With the invention of the thruster fin setup, surfers could get a combination of the drive of a single fin with the ability to break the tail out and arrest their speed on the face of a wave. Aerial maneuvers were tried, scoffed, and are now pushing beyond what was thought possible. Boards got smaller as surfing’s popularity grew, sparking a boom in shortboard production that culminated in equipment that was so short and thin it was barely rideable outside of the elite circuit of professionals.
This part of the story is pretty well established: Surfboards went from planks, to shortboards, to aerial surfing with the advent of the Thruster. But to say that the current era of surfing started in 1981 with Simon Anderson’s invention of the three fin setup is to disregard the sea change that is currently underway in surfboard design. In many ways we are at a new dawn of surfing.
Surfing has managed to avoid the hyper-scienceification of other sports like Formula-1 or downhill ski racing, and part of the reason is that surfing isn’t judged in milliseconds, and part of it is because of the amorphous and still not completely understood world of hydrodynamics. What’s more, surfing is a dance; a subjective experience, with each rider’s body and needs asking different things from their equipment. Oh, and the equipment is still hand-made (for the most part). So while a quality, consistent wave like Rincon helps shapers and surfers get on the same page, the art of riding waves is still being explored and expanded upon.
Surfboard shaping has come a long way since the earliest planks, but in many ways it seems to just be hitting its stride. What some surfers can do with surfing as an aerial sport seems to be beyond physics. But other ways of looking at wave-riding is causing another shift, and it's happening in real time. Many older shapes are now being revisited and rethought, bringing a scientific approach to 60’s and 70’s intuition. Today’s boards are all about where the foam is, and perhaps more importantly, today's boards are really about how the surfer wants to ride them.