Derek Hynd and the Philosophy of Free Friction

A profile from our October 2011 issue

Photo: Maassen

“Welcome to your New Religion.”

That’s Derek Hynd speaking, shaking my hand after I careened semi-successfully across a glittering waist-high pointbreak on my first finless ride.

Free Friction, Hynd calls it. To be honest I was pretty damn happy with my existing religion, which was surfing of the finned, Tom Blake-church-of-the-Open-Sky-variety.

But that opening ride, which left me grinning and hooting like a drunk gibbon put all the rest of Hynd’s justifications and deliberations on free friction into sharp, visceral focus. Finless surfing feels damn good, like the first time you slid across a wave, or kissed a girl.

Let’s stop here to draw a quick sketch of the man. He’s small and wiry, with sharp, bird-like features dominated by a hooked nose and brown eyes that can droop at the corners, making him look sad and world-weary at times. Picture Bob Dylan in 1975 minus the eye makeup, and you’re in the ballpark. On a wave he looks younger, like a young girl, as his chief disciple, Richard Tognetti, describes him. Youth is a central tenet of the Hynd religious doctrine. “Outlasting the bastards,” Terry Fitzgerald calls it. Hynd is 54 and he claims finless surfing is making him age in reverse—a reverse-aging, finless religion. Stranger cults have caught on. But not many.

This Hyndian religion sure is a strange old beast to classify. It’s far more than Free Friction…and it’s no religion of mercy, I’ll tell you that for free. It’s an unrelenting and prolonged derangement of the senses catalyzed by long-distance night drives between surf spots, anti-corporate rants, stream-of-consciousness historical analyses that intersect with current events, minimalism with respect to food, sleep, and stimulants, sharp and angular criticism of our dystopian realities, brutally unambiguous judgments about everything and everyone in the surf culture (he’s doing it right now, as he reads this!), and surfing. Relentless driving and hunting for surf. Hynd’s spartan surf program would leave a 20-year-old hipster in the dust, gasping for a soy macchiato.

We left Byron Bay at 2:30 a.m. deep in the warm, black throat of night to pounce on the dawn patrol at Noosa. We’re in Hynd’s car with the wipers working hard through rain squalls, smudging the unending lights of the Gold Coast’s line of late-night gas stations and strip malls into a garbled blur. Conformity and commodification are at their zenith here; this is the logical end result of the kind of herd thinking Hynd instinctively despises. As if in revolt to this mind-numbing vista, Hynd leans over to me and in a conspiratorial whisper and says, “Imagine Steve, it’s, say, 1954 and surfing’s growing. The cities and counties are aware of this growing bohemia. Just imagine if one of these bohemians had convinced someone in a city or county to build a club on the beachfront so that these bohemians could continue to live off the coast and create a really nice vibe for the city or county. Imagine if just one county had done that: at Malibu or Windansea or somewhere like that. If that had started and grown from county to county, this whole surf culture coulda been, to this day…cool. Where it’s purely communal. Can you flash on that?”

For a moment I did flash on it. I saw Tommy Zahn and Pete Peterson, Simmons (with a constant trail of orange peel around him), Joe Quigg, Kivlin. Board design advancing at breakneck speed. Later, Pat Curren bringing fresh lobster and beer. Then a drunk Butch Van Artsdalen stumbling all over the joint, picking a fight. Dora, burning the building down in a fit of self-righteous rage. This is the reality Hynd dreams of, and believes can still be possible.

Have you got a thought picture about this guy now? Do you still think he’s some grumpy irrelevant throwback, some terminally bored aging iconoclast who should shuffle off stage left and accept reality? Or one of surfing’s few free-thinkers—a modern-day savant? Do you see this finless surfing thing and think, like I once did, “What a f–king waste of time!” To put it in the words of new iconoclast Lewis Samuels: “What we’re left with, once you remove the novelty, is the obvious: good surfers handicapping themselves via the use of dysfunctional equipment.” Which was exactly my position right up to the moment of catching that first wave at Noosa. But that is no more the case. Not even close.


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