Bamboo Surf Fins – The Prototype

After a few cold winters in Salt Lake City, Utah spent learning about fin designs and messing around with some 3D printing, I had fins at the top of my mind upon moving back to Encinitas, California.

I figured I had few options I could pursue to start making fins.

  1. I could stick with more traditional fin production methods (i.e. fiberglass panels, outsourced injection molding, plastic cores, etc.)
  2. I could pony up for a 3D printer and continue experimenting with that.
  3. I could figure out something different and go from there.

Option 1 was out of the running as I didn’t want my Wave Arcade project to feel like most other fin and surf companies. I’m not concerned with scale or finding some untapped operational efficiency in the current process. I wanted to do something different and interesting.

3D printing is certainly cool, but plastic fins are not – the performance and ride quality just isn’t there. While, there are definitely some filaments out there that could probably produce a decent fin, I really like the idea of leveraging 3D printing to create prototypes of out-there designs and simpler products from recycled plastic filament like wax combs.

I landed on option 3, not entirely sure where that would take me.

Earlier in the spring I was introduced to agave stalks being used to make surfboards. I thought that was really cool, and honestly didn’t know that agave shot up such big stalks. After I learned about them, I started to see them all over the place in San Diego.

Walking my dog one day, I started to think about other local plant sources that could be used for fins. I began to notice a ton of bamboo growing all over the place in North County, and that’s when I got the idea for building bamboo fins of my own.

The Magic of Bamboo

It’s no secret that bamboo is a great material for fins (and probably surfboards too). Plenty of fin manufactures offer bamboo fins in a number of different templates.

Bamboo is perfect for fins as it’s super light compared to fiberglass or plastic fins, it’s extremely strong, and it has excellent recoil. It’s a perfect storm of qualities found in a great fin.

Bamboo is also one of the most sustainable and eco-friendly materials out there. A quick internet search (which can never lead you astray) reveals that:

  • Bamboo releases more oxygen into the atmosphere after absorbing carbon dioxide than an equivalent biomass of trees.
  • Bamboo can grow as much a 3 feet per day and can mature in as little as 1 to 5 years.
  • After being harvested, the existing root system will continue to send up more shoots.
  • It grows very easily without the need for additional chemicals or fertilizer.
  • Bamboo is stronger than steel in tensile strength.

It’s a pretty interesting plant, and if you look closely, you can find bamboo being used in an increasing number of products from floors and cutting boards to bike frames and lumber.

Building a Bamboo Fin in the Garage

To prove this out, I decided to take the difficult route and start from scratch. I’d take bamboo from stalks out of the ground and cut it down to build fins.

I headed back to a bunch of bamboo I found on a vacant lot and hacked off a 10ft stalk. Balancing the pole on my bike’s seat and handle bars, I made my way back to my house where I began chopping off the smaller branches and cutting the stalk into more manageable sizes.

From there, I began splitting and sanding the bamboo into flat strips that I would later laminate together.

I ended up with a really crude laminated sheet of bamboo that was about 1 square foot and about 1/2″ thick. From this I cut out the profile of my fin and got to foiling and glassing.

The specs of my prototype fin were as follows:

  • Template: Flex Fin
  • Base: 5.2 inches
  • Depth: 8.5 inches
  • Sweep: High

Given the crude lamination and clamping set up I was working with, the prototype fin ended up with an asymmetrical profile when looking at it head on. Considering I was mainly curious whether I could process bamboo myself to build fins, I counted it as successful so far.

The surf was small and crummy, but I took it on its maiden voyage and was extremely pleased with the results. Despite the fin being a little off-center, I experienced no noticeable drag, and felt great spring and speed through turns. On top of that, the fin looked amazing.

After that first surf I was convinced that bamboo was the way to go for fins. To start, processing the bamboo myself will allow me to experiment with production/processing methods that yield a better fin. Each fin will look and likely perform slightly different depending on the mix/layering of bamboo used in its construction. I’ll likely look to other pre-processed bamboo sources if I plan to make more.

I’ll have some ready for sale in late 2018 – early 2019. Stay tuned, and be sure to check out the latest in Wave Arcade Bamboo Fins here.

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