There's something about a twin-fin surfboard that just feels right. In the water as the rider draws a racy line or in the racks of your local surf shop just begging for a test-drive, twin-fins have a certain magnetism that perhaps no other fin configurations do. Thrusters, sure, they're the cream of the performance crop and make every surfer better and blah blah blah. But there's a certain feeling, a certain flow, that has made twinnies an increasingly popular choice for a daily driver.
Once you get to your feet on a twin-fin, the appeal is obvious—pure speed. Without the drag of a center fin, the planing surface of a twin-finned board squirts over sections of wave face like greased lightning. Small waves become more fun, big waves become a white-knuckle thrill ride, gutless waves of any size seem to have more pop. This is why twin-fins persist in a world of high-performance thrusters and quads.
In a way, this is what Bob Simmons, the inventor of multi-finned boards, was trying to accomplish way back in the 1940s when he first started thinking beyond one big skeg. Sure, his slapping of two fins on planing hull boards mostly made from balsa wood might seem crude today, but he was onto something with the twin-fin, way, way before other board builders started toying with multi-finned craft. "Surfcraft" author and surfboard historian Richard Kenvin is a fount of knowledge when it comes to alternative board designs—what makes them tick and where they came from—so we reached out to him to help trace the twin-fin's lineage from their early experimental days to today's 21st-century performance wizards.
"Simmons came up with the twin-fin on his planing hull for a reason," says Kenvin. "He did it so that you just go rail-to-rail and with the fin way out on the rail so that it's functioning. You're
getting the most bang for your buck from simply a lifting rail to transition from one to the other."
For Kenvin, it's impossible to not see elements of Simmons' early work with two fins in modern twinnies. Whether it's a wide fish shape for free-flowing arcs or a stream-lined planing hull with two fins built for serious speed and performance, the basic principles of all two-finned craft are shared, and ultimately stem from the mind of Simmons. "It gives you this thing that everyone enjoys and you find in common in all twin-fins, which is this really fast, fun, rail-to rail type of board."
Though Simmons was working with these boards in the '40s, they didn't really enter the surfing world's consciousness until kneeboarder Steve Lis started getting crazy deep barrels on twin-finned kneeboards at San Diego reefbreaks in the early 1970s. His "fish" shape eventually branched out through a complex web of surfer connections.
Australia's Mark Richards is probably the stand-up surfer most-widely recognized as the first to really blow minds on the twin-fin, showing what the board was capable of in good surf in the late '70s and early '80s. But it was Hawaii's Reno Abellira who first inspired Richards when he showed up at an Australian competition in 1976 on a 5’3″ twin-fin that screamed in small waves. Richards,
a large man, was looking for any advantage he could get in waves that offered little punch. He'd worked with legendary shaper Dick Brewer on boards in Hawaii and wondered about the possibility
of ramping up twin-fins to work in surf large and small. Richards figured it out and started building slightly-elongated versions that worked everywhere, including larger surf on the North Shore and in overhead racetracks at J-Bay.
The twin-fin train seemingly derailed in 1981 with the arrival of the thruster, but a cadre of alternative board-riding ascetics kept the twin alive, albeit far in the rearview of the mainstream tri-fin. In the mid-'90s, surf films like Andrew Kidman's "Litmus" and …Lost's "5’5″x 19 ¼”" helped spark a renewed interest in alternative designs, which pried open the door for what we see today: surfers riding twin-fins in just about any surf imaginable, from 1-foot slop to overhead barrels to building-sized slabs at Mavericks.
Just watch surfers today like Torren Martyn, Ryan Burch or Asher Pacey, just to name a few, and you can see that there's really no reason twin-fins can't coexist in a radical future alongside thrusters.
"The performance base is so high for guys like that, they're able to take twin-fin designs to levels that previous generations couldn't because they just weren't there yet; they were still pioneering the things," says Kenvin.
