Fin Land: Greg Trotter and SOAR Fin

Laurie McGinness
Talking Heads

As the Princes Highway winds down the NSW south coast it regularly veers inland. There are numerous side roads leading to bypassed sections of the coast. Half way down one of them, on an acreage in amongst patches of regrowth forest, is an unlikley location for a surfing business that mixes the latest technology with traditional skills and a blend of maths and science. But that’s where Greg Trotter has chosen to locate SOAR Fin. The decision was inspired by a desire to return to his childhood home in the Ulladulla area and the necessity to be a long way from the neighbours due to the noise.

There are probably not many who have as wide an experience of the surfing industry as Greg. He started with a few backyard efforts to help pay for a ding he had put in his father’s car as a sixteen-year old unlicensed driver. He had taken it to pick up his disabled brother and had a bit of trouble getting it back into the garage. From there, it was a steady progression, working with Graham King in Kirrawee first, then on to start Summer Session at Budgewoi on the Central Coast. It was all very 1970s, living in a log cabin one street back from the beach and surfing the breaks from Norah Head through to Swansea with surfers like the Harris, Spong, and Winton brothers.

Greg and his CNC cutter (Laurie McGinness)

After moving back to Sydney, Greg worked for Graham King again briefly before being offered a job by Peter and Roger Casey at KC Surfboards on the northern beaches. After a year, they decided to get out of the business and offered it to Greg. He still owns the business today. The name KC Surfboards might not be as familiar now as it once was, but there was a time when he was shaping for half the Newport Plus team, surfers like Stuart Cadden, Gary Green, and Roger Casey, who was a talented surfer in his own right, as well as others such as Bryce Ellis.

Owning and running a surfboard business though meant he was tied down and could not travel. His solution was to put the business on hold and travel the world as one of the first itinerant shapers. He worked in Hawaii, Western Australia, and was one of the first international shapers to work in Japan. Ironically, he met his Japanese wife Izumi shortly after returning to Australia. Being married, he needed a more reliable source of income, so he started making fins.

By the late-80s the fins had become so popular there just wasn’t enough time for shaping. This was before FCS, so the demand for his fins, just in the Australian market, was up to 6,000 a month.  When FCS came along he thought they wouldn’t last because glass ons were better ……something he still believes. But it became a matter of convenience, manufacture, and storage, so pretty soon nearly all boards had removable fins.

At the time the perception was that FCS had a patent on their fin design but Greg believes the patent only ever applied to the plugs. To get into the expanding market for removables, he developed moulding techniques that enabled him to produce fibreglass fins and began to sell large numbers. At the time FCS only had plastic fins, so they approached him to produce prototype fibreglass fins for them which, foolishly as he sees it now, he did. The outcome was that FCS took the fins to China and had them produced there.

Greg also worked with Dave Byrne and Tony Reiter to produce Power Base Fins which he regards as an excellent design. They had a rovings base and sat on the board like a glass on fin. Owen Wright used them in three finals in a row against Kelly Slater in his first year on tour, and beat him in the New York event. Unfortunately while they were very succesful in terms of performance, marketing them proved difficult.

Following the Power Base project Greg invested in CNC machinery. The logic was to increase the range of designs. Moulded fins require a separate mould for each design while CNC machines can produce an infinite range simply by varying the input from the software. So now the fins are designed on computer and cut from the laminated panels, produced on site, using the CNC machine. They are then hand finished. The resulting fins are super accurate.

Cut, branded, and ready to fly - Dahlberg two tab fins at left, and single fin slots for Surf Empire at right, all made by SOAR

More recently FCS renewed their patent with the FCS2 system and there have been regular announcements on IP Australia about the application. Greg’s view after reading one a few weeks ago, was that they had knocked the fin out of the patent altogether. Since then FCS have reintroduced the application with different wording. As it stands there is still no resolution of the patent which was first applied for in 2013. SOAR Fin now produce a fin called the FCS1.5 which utilises the front hook with the standard tab and a screw for the back plug.

Greg’s business model is a bit different to FCS and Futures. SOAR Fin do not supply shops, but work with shapers like Webber, Dahlberg, and many others. This means there is a constant flow of new ideas. Some people want more flex, some people want more drive, deeper fins, shallower fins, keels, twin fins, single fins, the list goes on. Once a shaper has delivered the outline it has to be foiled to give the flex they want. This is a black art involving accurate measurement of the thicknesses, and balancing them against the area of the fin.  

