Fin Quiver: Eric Joyce

I have a slight obsession, a love of old objects, aged fins or crusty cameras. Imagine the swells 20, 40, or 60 years ago these floppy duffs of rubber pushed wave-riding pioneers into. Some fins have even seen the murky waters of battle. If they could speak their story, they would have such a tale to tell. Beyond the sentimental, I enjoy the feel of different swim fins. Each design utilizing different aspects of hydrodynamics in order to propel us through and on the sea. The differences, though sometimes subtle, are a joy to experiment with.


The patent was filed Sept. 27, 1940 by Owen Churchill. He saw the potential in a rubber, floating swim fins for both the military and public. He was the first to see the dream of mass produced fins come to fruition. His fins have gone through several evolutions. His first stamped products were black and hardly pliable. The next phase were made of the softest fin rubber to date. They were a beautiful green and the stamp included Churchill’s address in Gardena on the stamp. As pictured above, Owen dabbled into business with Voit (the producer of Duck Feet), but none of their combined efforts seemed as useful. Some were made of a more “plastic-like” rubber (pictured above in blue) or with adjustable ankle straps and no drainage whole. The modern day Churchill fins are produced by a toy company “WHAM-O” and are back to using the fabled Malaysian rubber. I enjoy Churchills for soft beach break. I’ve become accustomed to getting power from the inside of my foot, but Churchills are asymmetrical with emphasis on the outside of the foot. They are comfortable and still sport a similar design to the original fins Owen designed in his garage.


Turbo (left) Scott Hawaii (right)

Scott Hawaii fins are beautiful. They come in several color patterns, the most common being yellow-blue with red tips. Scott Hawaii fins are no longer in production, but they are a favorite of many bodysurfers. I enjoy the fit of the fins. They feel quite heavy out of water, but for being so short and rounded, they provide excellent drive.


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Russian Military Fins

This is a pair of vintage Russian military dive fins. These were supposedly produced in the 1970’s for use by Russian commando frogmen. I love the laces, which make the fins look much older than they probably are.


 

Voit Duck Feet and the UDT fins have a well defined space in the military historical conversation. The original UDT was designed as the anti-Churchill. The military wanted more drive from their swim fins and the long stiff UDT was born. The footpocket is incredibly stiff, but the propulsion was most definitely unmatched in its day. The modern day Duck Feet fins are used by casual swimmers and lifeguards alike. The modern day UDT, updated flex design by legendary bodysurfer Greg Deets. I enjoy swimming in my UDTs, but my foot is in between sizes so it is not my fin of choice for large surf.


Original Viper Surfing Fins

Viper Surfing fins, designed by Fred Simpson for bodysurfers in Newport Beach, California. They have also been through some slight changes in rubber and design over the years, but hold true to their original basic shape. Original Vipers make me think of a workhorse fin. They’re black with square edges, clearly not pining for aesthetic valor and yet they are unique. The first run of fins did not include a drainage hole and can be easily spotted by the double rail (top and bottom). The next version included the yellow dots and came in both 5 and 7 inch blades. I use V-5s as my everyday fin and V-7s as my large-surf fins. The main reason I am hooked to Viper is the unreal fit to my foot. They are snug and responsive to my every ankle flick. They also strike the appropriate balance between power and agility necessary for navigating a variety of waves.


 

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These are Zoomers. Whether it be for the extra workout or for a bit of a challenge, sometimes all you wanna do is zoom-a-zoom-zoom-zoom.

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-E

 

HUGE thanks to Nate Sullivan, the brain and hands behind See Sullivan for use of his studio and his knowledge in capturing some of the fin photographs above.

Fin Quiver: Kyle Stock

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Churchill Swim Fins
-Created during the post-war recreation boom of the late 1940s, these are the second generation Churchill. Unique because they float and they are the first swim fin with color. They are made of the softest rubber compound of any fin I’ve felt. It is difficult to believe that they could even provide much thrust, but I suppose when the only other option was your barefeet, they were relatively powerful. I purchased these on Ebay. A pair of “Greens” show up occasionally and the price varies on who is selling them and who is looking for them at the time.

