What got you into riding single-fins?
The first time I went to Al Merrick’s house when I was 16 or 17. He had this photo on his wall from the '70s of a bunch of dudes with the coolest looking boards I had ever seen. From that day on, every time I went to Al’s house I would beg him to make me just one of those boards. At the time Al was so focused on progressing the sport, he would just laugh at me and say, “Oh Robert…we’ve already done that.” But I never gave up and I kept asking and asking until one day his glasser called me and said, “We have this single-fin here that Al shaped for you." I was so excited. I felt like I was 12 again, and I was picking up my first custom board. I rode that board for months and months. That was the beginning for me.
What’s the best part of surfing on single-fins?
The best part about riding a board like that is the paddle-ibility (making up words here). You can get into waves so early and draw such a different line than a standard thruster. Just watch old footage of guys like Gerry back in the day at Pipe. Their boards were so thick, they got into waves super early and drew such a different line. Especially compared to how Pipeline is surfed today. Take a guy like John John. It would be really interesting to measure the volume of a board that John John rides at 10-foot Pipe compared to a board Gerry rode at 10-foot Pipe. I bet the difference would be mind blowing. But it's all relevant when you see how differently their approach to the wave is. To me they are both equally impressive. Both take an exceptional amount of skill.
Some of surfing’s most stylish moments happened on similar boards. What is it about them that make people ride waves beautifully?
I think it has a lot to do with the lines that you are forced to draw with boards like this. There is no cranking it off the bottom and going up vertical into the lip. If you want to do that, you're riding the wrong board. These boards stretch your surfing out and force you to use more of the rail. One thing I really notice is how spot-on your technique needs to be, which leads to creating beautiful body positioning, which leads to beautiful images. Your body positioning has to be very precise to ride these boards correctly and to get the most out of them.
Is there something nostalgic about these single-fin moments or has surfing moved on? Is this just more of a retro-fad?
Single-fins will never go away. They offer something that no other board can, and it's where we came from. I think every grom nowadays should have to spend some time on a single-fin. I truly believe that when I stopped doing the Tour my surfing changed, and I attribute a lot of that change to riding a lot of different equipment, single-fins, twin fins, finless, etc.
Last year, we were on a trip in the Mentawais and I remember you having an incredible session on a single-fin. Talk about the waves that day and why a single-fin worked so well out there.
When we pulled up to check the surf, there were a few different peaks working. A deep A-frame peak that would rarely connect through the inside and then a wide, bowly peak that would only break on the biggest sets. It had a very similar set up to Ala Moana bowls. Most of the waves were pretty sloppy and shifty and there wasn’t a lot of opportunity for shredding. But it was the wide peak on the biggest sets that really caught my eye. My thought was to be super mobile and bounce back and forth between the peaks, so I rode that yellow board, a 7’2″, don't know the width. 3 1/4" thick. Paddles like a beast.
Would you have had the same experience on a regular thruster?
I remember one wave that let me in super early where I faded back to set my line. For me, the single-fin line is so different than a thruster. With a thruster, I find myself moving around inside the tube more with little pumps, using the transitions inside the tube to generate more speed and to flirt with the foam ball. But back to that wave, I got in early and set my line, and the section was lining up perfectly. The one thing about riding a big single fin like that is controlling your speed, because once you set your line those boards go really fast. It takes some time getting used to. But I timed this one perfect. When the lip landed and the foam ball started attacking me, I had faith in my trusty single-fin to get me through. I swear that single-fins ride the tube as good as anything.
Do you always pack a board like this?
The hardest thing for me to do is pack my boards for a trip. I have so many boards and want to have the option to ride any of them at any given time. My worst nightmare is pulling up to a spot and feeling like I don't have the right board for that day. So I try to bring a wide variety of boards that are going to keep me entertained, inspired, smiling, and in the tube.