You would be forgiven for not fully knowing what a biomimetic fin looks like or even what biomimetic refers to. I had to Google it.
Biomimetics or biomimicry is the imitation of the models, systems, and elements of nature for the purpose of solving complex human problems. The terms "biomimetics" and "biomimicry" derive from Ancient Greek: βίος (bios), life, and μίμησις (mīmēsis), imitation, from μιμεῖσθαι (mīmeisthai), to imitate, from μῖμος (mimos), actor. A closely related field is bionics.
So I would take it from this that there has been a lot of research into the way people surf, their body movements and how that information can best be harnessed and expressed in the form of a fin that goes on the bottom of your surfboard.
Due to my curiosity as a surfer and my ignorance on such matters I decided to contact some guys who have recently made it their lives to know exactly what these two things mean.
Philippe and Xabi are two guys who live in the famed corner of France that is home to Guethery, housing one of the best right hand reefs in Europe. Together they have pioneered the next level of thought, analysis and research that have gone into the making of the extraordinary looking fins.
As much as I can tell they improve pretty much everything about your surfboard and how and what you can do. Clearly I am not an expert so I sought some answers from the best people to ask. The founders and innovators.
What we found out by asking the usual probing questions was a story of chance and discovery which ultimately led to S-Wing fins being something you can pay cash money for, slot in your surfboard and enjoy a completely different way of surfing. When I asked the guys about their story I got a bit more than I bargained for. Here is their little back story to get your teeth into:
Their story begins, like so many others, with an innocent exchange on social network. Philippe comes across a post on Facebook by "Twig" Baker which shows a surfboard by Mark Richards and Cheyne Horan, (a celebrated 80's surfer often referred to as a visionary innovator ) and which inspires a new and different approach to the design of equipment for XXL waves.
Philippe Gray-Lopez ( surfer, bio-designer & shaper) begins a dialogue on the subject with Twig and offers to make a prototype based on the concept of elongated stabilizers equipped with 'spatulas' which would allow riders to maintain control of the board during air-drops in XXL conditions. The fins would have almost an 'anti-foil', 30 inches ( 75 cm ) long.
A few weeks later in Guethary , Philippe would meet Xabi Lafitte who offers to test the prototypes. Xabi , an expert in fin design is intrigued by the project and decides to put them to the test in Parlementia in the South West of France . There, as luck would have it, he meets Jeff Hakmann who, on discovering the prototype, declares that he has ' never seen anything like it in his life! ' He too seems intrigued by this unusual design.
Out in the surf the merits of the design bring immediate results and, from the very first waves, Xabi is aware of an increase in control and relaunch. At the end of this session, the die is cast and the two friends decide to join forces and register a patent for this new concept of surfboard stabilizers.
In the autumn of 2014, in session after session, Xabi runs a series of tests, analyzing the responsiveness of this new dynamic and Philippe, inspired by the fins of aquatic vertebrates and biomimetic design theories, modifies and refines the prototypes. Research into materials intensifies in order to respond to new constraints imposed by these unusual forms and, after a few breakages and constant readjustments, they gradually manage to reduce the size of the fin extension. In doing so they precisely calculate the necessary flex needed, to adapt the fins to different types of waves.
By the beginning of winter, they have made considerable progress. In particular, with the crucially important development of two lateral S-Wings with a mini central stabiliser. As for the fin size, it now varies between 12 and 16 inches and the different sensations when surfing start to be really noticeable when comparing feedback. The progress is intoxifying and the guys know they are onto something.
The research continues, the guys decide to further reduce the size of the extensions in two new products ( 6 inch and 8 inch ) which are prototyped. In December 2014, Xabi goes on holiday in the Caribbean with his family and he takes the latest prototypes with him. In Martinique the project gains enthusiasm with the participation of Gégé Brasset, who, within a few waves , acknowledges a sharpness of sensation which helps validate all Xabi's positive feelings. Several tropical sessions later, including one exceptional session at ' Pelle à Tarte ', the euphoria of the group is palpable, the 6 inch was the 'mutt's nuts'
Back in France, following the success of the 'Martinique sessions' , Philippe and Xabi , in their continuing search for new materials enlist the help of Nico Thouand ( of Skud Surfboards and a connoisseur of unconventional shapes and designs ) to produce some additional samples in glued laminated wood and composite materials. A new series of trials is launched with local riders Thomas Lafonta, David Leboulch, Manu Portet, and Romaine Gilles who put the stabilisers to the test in the waves of the Basque Country throughout the spring of 2015.