IMG_1928UDTs
-Developed for military use in the 1940s, resurrected in the 1980’s and going strong today. There is a dedicated crew of older riders that will wear nothing else. UDTs are recognizable by their 10inch blade, the longest available for a bodysurf fin. They are very powerful but it takes a little while to get used to the different, longer stroke it requires to get them really moving. UDTs excel when gaining momentum to take off early. I found the brown gum rubber UDTs buried in the back of an antique dealer’s truck in Ocean Beach, SD. I asked him if he had any vintage fins and he pulled these out…exactly the kind of thing I was looking for. The green and brown UDTs are the modern reincarnation developed by Greg Deets. 

IMG_1911MS Vipers
-Designed by waterman and wave-riding guru Mike Stewart. My personal favorite fin. They are my everyday riders from ankle-high to well overhead. Comfortable, plenty of power and excellent drainage. Although, they have been parasitic to my feet. They’ve added (mostly) painless knobs and bumps to my feet that get shredded when I try any other fins. But the MS’s themselves remain very comfortable. Wonder if that’s part of the business plan?

IMG_1903SURF’N
-Classic style. SURF’Ns are recognizable with the sharp color way and intersecting ribs on the blade. I can find very little information about them. They were sold at Hawaiian swap meets in the 80s and 90s and apparently also come in all blue. 

IMG_1919Viper V7
-Built specifically for bodysurfing by Fred Simpson in 1980, these are the most respected bodysurfing fins ever made. The 7inch blade is very powerful and the padded upper foot pocket makes for a comfortable ride. These aren’t swim fins, they’re SURF fins. Unfortunately, they are no longer manufactured, having been replaced by the synthetic Vector. The used market for V7s sets a premium price.

IMG_1933Crystal Scarborough Swim Fins
-She was a Beverly Hills celebrity swim instructor for 30 years. Scarborough developed a method of instruction for children involving arm floaties and swim fins. These kid’s fins appear to be vintage and closely modeled after early Churchills.

IMG_1939Snorkel Fin
-No, you aren’t scoring any tubes wearing these, but there aren’t always tubes or even waves for that matter. A good pair of snorkel fins can open a new world of underwater exploration.

IMG_1906Voit Vikings
-My first pair of fins. I was a hodad that wanted to try bodysurfing but didn’t know anything about it. I rode a few waves and thoroughly enjoyed the experience, regardless of what fins I was wearing. Within a few sessions, one of the Vikings blew off my foot never to be seen again.

IMG_1908Churchill Slashers
-My second pair of fins and by far the worst fins I’ve ever worn. Uncomfortable, heavy and powerless.

 

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Fin Quiver: Sean Starky

IMG_5020Sean is a lifelong Wedge rider and enthusiast. He is a positive force in the bodysurfing world. Sean has also turned this passion for alternative forms of waveriding into a business. You can check out his online market for wave-riding tools at SeaCraftSupplyCo.
First thing, I want everyone out in cyberland to know I am not some weirdo hoarder/collector of all things. I’m actually very conscious of the possessions that I own and I’m actually a little insecure with my fin collection, it’s a bit excessive. But hey if I don’t save em who will?
I’ve always enjoyed objects that can tell a story and old fins have always fascinated me. I don’t know if it’s the awesome vintage graphics on the fin boxes that remind me of old James bonds movies or the old school font’s they use on the fins. I just really enjoy old fins. What’s funny is it’s been rather easy to collect fins, as there’s only a handful of people out there that are interested in old swim fins.
 

IMG_7454Black Churchills. These by far were the hardest fins in my collection to find. For awhile I didn’t even know of their existence, I had always thought the green Churchills were the first color of Owen Churchill fins. The blacks are tough to find for a couple reasons. First, they’re from the 1940’s. Secondly, they were used during WWII by the British and US Navy. You have to deal with WWII collectors that have deep pockets. Got lucky on these and didn’t have to pay too much.


 

IMG_7458Blue UDTs. Greg Deets gave me these fins and one day they will be framed and hung next to my family photo. Deets wether he likes it or not is almost a mythical character in our weird underground community. I’ve always been more focused on style and fluidity with my bodysurfing and to me Deets is one of the smoothest and cleanest bodysurfers around. The fact he invited me to his home and local surf break to give me a pair of his newly designed UDT’s before my first bodysurf trip to Hawaii will go down as one of the best days of my life. 