A truly timeless creation, the twin-fin refuses to fade away. It can't help but endure because the design is simply too fun. The following gallery is a celebration of the twin-fin, a look at where it's been and where it can ultimately go.
David Nuuhiwa (above) was a standout South Bay surfer when the twin-finned fish first started to surface in San Diego in the late 1960s. Though he'd been untouchable on traditional longboards and was one of the best noseriders of his day—or any other for that matter—Nuuhiwa was also an early adopter of the twin-fin shortboard, turning heads when he publicly debuted the design in the 1972 World Championships in San Diego. Nuuhiwa grew up surfing small, finless paipo boards in Hawaii, and knew what a short and maneuverable board could do in lackluster surf—an advantage Kenvin wishes more pros would tap into today.
"I watch events all the time in bad surf, and I think, 'This would be so much more fun if they were surfing a twin-fin or a planing hull or something,'" says Kenvin. "I feel like performance would open up more in those sort of transitiony, weak waves, and those conditions would be more exciting for everybody."
"Twin-fins have never really faded out," Kenvin explains. "The design keeps coming back, so, who knows what the future holds but. They're being surfed to higher and higher levels every year."
Dave Rastovich (above) has been an alternative shape enthusiast for two decades now, even though when he first set out in his competitive career, he surfed with as much cutting-edge performance as anyone. Better than most, Rasta figured out long ago how to blend the past and the present, as he shows here in a massive, twinnie-powered frontside boost during a 2006 boat trip in Indonesia.
"The story with Reno Abellira and Mark Richards was that Reno had gone to a short, really wide little fish for the 1976 Coke contest in Australia," Kenvin says. "He did really well and that's what caught Mark Richards' eye—he saw what those boards could do in competition. There's a definite bridge between Reno's twin fins and MR being inspired to use them as his contest solution."
Fast forward 4 years and Richards is pictured here at the 1980 Stubbies event at Burleigh Heads, putting a squirty, refined twin-fin through its paces. The looseness and maneuverability of the twinnie helped Richards, a bigger man than most of the surfers he competed against, surf lively in the broken-up point surf of the contest, where he was captured in one of the most iconic twin-fin surf images of all time.
"You're automatically gonna have less drag on a twin-fin because you don't have a center fin," says Kenvin. "And you've got your directional stabilizer, the fin, right next to the rail, so you're going rail-to-rail with planing surface in between. You're getting all that lift off the rail when you're burying it, and all that squirt with the fin right there on the rail without any drag."
The sheer speed possible on twin-fins is why they're so damn fun to ride. Often with a wider template, they can be easier to catch waves on, more forgiving than twitchy, narrow thrusters, and easier to get up to speed. Then, when it's time to bleed off that velocity, that fin is right there on the rail to help dig into a meaty section. Dave Rastovich (above) gives a little tutorial.
"I think when we look at surfing today, one of the best things about the twin-fin is that there are so many cool things about different twin-fin boards that are appealing for so many different reasons to so many different surfers," says Kenvin.
Ryan Burch (above), the pied piper of today's vanguard of self-shaping, anything-but-the-standard-thruster aficionados, and a descendant of Simmons' planing hull experimentation, has long favored the freedom of a small twin-fin, even in high-quality surf. As high-velocity arcs like this show, a good surfer isn't limited in the slightest bit by ditching the middle fin. Whether he's riding a long fish or a disc-like pumpkin seed of a board, Burch is a convincing evangelist of the twin-fin's flowy nature.
"I think lots of guys today will take twin-fin designs much further down the road as far as performance goes," says Kenvin. "They're so experienced with so many different boards these days they can just take any and every kind of design to the next level."
Bryce Young, another acolyte of the "Ride Anything" movement, shows (above) that small twin-fin shapes work just fine in the kinds of hollow, challenging waves that for decades would have had most surfers opting for pintails and semi-guns. A willingness to experiment and an insatiable appetite for different sensations, surfers like Young have blown open the boundaries and expectations for where and how twin-finned designs can be ridden.