While this is going on, S-Wings takes part in the ' Innov Mugabe ' competition which is sponsored by South Pays Basque. In the nautical sector under the aegis of Manuel de Lara the competition seeks to support three projects. And here, once again, they are blessed with success and the project wins the prize ! Thanks to the financial support that this award brings to the enterprise, they are able to achieve even higher standards in their subsequent research and development . Technical assistance from Composit'Adour and l' ESTIA is made available . Francis Sedeilhan and Simon Deseur ( director of Composit'Adour and project manager respectively - who are both surfers ! ) are enthused by the product which they help bring to ' aeronautical ' levels.
Also in the spring of 2015, thanks to the various skills of these centres of expertise, a pilot production of 70 sets of stabilisers are built. Summer arrives and with it, the season of local and national surfing competitions.The first title is soon gained with a victory for Xabi , armed with 5 inch lateral S-Wings, in the French Masters Championships held at Bidart in June 2015. Xabi who did not miss a single set, gained his title on home ground and proved that these stabilisers simply work and work well.
Step by step, the project is extended to a national level; the trials continue and world class surfers - such as Boris Letexier, Jeremy Flores, Didier Piter, Antoine Delpero ( in South Africa ) become interested in the project. Twig continues his own trials of S-Wings and approves the latest prototypes. Xabi gives Jérome Sahyoun a few sets of our stabilisers to take with him on his summer assignments in Indonesia. At the height of the season, during one famous session in NoKanduis, he experiences a new sensation when deep in a tube he realises he is able to pick up more speed from the wall and achieves an incredible boost and make the section and exit.
By chance, during his stay in Indonesia, Jérome meets up with Tom Curren, an old friend. Jerome offers him an MR Twin fin fitted with the latest 5.4 inch S-Wings which are very flexible and for use in small waves. This is the ultimate test if ever there was one. The absolute master of pure trajectories emerges from the water with a huge grin on his face and announces that he wants to keep this pair for himself. A few hours later, it's Mason Ho's turn to test the concept. Completely won over and euphoric (in pure Mason style), he sends a photo of the fins to Mark Richards who posts a photo of a twin fin MR equipped with S-Wings on Instagram.
Another reminder of the importance of social networking ... we saw the opportunity to exploit this buzz and to announce the birth of the S-Wings brand. Everything was set up as quickly as possible in order respond to demand. The surfing community was buzzing over Mason Ho's photo. Twenty four hours later we open the official S-Wings website and there was an immediate and growing interest from the media.
As a first step, this autumn , the S-Wings team has been offering a programme of Demo Days which give surfers the chance to try out our fins and give us their feedback. If they sign up to the newsletter on our S-Wings site, they can also follow the evolution of our project.
SB: That is an awesome story of evolution from concept to reality and success, who else can list names like Twiggy, Curren, Ho and Flores into their story, not many I would wager. We had a few more quick but burning questions for Phillipe about S-Wings.
SB: What is the basic idea of the new fins that we can buy from you? How will they make us surf better?
Phillipe: Three things will be noticeable immediately, speed, control and drive. S-Wings fins help you find the right rhythm to most effectively ride waves and get the most out of your equipment. The S-Wings effect (propulsion, control & drive) is activated when the surfer hits the right rhythm so S-Wings actually teach the surfer the right rhythm to read and ride the waves.
SB: What is next for you guys at S-Wings?
Phillipe: Next we are looking into making the fins from a more eco-friendly material and will be perfecting Bonzer centre fins and Twin fin SW520's.
SB: I love surfing short single fin surfboards, which fin would you recommend for me on a point break?
Phillipe: James, without a doubt I would recommend our 6" SW600 USbox G10.
SB: Do you ship worldwide? How much would it cost to ship the fin to the USA?
Phillipe: Yes, we are not prejudiced, we will ship anywhere in the world, we can ship a set of S-Wings to the US for 25 USD.
SB: So we could be standing on the precipice of a huge change in what is possible, what is even thinkable. Maybe all we have to do is embrace the change, like we did when Simon Anderson first paddled out at Bells on his Thruster. Or will this seemingly very important breakthrough be ignored only to be discovered at a later date the way Bob Simmons displacement hulls were.
We encourage you, almost implore you to get a set and try them out. The evidence is there, the testing has been done. The rest is up to you dear readers. We are very proud to be able to bring you this story of evolution into what looks to be an important part of the ever-growing evolution of surfing and wish the boys ay S-Wings the best of luck.