Never forget as long as I Iive Deets pulling out some unmarked VHS tape that had footage of guys bodysurfing Point Panics! I’d never heard or seen of the spot, watching that footage just blew my mind! The guy is a walking historian and legend in our community.

 

IMG_7461Yellow Dot Vipers. These fins bring back a lot of memories. Wish we had some awesome ceremony with robes and booze to make the Wedge Crew thing official, but we don’t. You pretty much know you are one of the boys when Fred Simpson starts giving you free fins. You have to hand it to Fred, he has always made sure the best bodysurfers were in his fins, not the most famous or the pro surfer who might sell him more fins, just good bodysurfers.


 

IMG_7453M.S. Viper. These are my daily driver’s. When I heard Mike Stewart was designing a fin I knew it was going to be something special before I even used it. It fits my wide foot, has a soft pocket and a stiff blade. Most important and an often overlooked positive of the MS is it’s drainage, hands down the best drainage on the market. If your fins don’t drain water, they slow you down and that means you’re blowing waves looking like a kook. No one wants to look like a kook.


 

IMG_7455Viper I-Beams. If there’s a fire I’m running straight for these over anything else! My best friend, mentor, man about Wedge, John Potato Head a.k.a. Kunu Karam gave me these fins! These were his daily drivers back in his glory days.  Whenever I pick these up, I imagine Potato just laying it down on some magical corner bowl in 88! What’s even wilder is Karam had the original canvas bag he got with the fins. For added flare I had the legend himself, Fred Simpson, sign the bag. An amazing fin with an amazing past.


 
IMG_7462Dafin. These are awesome. They always make me laugh! Most people don’t know this, but Da Fin started as an Australian company, today they go by Da Fin Hawaii. For some reason I like that the old ones that say “Made in Australia.” I had a groupie moment and asked my buddy MC to sign ’em for me.
Thanks to Sean for taking the time to share his passion for fins with us.

Fin Quiver: Sean Enoka

Sean at Point PanicSean is a Hawaiian bodysurfer and student of the sport. He is a terrific example of stoke in action. Sean has just launched a new initiative to create innovative bodysurfing equipment and apparel for the global community. If you’re interested in learning more check out Kaha Nalu Hawaii.

The HOBBY of “Collecting” includes seeking, locating, acquiring, organizing, cataloging, displaying, storing, and maintaining whatever items are of interest to the individual collector. (From Wikipedia).
 
 
The Beginning
Back in the late 1980’s and through the 1990’s I learned to bodysurf first at Makapu’u with my brother and later in intermediate and high school I would catch the bus or a ride with my friends to Sandy Beach. Back then bodysurfing was easy and simple, there was no problem carrying your fins on the bus, or a bike, or a skateboard.
 
My first pair of fins were Churchill’s and I had these until I saw my first set of original Vipers with the double blades. I had to get a pair of these and when I did, it was a major upgrade as I could catch more waves and had more thrust. The only problem was that I was very hard on them and cracked the bottom rails and the fins were too much for me to afford as a kid. I moved on to use the BZ Blacktip fins after that and they became my regulars for a couple of years.
 
IMG_0115The Rebirth
Fast forward to 2006 and I’m getting back into the ocean and go to purchase a pair of Vipers, but now they are a little different and didn’t have a bottom rail. I purchase a pair of V-5’s from the nearest surf shop by Sandy’s and start to make my way back into the beach lifestyle. I was working overnight for a cleaning company and everyday after work I headed to Sandy’s in the early morning to get my fix. This goes on until Winter and I head up to the north shore to surf Waimea and Ke’iki shore break, and then transition over to Panics the next summer and fall in love with Kaha Nalu after my first ride at Panics, a long in-and-out barrel all the way to the rocks. Since then it all kind of progressed gradually leading to surfing more often and at different spots around the island, and it truly is a blessing to live here in Hawaii. There are waves year round with a big variety of conditions and sizes, from shore break to reef breaks, or slabs or even deep water stuff and point breaks.
 
Probably a big reason for the collection is I used to be kind of a sneaker head in high school and I would have to have all of the different Nike shoes and Jordan’s or Air Max’s in different colors, etc. So in 2006-07 I started looking at all of the different swim fins on the market, and as my interest grew in bodysurfing, I started to look at what everyone was wearing  and so on. This lead me to a good friend and pillar of the Panics crew – Doug Palama.
 
