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Design Forum: Thomas Surfboards Step-up Twin Keel Fish

Noosa’s Thomas Bexon is putting two fins where they’ve rarely gone before

Noosa-based shaper Thomas "Doc" Bexon has been cranking out heaps of twin-fin fishes lately. There's a resurgence going on, according to Bexon, as the speedy, retro design--previously the preferred shortboard of the alternative-surf crowd--has returned to prominence under the feet of high-performance inclined freesurfers like Asher Pacey, Ryan Burch, and Bexon's longtime test rider, Harrison Roach.

"I did quite a few [twin-fins] right when I started shaping in 2002 or 2003, but it was always for the alternative or longboard crowd," Bexon remembers. "I'm doing more than I've ever done now. And this time around, there are guys who've never ridden anything but thrusters who are ordering them."

With high-performance shortboards shrinking in length and expanding in width over the last half-decade, Bexon believes that the design of the twin/fish has become more palatable to the shortboard-centric crowd, especially given the twin's inherent qualities-sustained speed, relative looseness, etc.

"For the high-performance guys I think it's appealing to have something that goes fast without having to work that hard for it," he says. "Just that fish feel--you get going so fast and so easily, and that speed carries so well. It's just a different, fun feeling."

Master Byron Bay shaper Dain Thomas introduced Bexon to flat, wide, Steve Lis-inspired dual fin, swallow-tailed crafts in the early 2000s. Bexon's spent the years since tinkering with the design, assimilating input from various sources, such as San Diego twin-fin master Rich Pavel and Queensland surfer-shaper Neil Purchase.

Harrison Roach. Photo: Hawkins

But while many are slowly catching on to the twin’s potential as a grovel-y alternative to traditional thrusters, Bexon and his merry band of experimentalists have been pushing the design into places where two fins have rarely gone before.

Roach, along with fellow Noosa stylist and Deus team rider Zye Norris, recently experimented with step-up versions of Bexon's twin-keel designs in nearly maxed-out surf at Nias. And the results have opened a Pandora's box of potential for twin keel crafts, long considered simply small-wave boards.

Riding stretched-out versions of Bexon's traditional twin-keel fishes on a recent strike mission, Norris and Roach were able to pull deep into the famed Indonesian reef-pass verdant caverns. Tucking just under the lip at critical moments, the duo took advantage of the flat, dual-finned designs' predilection for speed, racing through and out of 8-foot-plus tubes.

"These were really the first ones we did and they worked unreal," Bexon says of the performance of the step-up twins at Nias. "The idea was to have a twin-fish with a little more paddle power, a little more hold. So we thought just stretch it out and make it narrower. We played around and talked about it for six months or so. I'm pretty stoked it worked first go [laughs]."

In an approach similar to what one would do for a step-up thruster, working from Roach's preferred twin dims (5'2" X 20 ¼"), Bexon lengthened and narrowed the outline for the step-up twin to 5'6" X 19 3/8". With a narrower tail, Bexon says the resulting board has qualities quite similar to how a '70s era single-fin would perform in a steep, hollow wave.

Shaper Thomas Bexon. Photos: Hawkins

"In a wave like [Nias], you're definitely only on that inside rail," he says. "If you split [the step-up twin], you basically have a '70s single-fin outline. Of course, you have that big keel fin to hold [the board] in. But the biggest benefit is that you are riding a smaller board that can fit in under the lip, rather than a 7-foot single-fin where you've got to get in early and bottom turn. The smaller board acts more like a shortboard where you can hold a line straight away. Plus you have that [twin fin-inspired] rail line and rocker line that goes real fast."

Congruent with Bexon's length-and-width-adjustments, he added another inch and a quarter of nose rocker and a quarter-inch of lift in the tail. The board's bottom contour stays true to the time-tested single-to-slight double-vee. He added a few extra liters of volume to enhance paddling power. And to keep the proportions similar to his traditional Twin Fish [one of Bexon’s models], Bexon also moved the fins forward half an inch and drew a deeper swallow.

As for fins, Bexon sought a neutral hold for his step-up design and chose keels with a 70/30 foil, rather than the flat-foiled keels he'd used to make his traditional Twin Fish surf more vertically.

"With the single-foil, you get added drive because of the opposing forces of the fin [foil on one side and flat edge on the other]. With the small wave ones, we were doing single foil fins to give it a more high-performance feel," he says. "But with the bigger ones, where you aren't turning as much or trying to surf it off the tail, after to talking to [Ryan Burch], we decided a 70/30-foil would provide more hold. The step-ups are meant to be more of a down-the-line, get-tubed kind of board. We wanted it to feel more neutral and not have that push from the fin trying to go up or slide down the face.

Bexon says he didn't tweak the rails too much for the step-up version, sticking with a low, box-y performance shortboard rail that he'd adapted from a classic Pavel Fish shape. While there is an edge toward the back third of the rail, Bexon left it softer, surmising that it would allow the board more hold in steeper surf.

"There are so many variables, it's ridiculous," Bexon laughs. "We might try to do lighter ones, but then again, the boys have been snapping them quite a bit. Overall I think we're just waiting for another good opportunity to give them another go. So far, I'm just so stoked they seem to work."

[Mantle image: Harrison Roach. Photo by Hawkins]