Glass on fins vs. removables

I was at the Boost Mobile Pro today and noticed that most of the pros are using glass on fins. Is there that big of a difference? It is my understanding that the biggest demand for removable fins was actually from surf shop owners who wanted to be able to hold more boards, not from consumers. Granted, having FCS, etc. would be good for traveling, but how often do most surfers have to fly anywhere, once or twice a year (at the most) and in my case, about every other year (Hawaii) and then I usually rent boards because the selection is so good and it’s cheaper than paying 80 bucks each way to ship boards on the plane. I digress. So, what is your opionion on glass on fins? I think I’m going to go with them from now on. Reminds me of the good old days.

Fairmont, Are you asking about shortboard or longboard fins? Shortboard surfing I don’t know much about. But with longboards: I’d never buy or make one without removable fins. My reasons are these: I’ve made some boards that I surfed for a while, gotten the board dialed in, then decided to try another fin, or put in the side-bites. In some cases it felt like I was surfing a completely different board. My favorite 9’6" pintail went from a fun ride, but with average speed and drive in turns, to a fast, hold-it’s-speed-in-turns board. The only thing I did was change the center fin from a 9" Dobson to a 9" Guy Takayama Orca. My experience with my boards has been that there is a right fin for each board, and it may not be the one someone has pre-chosen for you. I would recommend that you try several until you find the one that works best for your board. Glass-on’s look great, but that’s all you get.

Yes it’s true that most of the pro’s use glass ons but there are significant reasons that don’t even relate to performance. Companies that make fin systems are another entity to be sponsored by, and are as intense about their fins as the board sponsor is. Many of the fin systems have idiosyncracies in peformance due mainly to the fin and not the system. The lack of money paid to the surfers (barring the top few) and the strong desire by the fin maker to push their new concept ends up making those top pros steer away from them altogether. They are almost phobic about it now. However, the most popular fin maker to the pros by far is greg Trotter from the central coast of New South Wales in Australia. New technology is being used by many of the fin makers to create lightweight high performance fins but there is a balance to be sought. He so far has the right resin to glass ratio,for perfect flex and the most imaculate foils and planshapes, and they are the perfect weight too. (he was a very good shaper a decade or two ago). Higher glass to resin ratios lack the feel of Greg’s Soar fins(they actually started in Japan and greg took the licence to australia and got them even better. These fins may be available in FCS soon, I have some sets of the Mick Fanning inspired tempalte, and a refined version of the Dahlberg template. In 2 sizes each. In fact, if your FCS plugs are put in well, these may even be better than the glass on version, because they have had no chance to be altered by the process of fixing them to the board. ie the fin job guy and the sander are certainly altering the bottom half a bit. I dont know what the situation with Soar fins and FCS so i can’t tell you where to get them. Greg Webber

Matt has some good points. But, I think in addition to what Matt said, pro’s have access to far more boards than the average surfer. They can get venue specific boards from local shapers. They go with disposable glass schedules for that extra half ounce of weight savings. What do they care. It just needs to make it through the contest. And with a quiver in the wings that’s not even absolutely necessary. But, the most surfers only have a few boards at their disposal. Fin systems expand the range of each of the boards they have available. Adjustable fin systems actually allow surfers to tune their boards to specific conditions and various types of breaks. Now an adjustable fin system that has the same base stability or better than glass ons exactly what we designed Red X to be.

My personal feeling, and I’ve written much on this, is that most pro’s go where they can get sponsorship money. GW mentioned this above and it’s true. But also there is the experience most pro’s have had with removable fins and that has been mostly tabbed systems (FCS). More and more you are seeing tabbed systems give way in favor of full base systems which give a much truer line through turns when loaded. Glass ons give this true line as well but do have disadvantages, some of which, again, GW alluded to above. Not mentioned though is the significant amount of drag that is produced buy the fin base fillets. The primary advantage in removables is still the ability to change the fins therefore the performance aspects of the board. With the advent of better fin technology in the systems themselves, i.e., stiffer materials and better overall designs, I believe that the future definitely lies in the fin systems favor.

Yeah, totally agree, Greg, but a guy from Red-X,(sorry man, I think we’ve met) said something about pro surfers only needing a board to go thru one contest, well, most have a single favourite of many, which comes out less often to limit chance of breakage. This board is vital to their mental stability, before competing.(if they don’t have a fave then what you said does apply) Some prefer fixed fins precisely because they CAN’T change their fins around. It seems pathetic to us, but that mental state is probably the biggest thing for them when competing. Not condusive to experimentation, but that does push the shapers to make the most exciting boards possible that are also entirely predictable. And predictable doesn’t mean boring, they just don’t want to think about their board at all. Big ask, but I have found a design principle well known to the older shapers, that in really low volume boards, adds more of all the fun bits(speed, drive, response) as well as adding to the predictability (ie not just maintaining)Smoothness, with no bumps, breaks or bends, and a rocker that is derived from or reflective of the planshape. When this is all achieved, then only neutral fins are required.ie nothing that makes the fins more noticeable than the board…bummer for me too, cos that’s why the old curved fins I did got only afew takers at the top level…too wierd for competing on…now I am working on a lesser curve with normal planshape. Kieren Perrow is testing them. Oh yeah, just in case others wonder how I got my patent, when curved fins were around before, it is because it excludes part circular fins specifically, and only covers a parabolic type of curve. (expressed more broadly as you would expect) In fact, I asked my patent attorney to exclude part circular fins in the claims which is not normally done (ie saying what it doesn’t cover) but he found a way of including it in a brief. I did recieve a challange from a guy over here, but succeeded in having it registered in the US in that, as i expected, his prior art was part circular. Oddly enough he was trying to patent curved fins from a magazine article from 1974 (Breakaway) and even copied the photo off the board with fins, in a traced form. Whether his patent ever gets granted wasn’t the issue, of course, it’s just whether his disclosure of a similar thing created prior public knowledge. I have tested part circular fins too. All the way to a 1.5" side curve (ie when layed flat). They go alright when only very slight, about 1/4", but when bigger they develop massive lift from the bottom of the outide fin pretty much negating the bite of the inside fin. (just an aside, for any wierd designers out there I did a part circular board once with rocker and planshape, was terrible, thought it would be but just wanted to feel why) GW

