40 Years of Tri-Fin Surfboard Design

I recently shaped a Tri-Fin surfboard for my mate Darren in Australia, the Retro “Sidewinder” model, which is an updated rendition of an idea developed  almost 45 years ago with Dick Brewer. By coincidence (or providence?) Drew Kampion just recently sent me a copy of a Surfer article published in April 1971,  6 or 7 months after I first started riding a three-finned surfboard in 1970. In those 44 years since its inception, that basic Tri-Fin design is an industry standard as the 2+1 fin system in modern longboards and other current surfboard designs. Along with the  Campbell Brothers groundbreaking Bonzer design of that same time period this pre-empted the development of Simon Andersons three-finned Thruster design by at least a decade. The Retro “Sidewinder” model is designed to carry on this tradition of innovation.

“The tri-fin has single-fin drive and twin-fin torque. It is a compromise of each with elimination of hang-ups.”

Reno Abellira Sidewinder Tri-Fin SurfboardReno Abellira Sidewinder Tri-Fin Surfboard

One Two Free by Drew Kampion

One + Two = Free

Or The Tri-Fin Trip
by Drew Kampion | Originally published in SURFER 12/3 ~ August 1971

The surfing of Reno Abellira is a coordinated fusion of ability, knowledge, and style. It is a blend of the animal and the aesthetic; and, as a result, it is art.

Reno surfs in the long strides of a surfer conditioned by twelve years on Island waves. Long strides consisting of the driving, accelerating drop-in, the low, deep bottom turn, and the unweighted draw of the long line across a continually hollowing wall. Long strides repeated again and again, though not duplicated, allowing the wave to dictate the course.

Reno employs many of the classic Hawaiian mannerisms: leading his turns with his arms, maintaining a low center of gravity through power pockets, and keeping the bottom of the board moving from rail to rail, maintaining a flexible track. “Constantly changing planing angles of board and wave contours are partly responsible for the fast and tight actions that earmark much of today’s surfing,” as Reno puts it.

Reno began riding a Dick Brewer-shaped three-finned board six months ago [October 1970; this story was written in April 1971 – dk]. He’s still riding the same board, a six-two, though he has altered the fin arrangement several times over the months. “The tri-fin,” says Reno, “has single-fin drive and twin-fin torque. It is a compromise of each with elimination of hang-ups.”

This board seems to work very well for Reno, giving him an extra positive force off the bottom and also the ability to ride higher in the curl because of the tracking of the inside fin along the face of the wave. It also makes tighter pivoting turns possible; and, paradoxically almost, controlled spin-outs are easier to achieve. “An extended controlled spin-out,” Reno says, “is a three-sixty.”

Reno lives in a small frame house that hides behind a larger house on a side street in Honolulu about ten minutes from Ala Moana. Less than a block away, the endless Waikiki-bound traffic flows forever on. Hotels grow taller everywhere and crowd the world in their canyons. Reno subsists totally on organic food, and holds down two jobs: shaping surfboards for Lightning Bolt in Honolulu, and working eighteen hours a week for the parks department teaching kids how to make surfboards.

Lightning Bolt is a new sort of surf shop. Many of Hawaii’s top shapers make boards and consign them at the Honolulu shop. Gerry Lopez is the conceiver of the idea for a shop which is a forum for much of Hawaii’s best surfboard-building talent.

Reno enjoys big surf as well as small. He’s surfed Waimea at twenty foot even though he isn’t nearly as large as your usual Bay freak. He says the three-fin will work well in big surf once it is refined. “What I’m working on now,” he says, “is still fairly crude.” And he runs his hands over the fins, mulling over the possibilities. Maybe a little V under the smaller fins too?

The three-fin boards are a product of the consciousness inspired by the twin-fin, but there are other inspirations too: porpoises. Says Reno: “Porpoises make multi-directional changes at high speeds using, among other physical characteristics, two side fins and a dorsal. So why not three?”

“I’m sure I share the revelation,” Reno says, “that surfing is constant flux; nothing stands still. So we prune our bodies in expectation of tomorrow’s tubes, and focus our mind’s eye toward the beyond.”

© Drew Kampion, 1971

Reno Abellira

Born and raised in Hawaii, Reno became a World Champion Surfer & Master Surfboard Shaper. Reno continues to surf the North Shore and shapes surfboards on Oahu, Kauai and California.

3 thoughts on “40 Years of Tri-Fin Surfboard Design

  1. That photo sequence is one of my all time favorites. I always thought 3 fins were the way to go, but back in the day the best thing I could get my hands on were Bing Bonzers. Still, no one I saw ever surfed like that!

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