Most of us will never have the cojones or skill to tow into a set wave at Mavericks or Jaws, but that doesn’t mean that the average surfer isn’t being affected by the high-end modifications tow-in surfers are making to their equipment.
“Fin design has been especially affected as tow surfers take their equipment to speeds that were unimaginable only ten years ago,” says Curtis Hesselgrave, vice president of design at Future Systems.
So what’s Future Systems’ edge in this high-profile surfing arena? “I’m slightly embarrassed to answer that question truthfully,” says Hesselgrave, “but for fifteen years I’ve been regarded as the leading fin maker in the world. All other fin makers have been enormously influenced by the pioneering work that I’ve done in changing the definition of fins from crude slabs of fiberglass to refined wings with known foil sections and a fine-tuned flex patterns.”
It appears he has the credentials to back up this claim. Hesselgrave worked in the windsurfing market back in the mid 80s and his designs helped shatter the world speed record for sail-powered craft. “Windsurfers moved the record from 36 knots up to 46 knots — a huge jump,” he says.
Today, some of the most respected big-wave surfers — including Laird Hamilton, Gerry Lopez, Peter Mel, and Darrick Doerner — are helping Hesselgrave further refine his foils for the next generation of fins.
Last year Hamilton lost a fin at Jaws. “He told me, ‘The board didn’t turn very well, but it sure was fast,'” recalls Hesselgrave with a laugh. This type of feedback helped him take a fresh look at fin design, and the Future Systems tow-in fin system sports smaller side fins and a slightly larger rear fin. Instead of being flat, the inside surface of the side fins are slightly concave, which Hesselgrave says increases stability at high speeds.
“I have been using Future Fin Systems now for the past three years, and I’ve had to revise my opinion regarding performance in removable fin systems,” says Lopez. “I can now say that there is a removable fin system that has higher performance characteristics than any glass-on fin.”
The removable fin market is dominated by FCS, but Hesselgrave says Future is making the right moves to grow its business: “We’ve owned the company for only fourteen months,” says Hesselgrave, referring to the recent ownership change for the seven-year-old company. “In those fourteen months we’ve more than doubled the business. We’ve also more than doubled the plastic-fin product line, introduced an advanced composite line of fins that have three different flex patterns, developed fins for tow-in and gun applications, and put in place an international distribution network and a domestic rep network.”
The tow-in fin market will never be anything than the most esoteric part of an already specialized field. But that doesn’t seem to bother Hesselgrave as he slowly handcrafts another set of custom fins; equipment that will be relied upon when the chips are down and the consequences are heavy. By advancing fin design, he says, every surfer wins — whether they’re being whipped in at Mavericks or groveling at the beachbreak down the street.