Greg, Yeah we’ve met and why apologize. You did’nt disagree with me. I was just stating that with the resources that pro’s get for free(or at worst cost); it’s easier to have exactly the right setup for a given break without interchangable or movable fins. Not everyone has the resources or access to be able to afford that. And I totally agree with you that many pro-surfers don’t want to think about their boards. Unfortunately, it makes it difficult for you the shaper to draw from them what is magic about that one board they squirrel away for special events. And, almost impossible for the general public to determine what about a pro’s board would help them with their surfing. Confidence in your equipment is key for a positive mental approach to any competition. But, reliance to the point of superstition is detrimental. People should understand their equipment and what works best for them in which conditions. Also, this idea of saving an extra 1/4 ounce of weight, I believe, has been taken to an extreme.

Greg, you seem to be a well informed guy in general, but I have to disagree with this statement: Not mentioned though is the significant amount of drag that is produced by the fin base fillets. Fillets at the base of fins are streamlining, so they don’t cause drag, they reduce it.

This should be good. I can’t wait to see the responses…

I’ll go first… not that I was part of the discussion, but here’s 2 cents worth. It’s hard for me to see how putting a transition, or radius, from the flat of the board to the vertical of the fin is creating anything other than drag. With removable fin systems that radius is removed, allowing a flat surface for the board and the foil of the fin to stand alone. I don’t know hydrodynamics so maybe a 90 degree angle causes more turbulence and drag than a fillet. Logically though, it would seem that if the water must move around the fillet and over a curved surface, it would create additional drag. Same logic as the water moving around a rounded rail creates drag, not release. That’s my uneducated opinion. Eric J

Well here goes my opinion. I think that the fillet would allow the water to flow around the base of the fin and logically not release. Do we want to call this drag? Or shall we call it flow? Will it ever be noticed? Now here is another wrench in the works. Does the slot in the fin box cause more drag? Does the water flow over it and not into it? I remember in the late 60’s early 70’s W.A.V.E. Set fin boxes had plugs to prevent water from entering. How come no one does that now?

another thing to consider is that whoever puts the fin on and sands the board will likely change the finshape somehow i.e. the extra glass will add more fin area at the base. the sander can also change the shape of the fin. ive seen a few sanders take quite a bit off the trailing edge (at least 1/8th. how much all of this effects performance is tough to say.

…I was one that always said glass-ons rode better than any removable out there ,but that was before Red-X.Red-X out performs any other fin system out right,and by a long long margin.Extra wt??? not enough differences in wt. to even have this conversation about it.Herb

At the speeds a surfboard travels, it is unlikely that you would feel the fillet or lack of one (unless it was poorly foiled in which you would notice it very quickly). If you have a fairly sensitive short single fin with a long adjustable box, you will notice the effect of the slot. I cover mine up with clear packing tape trimmed to fit. It’ll last up to 6 months. I also use it to cover the side bites of a 2+1 when I ride it as a single fin. Cheap,and easy to work with…

Here comes my Two cents,When FCS first came in, l made myself a new board, it was just the usual of what l ride no changes eccept for the fins, now before this l had worked on my own fin templates to match my rockers, the hardest thing for me at that stage was to find a template that was similar to mine so that if guy’s wanted the system l could atleast recomend what fins to get but unless you charge them extra for the better made fins you have to give them these plastic peices of crap. That was my first dissapointment, basically l had to change my rockers to match their fins(and l thought that l was the “shaper”), the second was how it made the board feel in the water through turns. To me,and this is just what l felt when l surf removable fins, is that the board surfs flatter through turns because there is no curve at the base of the fin to help it roll over onto the rail and when pumping down the line they don’t seem to flow as good for the same reason l guess. I’m not saying that they are totally crap but give me my own templates and rockers any day, after all isn’t that what seperates us all and gives people change instead of trying to make us all surf the same and dictate what we ride. Sorry l think that was four cents worth.

Wow herb, bold statement. How about a list of the systems you’ve tried,with a blow by blow of excactly why you think red-x is way way better. In my experience,when people make that kind of claim, they’ve only tried one,or two(usually FCS) and can’t articulate why ones better than the other. Here’s your chance!

I saw a treaded insert that had pulled out of a redx side biter before it was even used. I’m sure it just slipped by quality control. the rep was notified for the answer.

HI Tom, I was only apologising for not remembering your name, are you still near the …lost factory? I’m shaping there for the next 2 days before flying out. Would be good to say hi…yours Greg W

…In the last 40 years I’ve used most every box built,including custom prototypes.The few I haven’t tried I have repaired several times,including lock box future,ofishl,on and on.Over the thousands of boxes I have fixed,I have only repaired one Red-x SIDE box,due to it flying off a car at 75mph. …Every box system I’ve tried in big waves (over 20’) wash out at the base.The Red-X has yet to do this. …Better yet STIL, ASK WHY Parsons or Flea use them. Herb

…Come surf with us over @ 21 Bolsa Chica tomorrow 9-14-03 Sunday morn.Herb will be there,and maybe you’ll understand why he is who he is.Mike