Tom Hoye: Why stop at four?
A few weeks back I was chatting to a well known US shaper of big wave boards who was troubling over how many fins to use in his craft. "It's fast with four," he said, "but a rear Thruster fin gives you hold in the chop." He had no definitive answer.
It's a shame he hadn't heard of Tom Hoye, because Tom, also an American though he's been living in Margaret River for nearly fifty years, has a simple solution - stick a fifth fin in the board!
Tom did just that back in the early 80s and called it Da Claw. He perfected the design a few years later and has been quietly crafting them out of his Margaret River factory ever since.
Recently, Swellnet bailed up Tom for a quick history lesson - Tom brought the the first twin fin to Australia - and to get him to explain his underground five fin design.
In the beginning...
I started surfing in 1960, and not long afterwards I thought to myself, "Man, surfboards are expensive, I'm going to have to find a way to get them cheaper". So I started working for O'Neill, and from '62 to '68 I was glassing, sanding, and finishing for O'Neill.
In '66 I started shaping, and the next year I built a little shaping room in the back of my house in Santa Cruz and started my own label - Hoye Surfboards - although I still was glassing for O'Neill.
Today's misfortune is tomorrow's blessing
In 1966 I was the number one rated surfer of district two California - that's Santa Barbara up to the Oregon border - and I won a free trip to Hawaii for the Duke Kahanamoko Invitational. I was 20-years old, super stoked! A month before the contest I went to the organisers, and said, "Hey, when do I get my ticket? Do I get to warmup?" And they replied, "Oh, we've already sent someone". They told me, "This is bigger than you, Tom. This is about representing California, and he has Hawaiian experience." They got 12' surf that year and he didn’t even surf in the contest! I couldn’t believe it, turned me off contests.
After they didn't give me my prize, I looked around at what was happening with surfing. I'd just started my shop, started shaping my own boards, and around the same time the first shaping machine came into play - a rocker template with a router. This guy called Jim moved up from down south and gave away 100 boards in town, and then started doing huge numbers of boards a week. He was going to take over the world with surfboards, you know?
Then when all that was happening they built a campus for the University of California in Santa Cruz, and the town went from 20,000, 40,000 in two years. I just went, "Holy fuck, I got to get out of here".
I realised I had to go somewhere with waves of consequence where I can make a couple surfboards a week. I saw a picture of Wayne Lynch pushing a bottom turn at Main Break, and I went "Where is this? That's the kind of wave I'm looking for". Checked where M.R. was on the map and I was on a boat to Australia within three months. I got here to Margaret River in 1971.
Corky Carroll had just introduced the twin fin in California around the time I was leaving. I came over here with three boards: a 6'8" single fin with a little keel trailing behind the main fin, plus a straight six foot single fin, and I also had a 5'4" twin fin that I brought over. It was the first twin fin in Australia, by pure chance.
A session with the Sultan
I landed in Sydney and got a job working for Barry Bennett at Brookvale. The first day I rode my twin fin was at Dee Why point. It was about six feet and there was only one guy in the water. It was Terry Fitzgerald, but I didn't know that at the time.
We surfed together, and later when we were standing on the grass there he asked, "What's that?" I said, "That’s a twin fin". And he was like, "Wow, I got to check this out". But I wasn't really keen on them, not much drive. I also showed him my 6'8" single fin with single entry concave to dual concaves with tucked under edges, tight down rails, and chines, but he didn't really identify with that. His head wasn't there at that point. He was on these short discy things.
Then about three weeks later, I was surfing Butterbox and Terry came paddling up, flipped his board over and said, "Check this, man! I love these things." It was a twin fin.
Fitting fins to an offbeat address
From the start I've always been looking for loose action. In the mid-60s, I tried to make a shape work without fins. Deep concave vee was best, though they work better with fins. The fin I put on those shapes was just four inches high, and it was a square fin, right on the tail. It worked better than you'd expect!
Late-60s I got onto shorter single fins, with the fin six inches deep, plus a little keel set behind it to give traction. I guess they'd call it a nubster today. It was placed right on the end, only an inch high so you don’t even feel it till you set the rail then it adds heaps of traction.
The single fin I brought to Australia had a nubster behind my back fin - a six inch keel about an inch high right on the tail. After I showed Terry the twin fin, I ended up shaping about 300 twin fins for Bennett, but on my own boards I put a little keel right on the tail of the twin fin. A third fin. I showed numerous people who came into Barry Bennett's to order a twin fin. I'd say "Look what I did to mine. I put a little keel on the middle and they work much better". But nobody, nobody took me up on it.
I always recommend putting the little keels on twins. Even Mark Richards, he started putting the little fin behind them. Didn’t start till after the Thruster - I guess that was Mark’s answer to it.
Three fins before the Thruster
In the early-70s, here in Margaret River I was riding single fins with the little keels, and Reno [Abellira] came through the shop. It was just after Reno had been making his little tri fins with Brewer. For a while it seemed everybody was making tris, either single fins with two small 'helper' fins, or a twin fin with a smaller rear fin - similar to what I did at Bennett's.
