"THE YEAR WAS 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren’t only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General." -- Kurt Vonnegut, from "Harrison Bergeron," 1961.
First off: Yes, I owe a great deal to Derek Hynd, whose Top 30 reviews in Surfer Magazine fueled my pre-teen obsession with professional surfing and greatly influenced my creation of the Power Rankings. Derek has a great gift for making the mundane seem interesting - he successfully romanticized the relevance of shithouse beachbreak contests 20 years ago, and that's impressive. Now he's taking a shot at proving the validity of finless surfboards.
Yes, they do 360s. But minus the 360s, the surfing depicted in stills and video looks roughly equivalent to that of any first-year surfer. And the 360s? It's pretty easy to spin around when you have no fins. Even with fins, it's pretty easy to do a sliding 360 - they were perfected and then shunned by everyone except boogie-boarders back in the early 80s, and again in the mid 90s. (Carving 360s are a different matter - compare Slater's recent Huntington Power Circle to a finless 360 and you'll get the idea.)
So what the hell's going on here, other than the continued marketing of homogenized individualism?
What we're left with, once you remove the novelty, is the obvious: good surfers handicapping themselves via the use of dysfunctional equipment. It's Harrison Bergeron come to life - except instead of legislated mediocrity, we're witnessing self-induced handicapping. In Vonnegut's story, the strong are made to carry enormous weights so they will no longer be stronger than anybody else.
In 2009, skilled surfers ride finless, volumeless boards, allowing them to surf Cardiff reef just as badly as a newbie kook or decrepit longboarder. Everyone's equal. And I suppose there's some beauty in that.
Even better, perhaps the finless surfboard trend will spread to the unskilled masses, like the plague of SUPs and retrofish. If finless surfboards are our future, then they will certainly be Mr. Hynd's greatest contribution to surfing.
I anticipate with glee a Utopian future in which I paddle out on the best day of the year to a lineup crowded with Alaia riders and kooks on finless Derek Hynd models. They'll snicker at my oh-so-uncool stock-standard thruster. But in this case there's a price to be paid for fashion -- while SUPs help the unskilled catch more waves, Alaias will help them catch far less. And the vast majority will fall flat on their face once they catch a decent wave - like athletes trying to run sprints in $300 Parisian couture high heels. The barrels will go to the unhip, stuck on their out-of-style thrusters.
So, upon consideration, I have slightly revised my position on finless surfboards. Don't knock them till you've tried them. (Personally, I don't plan to purchase one - I've already done my time, skimboarding in my pre-teen years.) But I highy suggest that everyone else out there sell their SUPs or longboards and purchase Alaias immediately. If you care about surfing, and care about being cool, it's the right thing to do.