Where would you begin if you were to attempt to explain how surfing made you feel? Now imagine your recipient did not and had never surfed. Yeah, I know, kind of difficult.
This is how I feel when people ask me (does not happen often) the hows, whats and, most difficult of all the whys, about surfing a single fin surfboard.
I am going to hang my bollocks over the balcony now and admit I am not expert. I am not a pro, hells, I am not even that good a surfer but I can remember when I ‘got a single fin’ as clearly as the day I slid down the face of my first wave.
I can hear the cries and virtual ether powered bellows of the cynical now, “Hippie” or “Poppycock”, you know, from those who secretly think they can cut back like Jordy Smith. For them, there are only 3 or 4 fins. Firstly, I understand, crikey I was you. That is before I understood what it was to ‘get a single fin’.
This tapping of keys came about when a good friend and respected fellow surfer asked me some questions about a single fin he was testing. He hadn't ‘got it’ yet, he had surfed the board but not ‘got it’. Many of us profess to have surfed a single fin and have come away disappointed and disillusioned as it did not live up tot he hype, preferring to return to our multi-finned sticks. Back to familiarity and security. Back to Jordy turns.
Single fins are not like retail therapy, there is no instant gratification, but they are more like a puzzle you have to figure out. It just so happens they suit my way of thinking. I tend to think, if something is difficult then it is worth pursuing, kind of like surfing in general. In comparison, the multi-finned boards are like ‘plug and play’.
When you ‘get’ a single fin, it will dominate your dreams, of this I am certain. They are like anything that is worthwhile, they are fickle and hard to please but when you find the sweet spot they remain perplexingly inspiring.
I don’t care about the heritage, I am not talking about connecting to the roots of surfing or any of that twaddle. This narrative is solely about the joy a single gives you in the water. How it manages to make the sides of your face defy gravity.
Having said all of this, you do still need to have some more ‘normal’ boards in your quiver as the single is (as I have said) a fickle beast. Like a kind of surfboard royalty, it needs and expects only the cleanest conditions and a running wall that has a good semi-vertical shape. If the stars have not aligned and conditions are not ‘just so’ then leave your single in the truck.
Never being one who cannot back up what he says, I can offer a couple of advice points if you are thinking about testing or surfing a single. Small disclaimer, I am no expert, this is just what I have found works for me.
1- Delay your bottom turn. The bottom turn is the most important thing to get right on a single and most critical is the first bottom turn you do. You can literally achieve nothing without speed on a 'mono-fin' and while this is true of most surfboard types to none is it more so than on the all hailed singular fined surfboard. A wise man once told me to delay my bottom turn by counting to two after the point I would normally engage my first rail. It has worked for me every time and kind of helps with the mindset of the wave, unhurried and planned turns are the name of the game. You will know when you get it right, trust me.
2- Plan your wave out. A single does not turn like a quad or a thruster, your carves will be more pronounced and wide arced so don't expect too much, concentrate on the fluidity of surfing the whole wave and turning in the right place. It's difficult to generate your own speed, weaving and hopping will get you no-where, you can only use the energy the wave gives you.
3- Don't fade too hard. Once you get caught a little bit behind the section it's hard to get back on the open face, you will get no help from the single in this situation. Keep out on the open face.
4- A Little bit of research never hurt. Watch some video clips of guys like Tyler Warren or Alex Knost and get the feel for what you should be doing and where on the wave. Get in the mindset. Below is an example of what I mean.
And lastly, just forget everything I have said and go and have fun. Don't expect too much and (without wanting to sound like the aforementioned hippie) just try to get in rhythm with the wave, singles are not about fighting the energy of the wave and explosiveness but more about acceptance and fluidity.
To sum up, if you have not tried a single, you should. If you have tried one and not had a good experience, you should not give up. Peace out... man.