Voit Duckfeet  & UDT’s
IMG_0112Dougie sold Voit DuckFeet UDT’s out of his truck and when I bought my first pair from him it made immediate improvement to my game, because now I could out swim guys in the lineup and get on waves easier and with more burst. The UDT is the largest (effective) design that I’ve used so far, and I have a set that I will use any time we are out in larger waves or if there is a tough crowd to deal with. The only drawback that I started to find was that the fins were heavy and most-times too stiff, and very hard on the feet.  There is a big number of local Panics guys who are UDT guys, and I started seeing the different colors and heard the stories. I even tried some regular Duck Feet and V-Ducks, but the foot pocket was too soft and flexible, not like the UDT’s so I bought a few pairs of each different colors online but hardly use them now. My primary UDT is the Tan/Blue model and these are the softest foot pocket for me, and a friend of mine has grind down the rails for me. I’ve found this to reduce the weight and I feel a little snap at the end of a kick and these are my go-to fins in big conditions and can really double as a good diving fin.
 
IMG_0116Viper Fins
Almost at the same time that I’m getting into the UDT’s I purchase a pair of V-7’s to test against the other fins in my growing collection. Kai Santos was someone that literally puts on a show at Sandy’s. I would watch him do theses death-defying rolls and he’s dropping into vertical bombs riding them out. I first started asking him about fins and we talked about he V-7’s and they were hard to come by at the time, so I get me a pair online.  I find that the comfort level of these fins for my feet are definitely the best, but with the refined blade design (no lower rail), I sometimes over-flex the fin on the downward stroke. I go back and forth between Vipers and UDT’s a lot depending on conditions, etc. I kept thinking back to the old Original design and I search out the internet and garage sales and was able to snag a couple of pairs, which are definitely my most prized but I can’t get myself to use them for fear of damaging. I’ve alternated between Vipers and UDT’s for several years until there was a problem with the rubber and when the new Vectors came out, they were too soft and flexible and I would need to find another pair to add to the rotation. The pair of Vector’s I have are special to me because Mr Simpson gave them to me and even delivered them to the house we were staying, but we were at the beach!!! I’ve heard that there is a new batch that is more stiff, and I’m interested to hear how they did in the recent Hurricane Marie swell. But if Viper would ever consider releasing the Original designs, I would definitely cop a couple cases. Nah nah, only one case.
 
MS Viper & MS Delta Viper
When Mike Stewart first put  these out I bought a pair and tested but found that the adjustment from longer fins was too difficult and I always felt like I needed more power to catch the waves, but once you were on a wave the smaller fins were great! I later won a pair of the Delta’s and I really like either of these for shooting GoPro in the shore break, but if there’s any question about the design just keep in mind that MS wins Pipeline Championships with these.
 
IMG_0109 IMG_0108 IMG_0107
DaFin
When I first started to notice these fins out in the lineup I would ask questions and then bought a pair to test. These were much different, I like the hard rubber blade but the foot pocket is too loose for me, which leads to cramps in my feet and ultimately not a good choice for me personally. Again, not a good fit for me but just look at Mark Cunningham ride them and all questions are answered. The fins are really very good and probably the hottest off of the shelves right now.
 
Brazilian Made – Redley & Kpaloa
Steve Kapela is definitely someone I respect and look up to, and when I started out I ALWAYS watched what he did. I would watch how he tracks the waves out at Middle Peak (Sandy’s) and how his aggressive style was highlighted with a continuous leg drive on the wave and I couldn’t figure out how he could get so much speed with the little Redley’s. When I start looking for them they are no longer sold so it’s straight to e-Bay and Craigslist. I’ve used them and like them but again put them on the shelf in favor of my regular rotation. The Kpaloa fins on the other hand were another fabled Brazilian fin highly touted by bodyboarders and I’m able to acquire a pair through Brazil’s “Aloha Ambassador” Rodrigo Bruno. They have been tested, but there is a unique quality with local people in Hawaii, we have extra wide feet, and they are too tight and the collection grows on.
 
