Many years ago a seed was planted in the forest. Not by man’s hand, but by the wind or by gravity as the seed fell to the Earth and settled into the fertile soil of the forest floor below. That seed would sprout roots and consume water, nutrients and sunlight for dozens, maybe even hundreds of years as it grew from a small and weak seedling to a beautiful and majestic tree infinitely larger than it was as it fell to the Earth.
That tree would then be cut down for the greater good of man, so we are told, and the branches are stripped from the trunk in a matter of seconds as is the protective bark. What took years to form and endured hardships too numerous to count is destroyed in minutes.
Some of the wood may find itself in a rather mundane and boring setting for eternity; a backyard deck, the frame of a house, the floor of a gerbil cage.
Some wood may be destined for a more noble purpose such as a beautiful jewelry box housing family heirlooms, or the handle of a distinguished Gentleman’s cane. Maybe the wood might even live a highly functional and more exciting life as the steering wheel of an exotic sports car, in contact with its owner at all times, relaying a sense of accomplishment and speed.
But some wood is destined for a far more practical, more appreciated and more exciting, connected life; a higher purpose. Yes, some wood will find that there are far more exhilarating places to be than between the hands of a driving enthusiast or supporting a stodgy old millionaire as he strolls down the street. This wood will find itself submerged in the ocean at the working end of a surfboard, gliding through its element, harnessing energy and directing that energy wherever its pilot may choose. This wood waited patiently its entire life to do something, and what an amazing something it does.
The fin maker selects his wood carefully for aesthetic reasons. After all, beauty is indeed only skin deep with a piece of wood. That wood is then cut, sanded, foiled and cared for intensely throughout the entire transformation process. Once finished, a piece of wood that could have been used as a doorstop now looks like it is going fast, even sitting still.
The finished product is attached to the surfboard with fiberglass and resin that serve more as function than fashion, but the fillet of a finely glassed-on wood fin looks like nothing else. The fin looks as if it sprouted from the surfboard and stretched through the glass with gentle precision like the seed it came from so long ago. Finely placed, well-tuned lines hold the fin in place and provide the board with a feeling of connection like no plastic or other man-made material jammed into a hole and tightened down with an allen screw can. No, this fin was made with purpose and an intimate knowledge of the element it will operate in by skilled hands.
The hand-shaped lines of wood fins are like nothing else because you know that someone with skill, passion and knowledge created them for you. Better yet, a surfer created them for you. There is a bond between the fin-maker and his medium. That piece of wood is filled with years of knowledge and stoke and you know it the first time you put that fin through its paces. The solid “I’m not gonna fail you” feeling as you put every pound of your body into a well executed bottom turn and the resulting acceleration into the next movement is euphoric. It’s at that moment you understand that what’s beneath your feet is so much more than a piece of wood, it’s a piece of art in tune with the ocean in a way you never knew was possible.
The best instruments are ones that a musician crafts and fins are no different. Their intimate knowledge of the subtle nuances and quirks of the wood or metal they craft into an instrument are reflected in the ease and beauty of how the finished product plays. Pick up a handcrafted guitar and strum a couple chords and then pick up a big-name manufacturer’s student model popped out by the 1000’s and you’ll understand the difference between wood fins…and everything else.
This piece was written for and inspired years ago by a true artisan who continues to make the best wood fins on Earth; the only wood fins you’ll find on my boards. You’re the best, JC. Thanks for the stoke!