This year’s Australian Design Awards were announced over dinner at the Melbourne Museum in the heart of Melbourne, attended by five hundred industry guests. Master of ceremonies was James O’Loughlin, host of the ABC TV series New Inventors program. 

With award winners from eight product categories, the winning products – described as diverse and innovative – were chosen from forty-nine industry finalists.

The annual student awards were sponsored once again by British based appliance manufacturer, Dyson.

the science of surfing

An Australian company has created history with a new product that brings together science and surfing, technology and marketing.

The ‘super fin’ developed by Surf Hardware International, (SHI), has taken out the coveted Australian Design Award for 2005. The design and development of the new Fin Control System H-2 is a long way from what has traditionally been a backyard industry for surfboard and fin design.

The team at SHI has worked hard to achieve success in superior product design using scientific research with advanced technology and engineering.

According to Wylie Fowler, marketing and product development manager at SHI, the primary focus for the company has been to improve the enjoyment of surfing through better products and enhanced performance.

Naval architect and hydrodynamic expert, Andy Dovell, takes credit for the design of the fin, while Talon Technology was the materials engineering consultancy responsible for the construction technology and commercialisation of the H-2 fin.

Fowler says the brief for the project was to create the most efficient, high performance fin possible.

“While the fin was developed with the elite in mind, the efficiency and performance gains of the H-2 make a positive impact for all surfers above the beginner level,” he said.

“As performance levels advance, the true benefits of the fins become more and more apparent, but even in the most basic manoeuvres the fin’s benefits can be felt. 

“Prior to the H-2 program, fin design was a cocktail of prior experience, craftsman’s knowledge and rudimentary surfer feedback. Early fin technology, which forms the foundation for the majority of fins on boards today, evolved from trial and error by early surfboard shaper design pioneers.”

Surf Hardware International is an international surfing company, focusing on the design and development, marketing and supply of surf hardware products.

“We primarily exist to increase the enjoyment of the surfing experience through enhanced performance, for all surfers,” says Fowler.

The SHI head office is in New South Wales with other offices in the US, Japan, Hawaii and Europe.

As well as the leading Fin Control Systems (FCS) and Gorilla Grip (a traction system for boards), which collectively make up more than sixty-five per cent of  sales revenue, the company produces a range of surf accessories including board covers, leg ropes, luggage and accessories and wet apparel such as rash vests, booties, neoprene gloves, hats and caps under wetsuit neoprene products.

“Our lead product, FCS, is a fin attachment system and range of detachable fins. The system was developed in the early 90s by Brian Whitty, board builder and inventor, and our company’s founders Bill McCausland, Gary Mountford and Graeme Bennett.

“The range provides surfers with the opportunity to not only easily take fins in and out of boards for travelling, but also for providing a stack of fin options to fine tune surfers boards or surfing.”

The award winning FCS H-2

The FCS H-2 fin design and development team members include lead designer, Andy Dowell and a support team of three industrial designers Anthony Rodier, Michael Durante, and Bryan Stokes and graphic designer Adam Macqueen.

Anthony Rouse was the initial project manager in the early stages with Wylie Fowler taking over the project in the latter stages.

Bill McCausland, Gary Mountford and Graeme Bennett, company founders, owners and directors were part of the vision to initiate fin research at SHI.

For the first time a program involving surfboard and fin designers combined with scientific testing and analysis resulted in what SHI call their Hydrodynamic Program. The H-2 fin was the first product developed using this unique product development process.

The process involved rigorous testing in the Tom Fink Cavitation Tunnel at the Maritime College in Hobart. Hydrodynamic and materials experts, professional surfers (Kelly Slater and Tom Carroll) and manufacturing consultants worked together to get the best results.

“The hydrodynamic program used to research and test the H-2 fin will now be the standard for fin development at SHI moving forward, and the fundamentals will be applied across a wide range of new product development projects,” says Fowler.

Shape and construction

When moving through water a fin basically acts somewhat like an areoplane wing, creating both lift and drag as water moves over it. The inside foil of the H-2 (as opposed to flat foils of standard fins) enhances lift while minimising drag, with better results for the surfer.

The H-2 has a ‘tempered’ elliptical profile. An elliptical profile is the most efficient profile available. However, according to Fowler, this kind of fin on a surfboard looked too different to be successful in the marketplace.

“SHI tempered the shape to be a little more acceptable (some reference at least to traditional fins), without sacrificing too much in performance,” he said.

“The fin section is also curved on both surfaces. Traditional fins are curved on one side, and flat on the other. And the cant angle of the fin is much higher than usual.

“Cant angles have been experimented with in the past on traditional fins. Basically, the more cant on the fins, the looser the feeling of the board.”

According to Fowler, a number of cant angles were experimented with in the development of the H-2, and the fourteen-degree cant (as opposed to four with traditional fins) was found to be the best option.

This high angle posed unique manufacturing issues, which were solved in the design and development of the tool and lay up schedule.

The H-2 is a moulded fin, using a wet lay up over a high density polyurethane foam core.

Traditional fibreglass fins are made from a hand lay up of fibreglass sheet (fin panel), from which shapes are cut and the foils hand sanded.

The moulding process used in the H-2 eliminates potential human error involved in sanding, ensuring the foil is perfect on each piece. 

The big secret in the fin’s construction is the core. “And we ain’t telling the secret,” says Fowler.

The H-2 has a texallium skin, which is an aluminium coated fibreglass cloth, slightly stiffer than comparable weight glass fibre mat. It was primarily chosen for aesthetic appeal.

“This is a technically advanced fin, and we were searching for a technically advanced look. Texallium was the ideal candidate,” says Fowler. 

H-2 fins are removable and standard on the majority of boards manufactured globally.

Fowler believes that up to ninety-five per cent of all  modern short boards manufactured have a removable fin system, and globally FCS would have around seventy-five per cent share of that market.

“The advantages of a removable system are numerous. It enables the boards to be packed flat in shipping, benefiting both manufacturers sending boards around the world, and surfers travelling with large ‘quivers’,” Fowler explains.

“FCS also enables surfers to change the performance characteristics of their boards by changing their fins. For instance, the range of wave sizes a particular board might have optimum performance in can be extended by simply increasing the area of the fins used (on the same board, bigger fins increase hold which is critical in larger waves).

“Other fin characteristics can alter the feel of the board including base length, rake, tip area and flex. Another advantage of FCS and the reason for its original design, was cost and time savings in the manufacturing process.”

Glass on fins (the standard before FCS) requires significantly more in installation than the FCS system in the manufacturing process.

The ‘break-out’ tabs are unique to FCS fins. They are designed to break at a particular impact force to protect both surfer from injury and board from damage.

Market response

The award-winning fin is currently for sale globally and retail response has been positive.

“The surfing community is generally conservative in its approach to changes in equipment, and this fin challenges some long held conceptions about fins,” says Fowler.

“Japan is a slightly more open market when it comes to innovation, and we are seeing this reflected in higher initial sales in that market.

“We knew the fins would generate more interest than sales initially, and that has certainly been the case, with sales volume ramping behind that.

“Surfers need to be sure that what they are riding is working, and that perception can sometimes only be created by having respected surfers and designers recommend (and use) the fins. As these recommendations increase, we are seeing a solid sales increase.

“The fins retail for $145. While this might seem a lot for a fin, it is about one quarter the cost of a new board, and can deliver a new board feeling to an old favourite, or the dog that has been sitting in the garage that just didn’t quite go.” 

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