"To cut this short, if I was to get back to fins I knew it’d have to be cathartic, reflective, maybe chance to discover stuff back through the years that I didn’t figure at the time. Yep, a key also being no compromise." Photo Ted Grambeau

HELLO OLD FRIEND

For 16 long years now Derek Hynd has surfed without fins… but this was not always the case. For most of his illustrious, avant garde surfing life Derek surfed on fins, and while his ongoing finless project marks his boldest evolutionary trip, almost every board he’s surfed over the years has moved the design needle in some way. That’s Derek and his restless surfing mind. His latest project, Hyndline sees him revisiting his life on fins. Derek is reviving – shaping and surfing – a pivotal surfboard of his from every year ’73 to ’03, thirty boards from thirty years, each one marking a point in time for both Derek and the great milieu of surfboard design itself. Each board with its own origin story. Each board an old friend, the process, as Derek puts it, “A long journey home.”

SW: Why are you doing this? Why now? A sense of closure, going back to these boards one last time? A nostalgic indulgence? A source of fresh inspiration? 

DH: Well, contrary to what would seem the average reason it’s not for bucks as much education and evaluation. A good friend of mine’s son, Tom Gainger is fresh out of high school. His Dad, Troy wanted to give him some room to hone the web construction and administration that he’d been getting into. We’d been chatting for a while about the types of boards I’d eventually ride when I got back to fins… if I got back to fins. After 16 years without fins I haven’t felt the need. Modern design does my head in as much now as it did in 1995; the theme of how to make things easier and easier defeating the whole point of humans taking on natural wonders. Not saying I’m right in this but it’s the way I see it. I’m still getting over the cop out of using a leggie for the first time in a year on a bombie a kay out from The Pass. Even though the waves were some of the best I’ll ever ride I still felt like a paper tiger. I did it for reasons that’ll piss a lot of people off but I couldn’t give a shit. Anyway, I remember saying to Troy that a 5’3” I still had from 1973 was something I still rode in 2003, along with a 4’10” epoxy copy of it made by the late, great Rod Hocker. The old board with its forward thickness and foil and tapered tail with big back fin had the strange mix of difficulty yet dependability that made surfing so different back then. That testing feeling I guess. It made me think about my phases of design since then and I guess it struck me that just about every year from ‘73 until the fins came off involved marked direction design-wise, be it on Tour or way off it. To cut this short, if I was to get back to fins I knew it’d have to be cathartic, reflective, maybe chance to discover stuff back through the years that I didn’t figure at the time. Yep, a key also being no compromise.

Are you making one of each for yourself? Will you surf these boards? 

Yeah, I’m primarily building for me. That’s the reason for not many being available. Time. So much was changing design-wise back then that I’ve got a feeling a couple of missing links are buried back there. And that was just on my minor side of the trail. I guess trying to unravel anything that comes up before I get too long in the tooth to test it out has a bit to do with it all.

Your ’73–’77 boards differ wildly… how would you sum up the design zeitgeist of those years? I read a quote from you that went like, “There was enough cross-culture shit around to never sit still with my boards.” Can you tell me about the time. 

About ’73–’77, most beaches or at best clumps of beaches had their own locked-in zeitgeists. There wasn’t too much random intra-beach travel outside of amateur or pro events. One of the greatest things of many great things about the ’74 Surfabout was design variation. International variation, local variation, style variation based on locality. Newport surfers had a foot in country soul north of The Bends and slam attitude south of Mona Vale. Cruise or carnage. Up at North Av – actually, Little Av too – it seemed to me that a heavier trip was going on compared to Newport. The waves required better application to avoid heavy rock situations pre-legropes. Some of the shit on film of the early LA crew is mind bogglingly impressive. The slightly longer boards for entry speed I guess but nuances of art and style in making the ride to point of flick out, unreal. The 7’4” would’ve come from that head space.