Others – BZ Blacktip / Churchill’s / Surfin 
I was a big fan of the BZ’s back in the day and I ordered these to see if I would still like them, but they go on the shelf after a couple of sessions. My Churchill’s were given to me by my “Shark-brother” PMK, and I gladly added them to the collection after this past winter season. I’ve had the opportunity to see Churchill’s legendary design up close and out in heavy stuff over the past couple of years with my Hawaiian brother Melvin Keawe. I’ve seen him bodysurfing 8ft Makaha from the peak to the sand and still shake my head every time. The Surfin is another highly touted fin still used by a couple of different guys, most notable is Papa Paepo’o rider Jarrett Liu and they are no longer in production.
 
Scott Hawaii & Turbo Fins
Scott Hawaii are a fin I discovered in the past couple of years. They stopped making the fins years ago but there were still some diehard guys that still had the fins at Sandy’s and Panics. I searched and when I got my first pair, they were cracked at the strap and I didn’t really use them until I acquired a backup pair. This by far is one of the best designs I’ve tried and the fins give me comparable thrust and power to a UDT but also the fin blade is short so when you’re on the wave there is less drag. The main benefit for me is that I can use a technique like a flutter-kick (short range of motion + increased number of stroke) which can increase my speed on a wave when needed in a barrel or making through a “fat” section across to the shoulder. I started with my size XL, but the fins were a little too tight for my Hawaiian feet and I could only use for about 1 hr before my feet started cramping. I searched out the larger Super XL but these were way too big so I just kept up with the others until I started getting used to them and they are my primary choice these days. The Turbo fins on the other hand were another fabled fin that only a few guys would  even remember and I couldn’t get any info on these until my friend Chris Dumlao (another collector) found a pair on the internet and gave them to me. They are almost identical to Scott’s, with only minor variances to the mold.
 
IMG_0103Get to the Point Hawaiian
So there you have it folks, confessions of a Swimfin collector (hoarder) and how I ended up with over 30 pairs of fins sitting in my mother’s garage. My Wife and my Mom give me some static about them every once and a while, but I think have grown to accept my Imelda Marcos obsession. I keep telling them that I’ll hang them up on the wall when I make my own Surf shop, but we’ll see. So this is my explanation (defense), on how I came to acquire and collect swim fins. As a bodysurfer, they are our main piece of equipment and you can probably stop and talk to any hardcore bodysurfer at length about the subject.. So this is about my journey down the kaha nalu road and my need (and disposable income) to start a collection of old swim fins that I hold dear. My thoughts are from my own experiences and there are a ton of other fins out there on the market that haven’t event been covered here that are awesome. It’s all personal preference + comfort + speed & control, but mahalo for the opportunity to share.
 
Mahalo,
Sean Enoka
Fred Simpson Bodysurfing Wedge by Ron Romanosky

Bodysurfing Wedge: The Fred

Bodysurfing Wedge: The Fred

At times, it is hard to pinpoint and other times the differences are striking. With each wave you stumble to or with every grainy youtube video you devour, you may have noticed variance in bodysurfers’ style. The way a person bodysurfs a wave, much like the human gait, has a long list of factors. Biology is one. Imagine Michael Phelps and Danny Devito bodysurfing head-to-head, they simply aren’t using the same tools. If both wanted to maintain the optimum speed on any given wave they would need to utilize different styles. Despite this, many riders of differing heights and roundness seem to have developed stylistic similarities within the confines of unique waves.

An important component in understanding the practicality of bodysurfing styles, is a basic understanding of hydrodynamics in relation to the speed of a bodysurfer. Speed is likely the most crucial aspect to catching and staying on a wave. A bodysurfer’s speed is primarily determined by kicks, drag and floatation. These three variables are not independent and are intentionally manipulated by skilled bodysurfers.

The resulting style is not particular to region or even community, but a particular wave. There are magnet waves, that pull bodysurfers from across regions. These waves break in a distinct manner according to their bathymetry and swell windows. Due to the specific break, you can understand why many of the waves’ expert riders share stylistic similarities. Each commonality serving a particular purpose in riding each particular wave to its maximum potential.

