.

But the Kentucky Derby IS coming up fast, so I will need to bring out the big guns pretty soon….

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This would be acceptable any time of the year in Key West….

Gnar Pro Wetsuit Wash DIY

We’re starting to get an early Spring here in Central Florida with temps up into the 80’s. We may get La Niña patterns-a-comin’ soon (means worse hurricanes for us in the Atlantic), but it’s WARM.

And that makes my inner Chris Farley dance like the El Niño king.

I would wear this

So in celebration, I decided to come up with an end of season wetsuit cleaning routine and try it on the ripest suit I could find….

There’s a lot of Neoprene here

This suit was given to me by a kind friend for scrap material, BUT, it’s 10 years old! Sorry, but before I would even touch it with a 10 foot pole for a project, it needs a DEEP clean. Bleach is the best option, but the chemicals in traditional bleach are harmful in so many ways, especially to the environment. Also, cleaning sports gear with regular detergent is a no-no if you want to make it last and avoid breaking down the material.

I’ve read that Oxygen Bleach is a good alternative to regular bleach in many cases, and can be easy enough to make yourself. The key ingredient is hydrogen peroxide, usually added to a carbonate. For this, I’m using Washing Soda, which is more effective than Baking Soda in this combo. Washing Soda can be found in the laundry aisle too, along with standard detergents. Just keep ’em separated, and they’ll last ya a while. Hint: you can use these for other things, not just wetsuits.

You don’t need much

Procedure:

This required my trusty 5 gallon utility bucket, cleaned and ready for use- outside. Although many instructions will say oxygen bleach will work in all temperatures, adding a bit of hot water doesn’t hurt to help along the reaction, which is a slow chemical process.

I began by filling the clean bucket partially with hot (or not) water. Now I was ready to start adding the ingredients, measured for use with approximately 3-4 gallons of water. Do not use more- a dab a’ do ya, brah, don’t over chemical things, man.

Wetsuit Wash (Dilute in 3-4 gallons of water, mix well):

  • 1 teaspoon Washing Soda
  • 1 teaspoon Hydrogen Peroxide (most stores only sell 3% to 5%, that’s all you need)

To stir, use a stick or handle, not your hands- it is bleach, yo. I used a broom handle. Allow the mixture to react for about 5 minutes BEFORE putting the suit in- the solution will get a little milky colored like mine did.

Make sure you stir the mixture for a few minutes before anything goes in

I put the suit in (with the broom handle since it’s grody), stirred it around, dunked it with it stick, and then let the suit sit in the mixture 24 hours, stirring it a few more times at the beginning of the process. Be sure to cover it if you leave it outside- I put a lid on mine to prevent any animals from drinking from it since I left it overnight.

 

The reaction is fully completed after 12 hours or so, so the mixture is inactive, and can be tossed out safely. Yay.

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I made sure to rinse the suit REALLY WELL afterwards- this is important! You don’t want any white powdery crud to remain on the suit.

BUT…if your suit is x-tra freakin nasty…..

Fill your rinse bucket back up with clean water, and add a few drops of pure Pine Oil. Pine Oil is a very effective disinfectant, and only a few drops are needed to make a quick rinse dip for your suit. Be sure to rinse it once more afterwards.

I hung the suit up on my HangAir dryer in my garage to dry, and it smells so much better and fresher. The inner lining didn’t lose any color either.

Smellin’ PHRESH 

So no, I can’t bottle this up and sell it, but if I did, I’d totally name it Mr. Belvedere’s Gnar Pro Wetsuit Wash. “Gnar Pro” gives it the surfer cred, but “Mr. Belvedere” makes it classy to be clean, yo.

It’s all about the marketing.

It’s sorta effective 

What do you think Mr. Wonderful???

This Old Rashguard….

It’s always good to fix or reuse whatcha got already, instead of always going for new, shiny stuff. This is especially true with clothing, which actually takes up a big percentage of our waste these days.

I avoid using the dryer as much as possible to extend the life of my boardshorts and swim gear (just look in the lint trap to see all the fibers you lose every time with your clothes). I’ve started to discover recently that it’s worth reusing and resewing some of my surf gear because the prices have become crazy for material and for the finished garments themselves.

Remember in my last blog post when I used a too small rashguard for a project? Here’s what I did with the rest of it.

This is what the original too-small rashguard looked like:

After my last project, I was left with a sleeveless top with a collar that I removed with the seam attached:

Next, I wanted to trim the length of the top so the finished garment ended up around my ribs (with a 2″ elastic band). I don’t need it riding up on me, and I’m not going for skimpy. I cut across about 4″ down from the armpit:

I also wanted to make the neck a bit shallower and matching front and back, so I used a French Curve to make a slight scoop:

At this point, you may want to line the front of the top with some of the extra rashguard material, especially if you are using a lighter colored rashguard, or if the material is really thin. I didn’t bother lining this one.

