Professional Surfer/Father
CJ Hobgood, standing tall on his quad in Fiji. Photo: ASP/Kirstin

CJ Hobgood, standing tall on his quad in Fiji. Photo: ASP/Kirstin

The Inertia

I want to pose a question to you. Why did Joel Parkinson change from a quad to a thruster between the semifinals and the finals at the Oakley Pro Bali?

I’ll tell you my theory, but a little later on. I also rode a quad at the event, only I was on it for the entirety of the contest. Before I let you in on my theory, I want to talk about why I believe that, right now, we’re in the age of fins.

Each year, the level of surfing on Tour improves. Rookies come out with new tricks, which forces the older guys to look a little different, create some hype, and effectively hold off the new crop.

Around five years ago, Mick Fanning introduced the “Workout/Coach Era.” It not only upped his surfing considerably, but it also created hype around this approach. It paid off in spades – leading to two World Titles and a huge shift in how surfers approached the sport. Other professionals bought into his theory as well: Damien and I began traveling with our coach and trainer, Chris Gallagher, Parko was with Luke Egan and Wes Berg, just to name a few.

And then Kelly Slater showed up at Pipe on a lunch tray. In bombing Pipe, Kelly was riding a 5’ 10″ fish, which completely changed the way the world saw surfboards and the waves they were built for. It brought length to the forefront of the shaping world and created that oh-so-important hype. There were times when, especially on his backhand in mushy waves, those little boards didn’t do him any favors, but it took a trained eye to notice. That was a sacrifice that Kelly was willing to make. And you know what? It worked. The hype was created and the five wise men (the judges) bought into it as well. The result? Kelly ran out of fingers to count his world titles on.

Last year, when most people had settled into a happy medium between their lunch tray fishes and the standard short boards, the next frontier opened up. It was the fins. It really started with Kelly a few years prior to that, but it took a few years to really catch on with some of the guys on tour. Last year, in the 2012 Billabong Pro Tahiti, we saw what was probably the first final where both competitors (Mick Fanning and Joel Parkinson) were on quads. I feel like most of us know that quads work great in the barrel, and the theory has been tried and proven.

Now that the stage has been set, I want to talk about my theory. Quads, thrusters, nubsters, FCSII and Origins all produced what I like to call “The Fin Years.”

New technology paired with some of the best surfers figuring out what their quads can and can’t do on an open face is changing the whole game.

Kelly rewrote the book on backside surfing out at Cloudbreak with his 5′ 9″ epoxy quad, and now nearly all boards come with thruster and quad setups. Heck, if it works for Kelly, why can’t I implement a little of that?

Snapper came around, and I was on my backhand. I thought Kelly did most of his ripping on quads on his backhand, so I gave it a go. I didn’t make too many heats and got a 13th, but bagged a bunch of 8s and was surfing faster – not exactly surfing better, but it was different enough to make a few people notice. I did the same thing at Bells: I rode a quad the whole event, surfed a little faster on the open face and bagged a bunch of 8s and got a 9th. People took notice, telling me that I was surfing better. I didn’t have the heart to tell them, no, I am not surfing better, just a little quicker, especially off the top.

My theory houses two sub-theories both having to do with quads. 1) They love point breaks going one direction on your backhand, and 2) the more speed you are able to maintain throughout the ride, the better they feel.

That brings us to Fiji. I talked to Kelly about the theories I was forming, and the fact that I didn’t have much success on my forehand while riding a quad on Cloudbreak’s open face. I did, however, try out the nubsters 4.5 setup, and it felt great, so I rode it in a few heats. In the end though, Kelly ended up dominating again on his quad.

Then we had Bali. As long as it was barreling, Parko’s boards looked great. If he kept his speed up, his first turn on exiting the barrel looked great. On examining waves that allowed him multiple turns, things would get drastically worse. At Keramas, the end of the wave gets really weak, and your speed drops. Because of this feature and his choice of board, most of his higher scores came from barrels. But what if there weren’t any barrels? What if the wave lost a bit of energy and it became a turn-fest? That’s when the sacrifice would be too much and Parko would have to return to a thruster. An ability to experiment with boards and fins and learn from those experiments is one of the biggest advantages someone can have over his opponent.

Some of the best surfers in the world continue to experiment with fins to give themselves an advantage and create hype and catch the judges’ eyes. Taj, someone so dedicated to his fin set up, strayed from the glass-on feeling and went from fixed fins to Origins and FCSII at the beginning of the year hoping that it would give him a different look and catch the judges’ eyes.

These are exciting times with advancements in fin technology, and the best surfers are figuring out exactly which moments call for which fins systems and fins setups. Ultimately, this work will open up avenues for the recreational surfer and give them more knowledge so they can have more fun in the water. The catalyst that brought this to my attention was joining the Finatic™ Fin Testing Program™ last year. What really got me excited was realizing every surfer could get their hands on every set of fins and experiment with their surfing just like the pros. Stay tuned to see what surfers are riding in Tahiti. Will the surfer who experiments with their fins the rest of the year be the one who claims the ultimate prize in surfing – a World Title?


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