It’s always interesting to see how your surfboard quiver evolves over time. The quiver is a time capsule which tells the story about your evolution and progression as a surfer, trends in board design, how much space or money you have to throw at this addiction at any given moment, and finally where you are right now.
Now, I didn’t start with twin fin fish, and they aren’t my only boards. But this explains a bit about how I ended up where I am.
My First Surfboard – The Single Fin
I still have my first surfboard. It’s a 6’0 Becker single fin from the 80’s, I’m guessing. I bought it in the early 90’s at a little shop in Austin, TX while I was at university there and I remember driving down to Galveston with it on the roof of my blue Volvo. Unlike today where you will see plenty of cars in Austin with SUPs on the roof, it was a pretty exotic and unusual sight at that time.
I’m pretty sure the board there was just a display item. Selling surfboards is not big business in Austin. I think I dropped about $60 of tip money from my barback job at Chuy’s on it and rescued the single fin from a sad life helping to sell bathing suits and flip flops.
Of course, finding surf in Galveston is pretty hit or miss, and 6’0 isn’t often the right board for the job anyway. I knew this already having grown up in Houston, but I was really drawn to the style of that board. I still am.
That board has now traveled up to New York, lived in the Caribbean, and journeyed across to Southern California and surfed in some pretty legit waves. In an ironic twist, I even ended up living for a year back in good ol’ Galveston where I surfed much more than one might think.
As far as surfboards go, I eventually ended up finding my true love in some other places, namely twin fins, but that board will always hold a special place and gets noticed whenever I break it out.
The Funboard – Gone But Not Forgotten
When I first moved to NYC, I actually didn’t realize how much of a turn for the better my surfing was about to take. After all, these were pre-internet, pre-Surfline, days and I moved there to work in finance. With a regular city job and a heavily committed party schedule it would be years before I really was able to take advantage of the proximity to solid surf.
Eventually, summer houses down on the Jersey Shore and day trips out to Long Beach were starting to fill in the calendar.
I picked up a 7’6 Basic Element funboard at Brave New World in Point Pleasant since I had a place to leave it and wasn’t lugging it on the subway all the time, although I would do that plenty. It was the first time I walked out of a surf shop with a brand new board. That’s a feeling you don’t forget.
The funboard satisfied my need for something with a bit more meat for my rare, untrained-for, and often hungover sessions. I was still learning, but this board was the beginning of me really catching some good waves while still being able to duck dive if things got ugly.
Not to mention, that was the beginning of me surfing in a full 5mm with gloves and booties. It’s rough going and a little more float never hurt.
I left that surfboard at a friends house out in Long Island thinking that it would be easy to grab if I needed it. I never saw the Basic Element again, but learned an important lesson about keeping your gear close.
I’d say 95% of the people surfing in the 90’s were on the wrong surfboard.
-Rob Machado (Fish: The Surfboard Documentary)
I’d have to completely agree with this statement by Rob Machado in Fish: The Surfboard Documentary. I deluded myself into thinking that I had progressed enough to get off the funboard and onto a performance thruster, so I grabbed a 6’4 JC and spent the next bunch of years pissed off and thinking I didn’t know how to surf (I didn’t, but you can do yourself some favors at this stage). Worse than missing waves, you just aren’t having fun.
What’s crazy is that I remember thinking I should try something different, but there just weren’t that many options in the surf shops and I couldn’t manage a longboard in my tiny apartment.
Looking back, the fact that I was able to stay committed to surfing through these years is a testament to how unbelievable it is when you catch that wave, regardless of how infrequent. It should be noted though, I caught one of the best rides of my life at Turtles in Montauk on that board (thanks Manny).
SoCal. I finally was living the dream.
In 2009 I moved to Seal Beach in Orange County. I still think this little slice of unknown paradise is one of the best places you can live. We had a little baby, then another, and I was able to grab my board, hop skip and jump through the alleyway and over the sand for surfs anytime there were waves – even if I could only get wet for a half hour I would be on it.
After 5 years of this I finally got decent at surfing, and an 8’6 not-so-longboard was getting most of the reps. There wasn’t much extra cash floating around, so that was a Craigslist pickup. However, it was shaped by this guy in Garden Grove, and the attention to detail was amazing.
It paddles like a dream and catches tons of waves.
Right now that board is living in Venice Beach. I left it with a friend when I left SoCal and he got some great use out of it. Even though we’ve both moved on, the board is there for layovers in LA, and comes in handy a lot.
The Twin Fin Fish
While in Seal Beach, I was ready to shorten up the board. But actually ready this time.
I was surfing a ton, was able to paddle strongly, and wanted to add some maneuvering to my surfing. Plus, when the waves got bigger I was still pulling out the thruster and having a hard time with it.
Technically, people would say I was on the right board. In fact, the groms in the surf shops were clearly wondering why anyone would need a 6’4 (that was a stepup for them). But every time I pulled out that board I went back to struggling to catch waves.
I had always wanted a fish, and was just really into different board designs. At this time, you still weren’t seeing much variety out in the line up – groms on potato chip thin thrusters and older surfers on longboards. However some classic shapes were creeping into the more independently minded shops.
I bought a 6’2 Bettis from a guy who lived down the street, I just rode right over on my beach cruiser and picked it up. People from SoCal think this is normal, but having wandered around a bit before ending up there, milestones like this in my surfing life really stood out to me.
He was a bit older than me and said he never used the fish anymore, so I was happy to take it off his hands. I didn’t research it much, it was cheap and available so I grabbed it, but I learned that Matt Bettis is a really respected Orange County shaper.
It’s a really classic shape with glassed-on twin keel fins, and to say it changed surfing for me wouldn’t be overstating the impact of getting a twin fin fish under my feet.
I was now in the shortboard world, but actually catching a lot of waves and pulling maneuvers. It was easy to throw in the front seat or carry on the bike, and the style felt like a perfect fit for me. Seeing someone with a fish was always a conversation starter wherever I went, especially if the waves were getting bigger.
I know now that fish are considered grovelers or for small waves, but I think with more pros using them in all conditions that is starting to change. I had everything I needed and still pulled out the longboard pretty often, but if I ever had to narrow the quiver down to one, I know which one it would be.
My quiver now was up to four boards, and covered the bases.
My First Custom Board – The Harbour Surfboards Fish
I no longer live in Seal Beach and travel a lot for surf and coffee now, so the problem I was having was worrying about the glassed on keels of my Bettis fish. It’s just not the best travel setup.
You learn that most towns along the coast in Southern California have their local shaper (or shapers). In Seal Beach, that is Rich Harbour of Harbour Surfboards. While Rich doesn’t do the shaping anymore, I had always wanted a Harbour surfboard, but one of his classic longboards doesn’t fit my needs right now.
So I ordered up a 6’0 fish with Futures fins, and poached one of their classic longboard designs for the color scheme. It ended up having a bit more rocker than the old Bettis, so works well in steeper drops and really rips. Definitely a bit more of a performance set up.
For me, a twin fin fish with removable fins is the perfect travel board. Small and light, yet functional in a wide variety of conditions. I’ve since used this board in everything from classic Huntington Beach in summer and Carlsbad in winter, road trips to Baja Mexico, and an epic Costa Rica surf trip that took me from Nosara to Pavones and back.
Would it work if things got too massive? Probably not, but neither would I!