Single Fin Surfboard - 'Big Red is Dead'
Single Fin Surfboard shaper and surfer Terry Fitzgerald of Hot Buttered Surfboards tells of the development and destruction of one of his Drifta proto-types surfed through the late 70's and early 80's developing single fin, side fin and wing combinations for high performance wave-riding. (Check out the Single Fin and Drifta models in Terry's Rainbow Original Surfboards)
'Big Red is Dead' Story by Terry Fitzgerald
It’s not morbid interest, but, maybe good, educational, writing that can be found in obituaries. The more appealing are those that use pathos while underlining performance. Marrying personality with cult status. Pointing out peccadillos amidst chronological fact. A straight obit can be pretty dry, but, as boomers on the backside of the slope, emotive connection with the subject matter makes a lot of life’s stories interesting.
Kye didn’t tell me about Big Red for a few days after the break, he wisely waited until the pictures turned up and then let me find them, realising the end result was the death of an old friend, to all of us. I didn’t exactly chase him around the carpark (it’s not like I haven’t broken a few over the years), but, I was just a bit bummed, at first…..
After accepting the fact that another one had bitten the dust, I thought about mirroring an obit and writing up Big Red. You know how they go, born August 1980, surfed Narrabeen mostly, with highlighted travels to Africa and Tahiti. Spawned from a generation of Drifta models and tried vainly to compete with MR and Simon. Died August 2006. I don’t know whether I could be that detached however, filling in the gaps with anecdotal memory. But, Big Red is a story to be told, and pictures to be shown
The whole Drifta thing was a design divergence in the hunt for a combination of speed and points per turn. Moves to match MR’s twinnies and Simon’s thruster. Derek Hynd was HB’s twin fin master, DH’s narrow tailed thin nosed twin fins allowed him to surf on edge and hold speed, vertical and down the line. Frank Williams was our production shaper at the time, Frank had been fiddling with third fin stabilisers on his twinfin, which Derek (and Derek’s late career shaper Ronnie Woodward) picked up on. My tri tangent was a little more offbeat….harkening back to the single fin/trailer side fin concept that Brewer shaped and the Chapman’s surfed in the early 70s. All the above options featured variable fin sizes in various three fin configurations. It was Simon who turned on the lights by making three fins all the same size.
So, with MR flitting all over the face, Simon going vert and laying back, what was a poor boy to do? To hold onto some individual space in that competitive race? Trawl the memory banks and look for something better…..drift!
At the time (the late 70’s), needle nose boards were injuring kids, there was even a move to ban ridiculously sharpened noses. Of course the purists all got their knickers in a knot, but, the jump to safety was too easy, by simply rounding off noses. Which also made a lot of design sense when 3, 4, 5 inches were lopped off….keeping the hips and width of a (say) 6’3, but, lopping and rounding the nose, voilá, you have a shorter board with no nose weight, that can be stood up, vertical with less effort….but, still hold longer board lines on the rail….strike 1.
By taking the old double wing swallow tail templates and widening the front wing the boards had impressive planing area, speeding over flat spots and skating down the line. In stepping down real tail width with two wings, the narrowed tail held in when it mattered. By pinching the wings, they would bite deep into the wall, keep you high on the face where gravity and wave speed provide the power….strike 2.
Ten years of concave work provided the engine room…single concave under the front foot – lean forward and accelerate, double under the back - lean back and turn.
All that planning area allowed speed set-ups which could be ridden as almost a slide, controlled, waiting for the fins to kick in and drive, drifting, down the line, through bottom turns, setting up for the punch and side fin controlled pivots….strike 3.
So how to keep these suckers in the water? Simple, a wide based single fin (straight out of a Sunset gun from 1975) and two smaller trailer fins focused on the front wing release points. Couple of flutes through the second wing to channel water into the narrow swallow and what have you got…..a triple latte double flat caramel shot mongrel mix that was love at first sight…..hey, this board was so weird (quote JF) it even had the foil on the side fins reversed….flat on the oustside foiled on the inside (and it worked)…..strike 4, and not out!
Big Red was my number 8 in the series. Shaped in August 1980 (my template says so). It held the battle against Simon’s Thrusters for about six and a half minutes and sadly to say ended up on top of the shaping bay with one of its brothers. Until…..
Kye and Joel did some single fin surfing for a mag shoot about five years ago . You know the sort of thing, young smartypants editor dragging out old single fins, trying to show the way things used to be. But, something stuck for the boys when they rode those things. Then Joel re-birthed Big Red in a retro add shoot…..
And so, after Liam’s accident, we went off to Africa, the boys took a quiver of the oldies but goodies. And rode Jeffreys like those old boards were made for the place (which they were). Anyway, K and J kept surfing the bloody things at home….and hounding me for new replicas. And, yes, I’m guilty of wallowing a bit in the glory of my old boards getting a re-run. There is definitely a heap of satisfaction in seeing 25 year old boards tearing it up. There was even a WQS at Northie, KF made the quarters and Joel the semis, riding Big Red and ol’ Yella…..
I guess I should have made the boys new boards sooner though, That may have stopped the abuse of all that old fibreglass, shrunken foam and triple patched rails. Then again, imagine if you were an old board that had been resurrected, would you have handled being put back on the shaping bay roof with a bunch of broken and tired old relics? Worse than an old people’s home! Or, would you rather go out with your boots on, getting barrelled?
Big Red died in a beach break tube…on a crisp clear spring morning, with an offshore blowing and nobody out. Kye buried Big Red in a poetic end.
Big Red is Dead….Long Live Big Red.