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On Falling, Part IV

How wipeouts have helped shape the evolution of surfing. A five part series.

In 1921, on his first attempt at surfing, the sport’s most celebrated inventor, Tom Blake, wiped out so badly, he wouldn’t try to surf again for another three years.

He had already met Duke Kahanamoku by this time, and was inspired to take up the ocean lifestyle. He swam competitively and lifeguarded in Los Angeles, but still, he didn’t begin surfing seriously again until he moved to Oahu in 1924. Kahanamoku’s brothers introduced the Midwesterner to Waikiki’s surf scene and Blake soon mastered the planks of the era. Over the next 10 years he’d make his most important contributions: hollow boards, a camera’s water housing, etc. In 1935, needled by the issue of “sliding ass”—the tendency of Hawaiian planks to slip out tail first causing its rider to go down—Blake secured a small boat rudder to the underside of his board. It was the first use of a surfboard fin, a piece of equipment born of falling.

Needled by the issue of “sliding ass”, Blake secured a small boat rudder to the underside of his board. It was the first use of a surfboard fin, a piece of equipment born of falling.

In 2011, Mike Parsons was screaming down the face of the biggest wave he’d ever ridden out at Todos Santos. Having been whipped into the wave by a jet ski, he assumed the steep descent would only increase his speed, and counting on that excess speed, Parsons put himself in a critical position. Then, he said, the board’s fins “cavitated.”

“It feels like someone is throwing the emergency brake,” Parsons said. That loss of speed caused Parsons to go down. The impact pushed his knee through his board, destroying ligaments in the process. This cavitation thing—Wikipedia defines it as the “implosion of cavities in a liquid,” ie. pockets of air around the fins—had happened to him before, at Cortes Bank and elsewhere. “It only seems to happen on the very biggest waves,” Parsons said. But that final wipeout at Todos Santos inspired Parsons to do something about it. He experimented with size shape and placement of his fins, he switched to a quad setup. For Parsons, it was a design plateau that has led to the next phase in his big-wave career.


Part I: Mike Hynson
Part II: Mick Campbell and Danny Wills
Part III: Greg Noll

FRIDAY | PART V: Shane Dorian