When Simon Anderson brought the Thruster out I was riding was a single fin with three little keels - about three-quarters of an inch high - set around it in a thruster configuration. So the boards had one keel behind the fin, and a little keel up on either side. They were dynamic. I loved that fin setup. I probably started riding that setup a year or so earlier.
First impression of Simon's thruster.
Why didn't I do that?
Discovering Da Claw
The Thruster came out, and then the quad fin came out real quickly afterwards. I was making quads for guys, and I thought, "Shit, I should make one for myself just to make sure I've got the fins right".
I had it in the glassing room, and was placing the quads and thought, "I don’t want a glorified twin fin. I'm gonna put a fin in the back!" The first five fin had a big fin in front, slightly smaller mid-fin, with a small fin on the tail. I took it down to Lefthanders, and I had a surf and I got out of the water going, "Hmmmm, there's something in this three fin drive". While walking back to the car I decided to try it with a small fin in front and the big fin in the back.
So that night I ground the fins off and set it up like that. The next morning I went down, surfed Lefthanders again, which was four to six foot, and when I walked up the beach that time was when I coined the claw. I was walking up the beach and I went "DA CLAW!" [laughing] Outrageous! It hung in the wall better than anything. It turned anywhere on the face, loose, non-skid traction, shorter fins further up the rail let the tail move, so looser forward trim. Best thing I’ve had in a barrel.
Sharpening Da Claws
I recognised it as being a good design, but it took me a lot of years to figure out the angles, you know? How far off the rails the fins should be set, or how far apart, or close together, can they be and still work. It was a lot of fucking around!
At one point I had a stack of paper fin templates that was probably a half inch high, and I'm talking paper templates. Every time I'd make a board I'd take all these notes and I just confused the fuck out of myself for about three years. I finally came up with what I use today as my standard Claw setup, large and small version.
Size and spread
On average, the fins on a Claw are spread two to three inches wider than the normal Thruster triangle. Because you got an extra fin you can use smaller fins. So my average Claw fin is a half an inch shorter than most Thruster fins. They don't look like they are, but when you put them up next to a Thruster setup, they're quite a bit smaller.
If you squeeze a Thruster triangle together, that gives you more 'punch pivot', it's all happening in one spot, and if you spread them apart you get more carve, you get more rail under control. So with the Claw you get the best of all worlds. You can regulate the carve, and the 'punch pivot' action by setting the mid fin to work more with the lead fin or the trail fin.
Drag and drive
I get asked about it: "You got a lot of fins on that board, Mister, must be lots of drag". But my opinion is that a Claw is faster than a Thruster. Yeah, there's more drag points, but it's got less drag per point.
On any fin, the heaviest drag point is the tip of the fins. So any attempt to shrink them down is increasing the speed. Also, it has more drive, no question.
On Midget Farrelly once riding a five fin at Bells
He did? I could believe that. Barracuda up at Kalbarri, he made a seven fin! I was stoked to see Kelly Slater using five fins at Margaret’s in 2012. My late friend Mike Croteau had five fins on a shape in 1967. Larry Bertleman put fourteen fins on a shape in a way that would let him knock them off easily. There was an article on it in Surfer Magazine in the early 70s. Larry said it didn’t start working till seven.
The reason I claim the Claw the way I do is because it comes totally out of my own surfing, and I’ve been using five fins on every surfboard I’ve had for the last 37 years.
I've never tried to sell them to other surfers because they're harder to build and it's hard for surfers to get their head around it. In 1984 I got my Claw cartoon drawn, mainly because I wanted people to think about it in their own mind. I've had a few friends get my old ones, and then a few people started riding them in the 80’s and 90’s. In the early 2000s they were probably 20% of my output. Today, Da Claw is around 70 to 80%.
A design best suited to guns?
No, no, no...most of my shapes are guns because that's the way people see me, and my shop is in Margaret River. I've made Claws that are 5'4" long, ridden by 15 year old kids, and I've made Claws that are 12 foot long for Cow Bommie. You can put them on anything. A few times I’ve even converted someone’s Thruster to a Claw by grinding of the side fins and adding the Claw fins to a shape they’ve been surfing. Every time, the feedback was good.
Production? Let's not get into my production....
I've never been famous for doing them quickly. Since I broke my leg in '05 I treated my surfboard crafting more as a hobby and I've been working to a 20 to 40 order backlog. The last few years I like to think I’m doing one a week on average, but it’s probably more like two a month. I get guilty feelings because guys wait so long, but they tell me it’s worth it.
I'm slightly crazy and idealistic the way I think about surfboards. I hand shape. I foil all my own fins. I'll make a better surfboard than you've ever had your feet on! I'll just say that to you.....[laughs] Actually, I shouldn't say that to you! That's too fucking egotistical, that is.
Though just the other day I had a guy say to me, "This is the best surfboard I’ve ever had". It had deep channels, six foot double-wing swallow with Da Claw.