This is a just-finished 5′.8″ classic-styled hollow wood twin-fin fish in Western Red Cedar and Obeche with real abalone inlays and custom-made glass-on fins. It’s a celebration of a surfboard shape that has endured for nearly 50 years.
Kneeboarder Steve Lis has been credited with the development of the twin keel fish, but as with any breakthrough there’s always some interesting background. So what’s in the history of this little board and why would you want to ride one? Why is it particularly suited to being made in wood?
Australian website Surf Research takes the twin fin back to a timber board built by hollow wood surfboard pioneer Tom Blake in 1943 in Hawaii. Not long afterwards, in California, Bob Simmons made a limited number of wood and fibreglass twin fins in 1948. These fin designs were also found on a number of prone boards in the 1950s – essentially paipo-styled boards used for belly boarding (the paipo is a small Hawaiian bellyboard similar to an alaia). Various developments took place in the 1960s, including George Greenough‘s Velo Spoon.
Hydrodynamica, an independent film project dedicated to exploring and acknowledging the work of legendary surfer/designer Bob Simmons, gives the paipo a central place in the development of the fish. ‘In the late Sixties and early Seventies two young Hawaiians named Reno Abellira and Jeff Ching recognized the potential of the fish design as a means to fulfill their boyhood dreams of mastering the art of stand up paipo riding. Both Reno and Jeff grew up riding paipos at the Wall at Kuhio beach, and both were spellbound by the amazing stand up paipo style of Valentine Ching, although they found it challenging to stand up on a paipo themselves.’ Jeff moved to San Diego where he came into contact with Lis and decided to ride Lis’s kneeboard as a stand-up board. The rest is history. Eventually the fish was picked up by professional surfers and was instrumental in the development of the twin fin developed by world champion surfer Mark Richards in the late 1970s.
The fish wasn’t a surf industry invention; it was a backyard board that spread in popularity by word of mouth. Short and wide in the nose and tail, generally with more volume and a flat rocker, it was designed for speed, maneuverability and fun in small surf. The shape has remained popular throughout the decades although, as Dave Parmeter notes on Surfline, many of the current fish shapes lend more from thrusters than the original fish. Modern fish are really swallow tails with a little more width compared to a thruster.
The original fish shape is an amazing surfboard to ride. It connects your surfing experience with a bygone era of surf culture when the transition to shortboards was taking place. Despite being shorter than today’s typical shortboards, it paddles beautifully and catches waves easily. It gives a loose, fast, floaty ride that feels completely different to a modern surfboard. And despite it’s stability, it’s got X-factor, loads of it.
It is very well suited to being made in wood and, as the history shows, is a shape that evolved out of the wood surfboard era.