Single-fins are an integral part of a solid quiver because pocket surfing is the alpha and the omega of clean, stylish surfing. Nothing tunes up your style quicker than a solid week of single-fin surfing, where the end game revolves around finding, and not straying too far from, the power source. The single-fin is dead. Long live the single-fin.
A classic design that for a period of time was considered obsolete by the mainstream surf industry has been finding its way back into our quivers. For many pre-’80s generation surfers, it is a design that never left our hearts—an old flame. For a whole new generation of surfers, the mid- to late-’70s era single-fin is a voluptuous cougar—easy to get, but not easy to ride. The single-fin, newcomers are finding out, is fickle and demanding.
All it takes is a flashback to the pocket-surfing of Mike Ho, Larry Bertlemann, Shaun Tomson, Rabbit, and the greatest single-fin rider of them all, Buttons Kaluhiokalani (with a big shout out to Mark Liddell) for our imaginations to rekindle the magic of the single-fin. Recent ’70s-era films such Bustin’ Down the Door and the Hot Buttered Surfboard documentary titled Hot Buttered Soul have only helped to reignite the single-fin torch.
The modern single-fin employs all the latest bottom contours, refined rail structure, precision rockers, and new constructions techniques. Our trusty 6’6″ wing-pin looks as if it was featured in some sort of FOX reality TV show: 21st Century Surfboard Makeover. We left the clunky overweight beast in 1980, dinged, yellowed, and boxy. We’ve come back to them in the 21st century and they are sexy, sleek, and looking for a date.
Despite the upgrades, paddle out on a single-fin for the first time in a long time and reality sets in. They simply don’t perform in the same manner as the multitude of multi-finned boards that took her place. That’s not a bad thing; in fact, I’m here to tell you that that is exactly why a good single-fin is so special.
The power of a good single-fin is in its ability to temper an overzealous style and to reacquaint you with pocket of the wave. So much of our contemporary surfing on multi-finned boards takes place away from the power of the wave. We race out to the flats for our bottom turn or we run out on the shoulder for our cutback or we constantly look to take our board up high into the lip. Rarely do we stall mid-face and feel the trim of the rail line.
The single-fin demands that you get to know the wave before having your way with her. You must sit, in the pocket, in the juice, in the power, and wait for her to give you the speed. And this mid-face, power pocket-surfing allows your surfing to become more stylized. You are forced to work with the wave rather than against it. You must slow down, find the juice, and squeeze it and this is why a single-fin is good for your style. Ridden properly, single-fins make the wave give you the speed, not the board. And this, in small doses, does wonders for your surfing. When you do get back onto your multi-finned board, it is on.