It’s a skill set that attracts not only Australian customers, but shapers from Hawaii, New York, Ireland, England, France, New Zealand and Japan. There are also many individual customers who are looking for a particular design that they cannot get anywhere else, including surfers like Tom Carroll who contacted Greg recently to produce some fins for his Rawson guns and designers like Harley Ingleby who wanted the tabs adjusted for his twin fins. Agility is a key attribute of the business. Someone can come in with a design and within a week or so they can be testing it in their board. The bigger comnpanies can’t do that if their fins are being produced in China!

// LAURIE MCGINNESS

Comments

udo's picture
udo's picture
udo commented Tuesday, 4 Jun 2019 at 1:41pm

What was difficult about marketing Power Base fins ?

Shame Troy from C-Drive Fins couldnt / didnt team up with Trotter and had his fins made in Oz..

bill-poster's picture
bill-poster's picture
bill-poster commented Tuesday, 4 Jun 2019 at 2:10pm

Maybe it was because Power Base came out around the same time FCS II and the other FCS base (name escape me just now) came out, and all of them hit the market around the same time.

udo's picture
udo's picture
udo commented Tuesday, 4 Jun 2019 at 3:16pm

Powerbase released well before FCS II.
Owen Wright talks of them on Utube back in 2011....and how he was involved in the development of them.

Edit : Thats a great 8 minutes spiel from Owen on Powerbase fins ---- So it came down to $$...FCS offering more ?

lostdoggy's picture
lostdoggy's picture
lostdoggy commented Tuesday, 4 Jun 2019 at 5:14pm

I've had a number of soar fibreglass fins over the years. Love them.
Got a few boards with glass ons still, and a set of Dahlberg template FCS.

Weren't powerbase made from ceramic? Has anyone else done ceramic fins? Seems like an odd material to use. Anyone here surfed them?

lostdoggy's picture
lostdoggy's picture
lostdoggy commented Tuesday, 4 Jun 2019 at 5:20pm

Actually, I have a 7'8 gun with glass on soar fins that are honeycomb fibreglass. It was the first time I'd ever seen honeycomb fins (obviously very popular now) and at the time I thought they looked amazing. Actually, this set looks much cooler for some reason than standard fcs/futures honeycomb. It's surrounded by clear fibreglass and looks great.
Was Greg one of the first to do honeycomb fibreglass? He doesn't seem to offer them anymore though.

freeride76's picture
freeride76's picture
freeride76 commented Tuesday, 4 Jun 2019 at 5:23pm

speed fins had ceramic ones.

lostdoggy's picture
lostdoggy's picture
lostdoggy commented Tuesday, 4 Jun 2019 at 5:30pm

Did you surf a set of them, FR?
Where do they sit compared to plastic or fibreglass?

Without having touched any I'd imagine they would be a bit stiff.

freeride76's picture
freeride76's picture
freeride76 commented Tuesday, 4 Jun 2019 at 5:39pm

I actually really liked the feel of them.
still got them, attached to a Jim Banks 6'9".

tiger's picture
tiger's picture
tiger commented Tuesday, 4 Jun 2019 at 6:22pm

I don't mind them either, actually still got a few boards with the speedfins system, I was a fan. Only prob with the ceramic ones was they tended to hum at high load, hard to fine tune to eliminate. You ever notice this Steve?

freeride76's picture
freeride76's picture
freeride76 commented Tuesday, 4 Jun 2019 at 6:49pm

no, not on the one I've got.
no hum.

really nice and twangy

indo-dreaming's picture
indo-dreaming's picture
indo-dreaming commented Tuesday, 4 Jun 2019 at 5:55pm

I had a set of the power base fins, i didn't mind them.

I remember i had a board in very late 80s with moulded ceramic type fins very similar to power base fins that were like glued to the board, i think the base actually went into the foam.

memlasurf's picture
memlasurf's picture
memlasurf commented Tuesday, 4 Jun 2019 at 7:01pm

Bean at Balin surfboards gets the Soar fins for his 70's single fin retro model which are glass on and any thrusters which require glass on. Beautiful piece of work that single fin I didn't even know you could get custom fins to suit the FCS from Soar.

Spuddups's picture
Spuddups's picture
Spuddups commented Wednesday, 5 Jun 2019 at 5:40am

I agree with his theory that glass-ons are better. I have a few boards that I travel with that have removable fins but the rest of my boards have glass-ons. If they're glassed in well they can take a lot more abuse compared to removables. A lot of rocks round here. I got sick of knocking out fin plugs.