Next, I cut the collar into halves. This creates a little tunnel I can feed cord through, and the seam keeps it shut.

I pinned each of these halves onto the front and back of the neck, and serged them on.

So next, I measured out some 2″ soft waistband elastic. The rule of thumb for elastic is, take your measurement (an inch or two below my bustline for this), then subtract 10%. However, since I’ll be surfing in this, I’m going to take 15%, just because saltwater breaks down elastic quickly. Boo.

I serged the ends of the elastic into a loop, pinned the band onto the bottom, and strrrrrretched the elastic as I serged it to the bottom of the top.

To make the loop strap around the shoulder, I cut a 2″ strip from the leftover rashguard material. I pulled the strip taut to make it curl onto itself to make a cord so I could feed it through the channels at the neckline:

I sewed the cord loop closed when I got the length where I wanted it. Remember that it will stretch a bit over time. I like the long length, since I wipeout a lot, adjusting my top is a PITA.

Here it is, front and back. This dress form is a little small, but you get the idea:

No, I’m not going to model it personally and post photos. I’m a modest Southern lady that enjoyed fried foods for some years now, unlike my healthy quinoa friends.

Don’t judge me.

My Favorite Disney Princess….

Easy Wetsuit Hack Attack

It has been cold for Central Florida, with our water temps dipping down into the high 50’s. At least today was warm, but it won’t be for long. I may have to break down and buy another full wetsuit that goes all the way down to my ankles, and that makes me sad. Worse yet, I’ve got to go try some on, and it’s a pain in the ass to wriggle into the freakin’ wetsuits.

Most surfers have heard the old trick about slipping into a wetsuit easier (dry or wet) by using a plastic shopping bag over the foot or hand, sliding the appendage through, then removing the bag. There’s even surfy gimmicks out there you can buy to help you like the Jimmy or WetSox, but you can make this so easily, it’s insanity.

This upcycling hack looks similar to WetSox. I’m taking an old rash guard of mine that’s a teensy too small, cutting a sleeve off, sewing up one end with a whipstitch, and BOOM! E-Z Wetsuit Slip On Tool. Here’s my process in pics (I wish WordPress would let me do captions again):

A little more permanent than a plastic bag, plus it’s washable. Schweet.

So what am I going to do with a sleeveless rashguard? I might come up with another project, or I may go surfin’ with this brah, he knows the feeling of a good wipeout…

Surf Kit on a Rope

I’m always into anything that can avoid a ruined surf session. And honestly, most surfy accessories and gear can be DIY’d. Always a good thing, right Martha?

So here’s an easy, cheap DIY in case those Carbon/Kevlar/Titanium/Plutonium fins get busted out by your shred style, brah.

So, you’ll need:

  • Sculpey III, or Premo! Modeling Clay (the clay needs to be a bit on the soft side, unlike a FIMO type clay)
  • A blade to cut the clay
  • Thin Paracord
  • Toothpicks or a heavy duty needle
  • Fin screws
  • Fin Key

Most of these items can be picked up at a craft store, with the exception of the Fin Screws and Key, of course.

I cut off a bit of clay from the block and rolled it into a thick tube. My polymer clay modeling skills are terrible these days, but I’m going for function, not style, like these guys:

I cut off the ends, then screwed one of the fin screws into each end of the approximately 1.5 inch long cylinder using the fin key. I did this when the clay was soft and left them in, even while baking. To screw these in soft clay, go slowly, and apply light pressure. Don’t screw past the top of the cylinder! This is why I hate hard, crumbly clay for this project.

Don’t worry. The screws won’t come out after baking unless you unscrew them using a Fin Key.

In the center, I used my needle to make 2 toggle holes for the Paracord to go through later:

I placed the clay on a silicone sheet and put it in my home oven at 230 degrees F for 80 minutes to ensure it baked throughout the clay.

After it was cooled completely, I didn’t need to do anything to the piece. Since it’s a type of plastic, there’s no need for sealants, and it’s waterproof. You can sand the piece, but I’m still going for function.

I threaded the Paracord through the holes, made a Lark’s Head Knot over the fin key, knotted the ends together, and now I’ve got three handy item types in one:

  • Fin Key
  • Fin Screws
  • Leash Loop (or multiple, depending on how much Paracord you use)

Yes, it screws another one right back in, so you can put replacements on since the threads on one company’s fin system generally stays the same, which in most of my boards is FCS.

You can take this with you anywhere, just be careful making it a necklace to wear while you surf. If it’s too long, it can come up and smack you in da face.

Could happen. To me.