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 dougal walker : the tri-fin, 1981 

Dougall Walker: The Tri-fin- Did God mean it to be?

May 1981  Number 128, page 16.
The first entry in a four page design feature titled Australian Unorthodox : The Religion of Oz Design.
Published three months after Nick Carroll's article on Simon Anderson's Thruster  in Tracks Number 125, Dougal Walker notes the rapid application of the design by shapers such as Ronnie Woodward at Hot Buttered Surfboards and other top riders, including Tom Carroll and Mike Newling.
Note that in the same issue, Phil Byrne writes that
ardent single fin rider, Tom Carroll has been tempted by his clinker-bottom twin fin boards.

Other contributors are 
Terry Fitzgerald, Rod Hocker, Geoff McCoy, Michael Rae, Phil Byrne, and Col Smith (Newcastle).
See below.

1. Thruster



Dougall Walker

2. Simon Thrusting

The reason for the birth of the trl-fin is easy to see.
Twin fins are great for small waves, being fast and manoeuvrable, but when put into tight spots on larger waves they become hard to control and subject to spinning out.

Single fins are the answer to the problem of power control, but are limited in their small wave performance.
This is proved time and time again in high-level competition.

So the answer, you might say, is to ride a twin fin in small surf and a single in large; but if you try to put this into practice (as I have for the past six years), you will find it is about as easy to adjust to the difference as it is to surf with a broken leg.
The solution is a combination of the two - the tri-fin.

Although the idea of three fins is not a new one, the concept of having both twin fin speed and single fin stability sharing equal prominence is a direction which, for some unknown reason, had never been tried before.
In the past, three-finned boards had always been made with a normal single fin paralleled by two very small fins on each rail, or by a twin fin with one baby fin on the tail as a stabilizer.

Simon Anderson's ideas on the tri- fin were totally different.
He wanted a board that would generate speed and manoeuvres as well as being able to get into the critical positions that Anderson is renowned for.

The ensuing result was a board which, to be quite honest, looked different if not weird.
Many people at this stage, including myself, were sceptical, saying that it was just a gimmick and could not possibly work.
Many reasons for its probable failure were put forward such as "creating drag" and "being too stiff" but once Simon was seen riding his new brainchild most critics were made to eat their words.

But still doubt remained as to how well the average surfer would perform on the new design as it is common knowledge that Simon is not exactly an average surfer and it may have been that a surfer of less power and agility would not have the same success.

I, along with a few of Simon's friends from Narrabeen, decided it was worth a go.
I rode Simon's board a couple of times and found it to be extremely fast but the board was made for a chap Simon's size rather than little twelve-stone me.

I was interested enough to take Simon's idea to my own shaper, the number one seed at the Hot Buttered factory, Ronnie Woodward.
We decided to stick with Simon's basic planshape as well as fin size and placement, but to scale the whole board down somewhat.
This board is 6'1" by 19 3/4", a winged squaretail.

My first surf on this board was memorable -4-5' lefts.
Within two or three waves I seemed to have
  adjusted to it and then started experimenting.
I found I was able to stand with my back foot over the twin fins and get great drive in my bottom turns and cutbacks then being able to move my back foot to just in front of the back fin and being able to make radical but controlled directional changes in hollow sections or coming off the top.
This board I found to be a little less manoeuvrable than a twin fin but definitely looser than a single and the problem of tail drift found in twins was eliminated.
Others who had tried the experiment were also pleased and the improvement in their surfing was obvious.
Gradually tri-fins began to spring up in surfing "hotspots" such as Narrabeen, Newport and Manly, in a similar fashion as twin fins did just before "twin fin madness" hit a couple of years ago.
I was quite content to stick with this board and not experiment any more but this was changed when it hit a telegraph pole at 50 miles an hour after I had carelessly tied it to the car roof with just a leg rope.
"Lifeline" was all that stopped me from doing myself in.

The next tri-fin I had made was directed for use in small waves with more thickness in the tail and less nose area.
It was excellent in small waves but the extra area and thickness in the tail had shortcomings in larger waves.

For this reason I had a rounded pin tail shaped with less area in the tail than my previous tri-fins.
I found it performed very similar to a single fin except with greater manoeuvring speed.
I have ridden tri-fins in waves ranging from 1-8' but I believe they are most advantageous in the 3-6' range.
I feel to ride waves of 8' or bigger the reliable single fin is the only equipment to use but I find that the tri-fln is the best board for all- round conditions and with continuing experimentation within the industry it has the potential to make the same impact on surfing as the twin fin revolution of the late 70's.

With surfers such as Simon Anderson, Tom Carroll and Mike Newling surfing and ripping on tri-fins I think that potential Is definitely there.

Dougall Walker

1. Thruster
Photograph: Peter Simons

2. Simon Thrusting
Photograph: Chris Elfes.

Back cover of Tracks October 1981

Piping Hot Wetsuits
Simon Anderson, the winner '81 Bells, '81 Surfabout surfing in Piping Hot.

Illustrating the effectiveness of his design, Simon's the outside rail fin is clear of the wave while the two other fins are proving excellent control on this Narrabeen (?) wave.
To be picky, the
extra point of stability of the very stylish left arm drag is slightly cheating.

May 1981
Number 128.

Australian Unorthodox : The Religion of Oz Design

Dougal Walker : The Tri-Fin - Did God Mean It To Be?

Terry Fiztgerald : Drifta III

Rod Hocker : Conaves and Fin Boxes

Geoff McCoy: Design

Mitchell Rae: Tails

Phil Byrne: Clinker Bottoms

Col Smith: Conaves
home catalogue history references appendix

Geoff Cater (2000-2021) : Dougall Walker : Tri-Fin, 1981.