The Bamboo Fin Prototypes that Started It All

Bamboo Fin Prototype
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While Wave Arcade technically started as an art project or an idea around 2015-16, it really got its start when the first bamboo prototype fin was built and surfed.

That first prototype fin, which could be called an 8.5″ Flex fin, was slowly put together over a few nights and a couple days on the weekend.

The first fin was made using mostly a hammer, blade, glue, and a random orbital sander. Not the most ideal tools for fin making.

It was neither perfectly foiled nor perfectly symmetrical, but it looked pretty rad and I took it for a surf.

The first day I took it out, the surf was pretty bad. Though, the few decent ones I was able to track down had me thinking I was on to something.


3D Printed Fins in Utah

It all began while I was landlocked in Salt Lake City, Utah, when I started thinking about fins. I was also experimenting with 3D printing at the time, and naturally thought I’d start 3D printing surf fins.

I learned about an opensource CAD program designed specifically for fins, FinFoil.io.

There is actually a similar project in the Netherlands, Westkust,that was doing stuff with 3D printed fins too.

After printing a couple, I started making some designs, which I put online. You can still find and print some of those fins today.

But 3D printing didn’t feel like the ultimate destination for the Wave Arcade project. I was looking for something that ticked more boxes – sustainable, unique, performance-oriented, etc.


Bamboo Prototype

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Shortly after returning to the promise land of San Diego, I attended the Boardroom Show at the Del Mar Racetrack. There was some pretty neat stuff in there, but what really caught my attention was the handful of folks making boards out of agave stalks.

That’s when I really starting thinking about plants as the basis for high-quality, sustainable surf equipment.

Coming back to fins, I thought about how this applied to them. Now, I knew wood and bamboo fins were out there, but they just didn’t seem all that popular and I figured I’d see for myself.

I passed by a vacant lot with a gnarly looking patch of big, thick bamboo. With a hacksaw and my bicycle, I cut a 10-foot pole down and balanced it back to my apartment.

Using a few grainy, pre-2009 Youtube videos about bamboo flooring and fly-fishing poles as a guide, I hacked the bamboo stalk into strips that I laminated together.

The result was a crudely formed, but functional bamboo single fin that looked really cool.


More Local Bamboo Fins

The next time I took the prototype fin out, I was convinced. There was something about it that just made the board feel alive. It felt more smooth and responsive compared to the fiberglass fin I normally surf with the board and definitely more than the composite fin I’d used in the past.

I, being stubborn and passionate, decided I’d make more of these.

The Botanic Garden in Encinitas, CA had a big pile of bamboo that they really had no use for and was kind enough to let me take some. With a machete and my Jetta with the seats folded down, I loaded up as much bamboo as I could and got to work (which is another story in itself for another time).

After hours spent hacking up bamboo stalks, I ended up trying a number of different methods to make fins. I experimented with laminating sheets myself, using manufactured bamboo ply, and moving into other types of plywoods too.

With some solid fin making experience under my belt, I got to work on making bases. This proved to be more of a challenge when working with completely wooden fins and pushed to official launch of Wave Arcade back a bit.

Some new methods are in the works, and Wave Arcade should be ready to go – officially – in the next few months.

In the meantime, why don’t you try to get a high score on the double secret surfing video game?

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