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Early Season Wedge
Photo: Kyle Stock

An infamous magnet-wave is the Wedge of Newport Beach, California. Described by it’s riders as a freak, proper Wedge has a focused breaking point amplified by the refracted backwash of earlier waves. Long-time Wedge Crew member Tim Burnham describes, “The takeoff at Wedge is extremely critical. It breaks really fast and is super steep and the key to riding Wedge well is to hold a high line and maintain speed.”

If that wasn’t difficult enough, “Not only does the acceleration of the Wedge-peak force riders to seek a highly streamlined form, but the powerful and at times unpredictable backwash, can send bodysurfers over the falls if they haven’t gotten a full head of steam.” Longtime riders of the Wedge know this to be fact and have adjusted accordingly.

Wedge riders extend from fingertips to toes. The longer and straighter they are able to hold their body, the faster they will cut through the wave. Every inch of their body pulled into a tight line to reduce drag. To reduce trim, Fred Simpson and the rest of the 70’s crew began rolling their bodies onto a single hip and extending with their lead hand. They tucked their opposite hand near their armpit and the Chicken Wing was born (some riders leave their opposite hand near the waist which is also referred to as the broken wing). This stylistic adaptation is primed for dealing with pitching, nasty, unpredictable Wedge.

    Fred Simpson years after he pioneered "The Fred," what would go on to become The Chicken Wing     Photo: Ron Romanosky
Fred Simpson years after he pioneered “The Fred,” what would go on to become “The Chicken Wing”
Photo: Ron Romanosky

The Chicken Wing could also be called a modified Layout. The Layout was born, as most adaptations are, to accelerate. By expanding the rider’s flotation, the Layout increases a bodysurfer’s speed. In a Layout, the rider increases their body’s planing surface across the face of the wave. The greater the area of a planing surface, the more flotation and consequently, the more speed you can generate.

Mel Thoman, Wedge Crew member for the last four decades stresses, “(the) ultra importance of …putting the most pressure for speed and stability on the lead hand as it literally has all the lift and control during your ride.” You may see riders with their palms up or reaching out for a handshake, but this will not fly at the Wedge. Your hands are vital to providing lift, control and speed in the belly of a Wedge monster.

Over 40 years, the Chicken Wing has evolved. With each new generation of Wedge riders, the Chicken Wing is fine tuned. Some members of the Wedge Crew in the 80’s and 90’s began showing a mechanical-like rigidness when flashing the Chicken Wing. The rigidness is highlighted by a physical flex and release cycle.

The Flex: When a rider needs more speed they turn their head slightly away from their lead hand. This motion allows their trailing shoulder to roll on top of their lead shoulder, forming the body into a flexed line. The angle of their lead arm and torso is increased by this roll. With an increase in this angle, the rider’s body is a more efficient planing surface. The chest and stomach float easier because your center of gravity is shifted towards the head. The Flexed position is the part of the cycle most easily identified as The Chicken Wing.

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Mel Thoman in the middle of the switch
Photo: Ron Romanosky

The Release: According to feel, a rider may release the Flex to a prone riding position. The Release position is categorized by a more acute angle of the lead arm and torso. The head is facing down the line. In the Release position, the rider can look at their line and make decisions about whether or not to hold or return to the Flex position. Some riders will pull their chicken-winged hand to their front and use it as an additional planing hand.

In the video below provided by Tom Lynch, you can see Matt Larson with total control of his speed. Matt has been riding Wedge since the 80’s. He is still a standout in the line-up. Pay close attention to the first two waves in the clip. Matt uses the Flex position for speed and the Release position to judge his line and target velocity.

The newest group of bodies eager to ride the liquid bucking-broncos embrace the Chicken Wing as much as anyone. They understand through blood and bruising how important form is to their craft. There’s even rumor of them going so far as to add a chicken head to their wingin’ ways. Ridiculous props aside, these guys are carrying on a well-founded tradition through style and dedication.

Charlie McAuliffe Photo: Ron Romanosky
Charlie McAuliffe
Photo: Ron Romanosky
Parker Chicken Wing
Parker Varner
Photo: Thomas VanMelum

There are innumerable waves across the world. Each with it’s own unique bathymetry and swell window creating thousands upon thousands of liquid mountains. As we wander from peak to peak, we will continue to evolve in pursuit of harmonic slides on each new face. We’ll learn that the wave you ride ultimately determines the way you ride it.

-EJ