Optimist's picture
Optimist's picture
Optimist commented Wednesday, 5 Jun 2019 at 7:01am

Tractite fins from Hayden in Maroochydore were popular. They may be the ones your thinking of. Easy to use in production like powerbase and they turned quick. 3 sizes from memory and nice pointy tips like AB fins. Did nice long bottom turns. if you hit a rock they would snap of clean at the base and not damage the board so you would just get another one and smear some resin under the base, stick it back on then a little piece of glass down each side for extra strength. Liked them and used them for many years.

indo-dreaming's picture
indo-dreaming's picture
indo-dreaming commented Wednesday, 5 Jun 2019 at 8:01am

Yep that sounds like them.

MidWestMonger's picture
MidWestMonger's picture
MidWestMonger commented Wednesday, 5 Jun 2019 at 7:26am

My views in fin technology border on luddite as I cant see much difference in the performance of a $100 set compared to a $30 set off ebay. I do wish an Aussie business the best though and am glad people out are prepared to buy high tech home grown. The only time I notice fin performance is when they're not there (knocked out on the jump off rock) and you come a gutza on the first bottom turn. i went to my emergency fin in my surf bag which i found years before on the road. It had been run over for days, was battered and mainly used for years prying abalone off rocks but it still worked without any noticeable difference in performance. Flex, drive?? not stuff I worry about really

indo-dreaming's picture
indo-dreaming's picture
indo-dreaming commented Wednesday, 5 Jun 2019 at 8:11am

Thats because often there is no difference, they are even apparently often made at the same factory, same templates and everything just different name, my local shop/board maker gets there own fins made at these factories and sea them much cheaper than big name brands.

Personally template and size to me makes a big difference to fins, materials not so much even so called plastic fins these days are very stiff, and a bit of flex is not a bad thing anyway. IMHO most of it is just marketing BS so they can sell for a higher price.

SDW's picture
SDW's picture
SDW commented Thursday, 6 Jun 2019 at 9:32pm

I agree .

groovie's picture
groovie's picture
groovie commented Wednesday, 5 Jun 2019 at 7:29am

G'day Trottsky. You made me some of the best boards I've ever surfed back in the mid 80's when we were living on the Cenny Coast surfing reef waves of consequence! The Soar glass on fins were part of the the reason your boards went so well, innovative fins that were ahead of their time( super light & strong with foam cores). Cheers Greg!

Allargo's picture
Allargo's picture
Allargo commented Wednesday, 5 Jun 2019 at 3:39pm

Interesting and innovative fins made in Oz. Love them! Cheers Phil

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Wednesday, 5 Jun 2019 at 4:24pm

Not much to add about fins, but here's my Greg Trotter-shaped KC. 5'9" double flyer swallow with textured deck. Got it in '85.

memlasurf's picture
memlasurf's picture
memlasurf commented Wednesday, 5 Jun 2019 at 9:35pm

How thick is that one Stu? Classic 80's outline and you have a Claytons channel as well.

jaunkemps's picture
jaunkemps's picture
jaunkemps commented Thursday, 6 Jun 2019 at 7:48am

Hmmmm fin fin finicky fins, all this banging on about fins makes me ask the question that I have always asked, if the tail area of a stick is so sensitive they why hasn't anyone made a drop in block ( centre fin ) for quad set up, seems totally wrong to have a unmanned thruster block just sitting there in the tail caveatting water for no apparent reason, please tell oh wise ones........Giddyup

udo's picture
udo's picture
udo commented Thursday, 6 Jun 2019 at 8:42am

Futures do make fin box blanks..about $7 each

Laurie McGinness's picture
Laurie McGinness's picture
Laurie McGinness commented Thursday, 6 Jun 2019 at 7:55am

I asked that question to a very respected designer who told me that empty boxes do not increase drag or cause cavitation. I don't have any hard evidence to back that up but it is plausible as, being flat to the surface, they should not disrupt laminar flow.

Greg Webber's picture
Greg Webber's picture
Greg Webber commented Friday, 7 Jun 2019 at 6:06pm

I agree totally and think TrotterG is a fucking legend and I promise to pay the last invoice Gregory! But yeah he’s got the balance between seeing the beautiful lines in section form in his head and then using a program to get them into forming a surface.

Laurie McGinness's picture
Laurie McGinness's picture
Laurie McGinness commented Friday, 7 Jun 2019 at 7:53pm

I should have included his comment that you were the only person he had ever known who could match Peter Crawford's obsession with fin design. Good on you!

Karl Walsh's picture
Karl Walsh's picture
Karl Walsh commented Saturday, 8 Jun 2019 at 12:18pm

I still have my set of white Powerbase DL Medium fins on the shelf. It is a great all-round template.

Standingleft's picture
Standingleft's picture
Standingleft commented Saturday, 8 Jun 2019 at 8:10pm

Surely Kelly can sort this all out for us while he's relaxing by the wave pool