The first five boards, ’73-’77. Photo Ted Grambeau

The ’73 board you picked up as a stocky… but at what point you actively start working with shapers to get the boards you needed for the surfing you were trying to do? Did you have a firm idea of how you wanted to surf? 

I wanted to go fast. You’ve got to realise the sound and power of the Kawasaki Mach 3 winding out at 7000 revs heading into the Bilgola Bends. That machine had a tuning out of this world. My brother was one of about 10 Newport or Avalon guys who’d be flat chat on Mach 3s. Speed, for a time, was all. Meanwhile, Newport had pretty empty surf. I wanted a board that’d have the speed of a Rod Ball or Mitchell Rae deep concave but able to turn enough to get a look in at local amateur titles. Without the older pack dominating The Peak as much it was a lucky time to get into some experimentation. Col Smith only built me one board at Morning Star. He wouldn’t remember it but fuck me, I do. What a champion duo Col and Wayne Warner were. Ultra-light, ultra-responsive boards. Fastest board I’d ever ride for another 30 years. Felt like the rocket sled looked like being on from I Dream of Jeannie. Little twins set back, complete hold forehand and backhand yet with total zing. Such a classic one-off design, Col completely listened and nailed what I wanted. Despite being more powerful in the surf than even Simon and with a way more gnarly reputation, boy oh boy he was nice and easy to deal with. 

I wanted to ask about the influence Col Smith’s surfing had on you? And the influence of Col himself and that whole alpha-Narrabeen personality? 

Narrabeen surfing from ’74–’79 was the complete show, heaven and hell, water or sand. Hierarchies and divergent styles, power torquing all over the place. Ride a board at Narra back then on any wave on a decent day and that board had to deliver in front of all sorts of eyes and attitudes. Trying to approximate the state of the art at Narrabeen was one of the greatest surfing tests back then. Col was the cog but that’d be selling Simon, TF, MW, Dappa and Ronnie Ford short. Actually, that’d be selling Dennis Anderson short. Dennis was most probably the big wheel, needing more respect in the physical sense than even Col. The pace of surfing evolution was revolution compared to the early ’70s. Design… so much personalised design. I’ve said it before that Col set an astounding mark and surfing NN meant at least attempting to chase the train. Just imagine when Ronnie overtook Simon and Col after coming up from Bondi to learn board building at Morning Star. Getting to witness shit like this was beyond the incredible. Anyway, TF saw me on the Morning Star after I’d been riding it for about three months around NN. He would’ve been in Hawaii. Late ’76, early ’77. Alley Rights. Nice and long bank, late arvo after his working day when he was in no mood for bullshit; saw me on a ride and that was enough. Called me over. Ordered me down to the Hot Buttered factory next morning, a Saturday. There were people you didn’t disappoint at North Narra. Col was one. Terry was one. Classic. I loved my Morning Star but TF closed that chapter. Changed my world. Gave me the proverbial offer I couldn’t refuse. Getting back to me getting back to 1976 in 2021, that Morning Star twinny is a case in point. In no way was I finished with that board and worth remembering that no team rider got to keep old boards. It was gone to the corn fields.

That brings us to Terry Fitz. You’ve mentioned a particular TF single-fin “straightened out my surfing”. What do you mean by that? 

