After the breathtaking hiking and scenery of Zion, we drove straight through to Southern California, with a first stop at Dana Point where Bethany could dip her toes in the Pacific for the first time.
VANdal parked incognito streetside in San Clemente for the night, a tricky find due to the hilly streets in the area. Our first morning, we made a visit to the famous beach at SanO (the affectionate moniker of San Onofre State Beach).
There, we SUP surfed some tiny bumps on the Pacific, visited with the legendary Candice Appleby, had a great lunch with Thomas Maximus, and made a special visit to the extended Quickblade family, Hugo Martinez and Adrianne Willison.
It had been over a year since Martin had last seen everyone out here, so it was great to catch up as well as test out all of the innovation happening at Quickblade Paddles.
We were also more than anxious to reunite with Larry Allison and the epicenter of the fin world at Allison Race Fins in Torrance. Martin was dying to experience for himself the twin fin system that the two of them had been discussing and tweaking over the last two years – and Bethany, in a surprise treat, also got to benefit as you will soon see.
For those of you uninitiated with the SUP community, Larry Allison has been designing fins for the surf, windsurf, and now stand up paddle industries for over forty years. His fiberglass fin designs, revolutionary and often copied by other fin manufacturers, are hand crafted with an obsessive attention to detail (which means that they’re worth the wait).
While everyone in the industry has been firmly entrenched in the single fin configuration, Larry has been working for the past three years to create a fin system that would add stability and speed to race boards, which are always getting narrower & faster, while sacrificing stability.
Traditionally, speed and stability are juxtaposed realities. The faster the board, the less stable it is. Stand up paddleboards have different hydrodynamic principles than sailing, motor vessels, or surfboards in large part due to the fact that the point of propulsion is forward of the center point.
While surfboards are propelled from the back by the power of the wave, and motor boats by propeller under the stern, the power of a stander up paddler’s stroke reaches its critical point when the paddle is vertical, approximately two feet in front of the paddlers’ feet, which are generally at the center of the board. Thus, applying tried and true nautical design principles that have worked well for boats and surfboards simply do not apply to SUP. Larry, as always, thinking outside of the box, set out to design a fin system that would be completely unique to SUP.
His new design utilizes a small ventral fin located in front of where the paddler stands, along with the traditional (but highly modified) center fin, flanked by two elliptical twin fins. In essence, without boring you with the technical details, the ventral fin provides stability, both directionally and laterally, while the twin fins funnel water toward the center fin, thus providing forward projection. The end result: A huge improvement in stability and a noticeable increase in speed.
After spending all of Friday night (thanks Larry!!!) getting our two boards prepped for their three-day “surgery,” we were very fortunate that Larry, along with his friend, Wayne Limm, spent the better part of the next morning with us at Naples Island to test drive.
On the wonderfully accessible beaches along Naples Island, Larry diligently put us through each phase of his thought process, having us paddle the boards with every permutation of fins, allowing us to feel all of the subtle and not-so-subtle differences, and concluding with the fin system he rightfully deemed the winning combination.
The boards we were testing the fins on were a 12’6” race board and a general purpose 10’6” SUP surf. Both boards, using a traditional single fin set up, performed as expected. We tried every fin configuration imaginable – single, twin only, ventral only, ventral + twins, etc., but when all four fins were put into place, there was no denying that both boards became remarkably more stable, both directionally and laterally.
Stability not only makes the paddler more comfortable, but also enables them to exert more force onto the paddle, resulting in an increase in speed. In fact, the 10’6” SUP surf became so stable that even with both of us AND Katie on board, Martin could not only continue to paddle effortlessly, but could do so without switching sides.
We found that as the board reached higher speeds, it felt lighter and more agile as though letting the paddler know of its unlimited speed potential. From a balance perspective, pivot turns became effortless, beckoning us to give it try in open, choppier waters.
we retired to VANdal for a low-key burrito lunch (organic beans, eggs, avocado, cheese, roasted garlic, and hot peppers deliciously rolled into a Sami’s flatbread) served up right at our parking spot along the beach.
A magical place to watch the wide array of watercraft enjoying the calm canals opposite Long Beach, it was the perfect way to escape California traffic for the afternoon. Long Beach itself, incidentally, is surprisingly anti-scenic with its backdrop of oil derricks, some of which are “disguised” as islands, and oil freighters dotting the otherwise perfect view.
Speaking of California traffic, the stereotypes are unquestionably accurate. Californians speak of traffic like Oregonians speak of the weather. It comes up in literally every conversation. And, much like you might see on SNL’s Californian’s soap opera parody sketch, we quickly learned to converse in directional phrases like, “Get back on San Vicente, take it to the 10, then switch over to the 405 north, and let it dump you onto Mulholland where you belong!”
Though not a good SUP surf day with major surf break, it was perfect for a relaxing paddle around the marina on the opposite shore with Larry and his buddy, local shaper Steve Hill of Easy Ride boards.
This gave us yet another opportunity to see the twin fins in action as he had two identical boards – one with the new fins and one without. There was such a distinct difference between these set ups that Bethany actually had an easier time paddling the twin fins WITH Katie (a 52 pound dog) than paddling the same board sans dog.
The Comet, designed by Tim Kernan and hand-shaped and custom built by Brian Hovnanian of HovieSUP, starts off as a very fast board with a flat water bias. Having paddled the Comet from its original prototype through seven design modifications, Martin is confident in the Comet’s extraordinary performance at its remarkably light weight (only 18 pounds with deck pad and fin). He has raced that board in over forty races to many a podium finish, and it accelerates and handles beautifully with its wave piercing bow, narrow shoulders, and superior glide over flat water. Like any extremely fast board, it does sacrifice some stability in rough conditions for outright speed. However, the Comet with its surgically enhanced “twins” not only felt as stable as a SUP surf, but tracked straighter and was overall faster than in its original single fin configuration.
The twin fin system, though not inexpensive, is the most significant upgrade any paddler can make to their board. At this point, there’s no reason to ever paddle a single fin again. Katie gives it 5 out of 5 paws for stability and overall enhancement to her ride as well.
We closed out our adventures in southern California enjoying a feast of salmon, wild rice, and grilled corn & tomato salad Bethany prepared for the crew, listening to reggae beachside in VANdal’s incognito parking spot between the ocean and the bay, and celebrating our last few days with the fin doctor.
The next morning, after a quick walk on the beach, we left LA (after morning rush hour, of course) enthusiastically looking forward to cleaner air and a higher tree-to-concrete ratio. We’re headed to Tahoe!