Terry probably saw something in me that he’d seen in himself around seven years before and I’m only guessing this, but from what he said to Neal Purchase at the time I think with the rise of pro surfing and his own labours in the HB factory whilst competing around the world, he needed a next generation sidebar. The Hot Buttered team was already strong but the equipment was perhaps best known for the Worthington murals and finishings, which was a big difference between Hot Buttered and McCoy Surfboards, which were way more competition focused. Maybe I was a bit of a bridge. TF ripped away my twin-fin approach and got me onto single-fins with Brewer fins for a while. TF built a 6’2” and a 6’5”. Mirror images excepting that the bigger board, round pin, had a wing. What I’d been most impressed about Terry’s surfing at NN was the way he’d still ride semi-guns upon returning from Hawaii and blaze on them. I wanted to apply that stuff in a minor way to my everyday surfing, thus rode the 6’5” more than the 6’2” unless in contests. Right? I’ve carried that basic exercise of quiver use for power delivery day in day out  ever since – every day at every break I ever surf. Looking back to say, J-Bay, mid-’80s through the Litmus period, this was the key to getting things right over there. Few surfers to this day think of the power quotient in addressing how best to extract best-case board performance, no matter the design. Fascinating what he did in straightening and developing my line before reintroducing me to his idea of the Morning Star – far reduced twin-fin versions of his winged Sunset guns; narrow, hard-edged razors. Man, as far removed from MR’s wide twins could be. These boards flew but were necessarily set to fine margins of error due to severities of down-rails and pinched tails. The TF logic was set in learning how to best control an object needing full focus at all times. Nothing was in neutral, no easy forgiveness; the pay-off was in speed and release.

And again, the influence of Terry personally? 

Terry’s influence was more to do with attitude and opportunity than the way I surfed a board. Because of the Morning Star I was already on a plane TF was into – high arcs at speed. A big moment for me on different looking twins was fronting up against MR at pumping Bells in 1979’s first round when his Superman gig was flourishing. I wasn’t at his level but was the luckiest surfer on Earth. I got to see him at his complete best laying over the most beautiful accelerating bottom turns and learnt a fair bit from it. Terry was blooding me against pros like Dane, Cheyne, Bugs and MR and I think he liked how I tried to take it to them – tried being the key word until stepping it up a bit in ’80 and ’81. You know, one thing is certain about The Tour back then – judges had a lot more decisions to make in the course of heats because of design divergences. The flipside was major subjective opinion in the process. Back then more surfers than not had comp equipment different from the next guy. MP, TF, PT, Col, Bugs, Kanga, Buttons, Liddell, MR, Cheyne, Dane, Shaun, Simon, Richo, Mike Ho… my boards were in that viable zone of difference. The point of saying this is that the only need for the eventual Thruster invention fell to big guys on single fins semi-floundering in shit waves, forced to try twin-fins… Dane and Bertlemann aside who could apply mass power drives to twin-fins. Simon looked rotten and was rotten on a fat twin in shit surf. Even his most fervent judge pals like Terry Baker and Fatty Al knew it.

How straight was the line between the uniqueness of surfboards and the uniqueness of surfing styles amongst those top guys at the time? 

With the people on Tour it’s also no stretch to say surfers didn’t travel too much in formative years. You were a product of one or two local breaks. MP – Fingal up to Burleigh, specific technique. Buttons/Liddell/Ho – V-Land down to Off The Wall. Shaun – Bay of Plenty across to Cave Rock. Simon, Narrabeen to Dee Why Point and Manly’s Winkipop. For me and I guess Tom Carroll, Whale Beach Wedge down to Narra. A lot of shit is put on twin-fins on the backhand but from my perspective I needed to figure it out because of lefts around the area. Just from styles back then you could just about know where surfers were from… Bondi and Maroubra surfers in general had distinctive approaches. 

How’s the process of working on these boards been for you? Has it upwelled memories from those days? How do you feel about it all? 

It’s a weird thing but after not thinking about them for decades the process is freaky, like stepping back to exact moments on waves and knowing a board all over again. Think about that and Richo with his iconic Wreck Bay cuttie. Tell me he wouldn’t remember the exact points of that channel bottom. I can remember rides. We all can. When it comes down to it, remembering the detail of moments brings all sorts of specifics… the feeling of a rail for example on a take-off.

With your finless project the big question was always “what comes next?” Is this it? Where does this project sit next to Far Field Free Friction? 

FFFF goes on. Still has adventures left in it. There’s a link between FFFF and Hyndline – running a mile from easy riders, whatever the design. To relearn an art form and tap bits and pieces goes beyond riding a wave. I get to feel a little more depth in the soul.

You can check the boards out at hyndline.com

SW