This West Australian surfer can’t stop spinning alongside one another in a free-spirited ocean dance, it’s little surprise surfing on the finless alaias also played a role as a courting ritual in ancient Hawaiian culture.
Although Tom Blake added a fin to his board in 1935 and wrote enthusiastically about the improved stability and balance that resulted, fins didn’t become a regular feature on surfboards until the 1940s.
While many variations on fin design have evolved in the last eight years, since the early ’80s a three-finned board, or ‘thruster’, has been the preferred design for most surfers. However, in recent times a number of surfers have once again embraced the unhinged sensation of riding a board without fins – just like the ancient Hawaiians. This quirky subculture of modern, finless sliders often refer to their aquatic hobby as Far Field Free Friction surfing. Or FFFF for short.
Jordan Rodin is one of those wave-addicts who has embraced the FFFF approach.
Watching footage of Jordan riding one of his finless creations sometimes reminds you of a kid running across an ice-rink in slippery shoes or a car hitting an oil-slick at speed. He spins and slides through a dizzying array of manoeuvres which appear to be performed on the cusp of control and chaos. However, Jordan will assure you he knows exactly what he’s doing as his mop of curly hair twirls across the waves.
Funnily enough, Jordan suggests the sensation of riding finless is akin to one of his regular tasks as a concreter. “The drift or slip on the board is a lot like being on a concrete trowel machine! When the blades spin clockwise you are lifted and pushing to give the machine direction. It’s exactly the same with free friction. You are constantly lifting and pushing the board around to give steer. Pushing the rail of the board in will give you bite while lifting it provides which curl along the headland, transporting surfers down the line at unfathomable speeds. J-Bay, as its known, is a kind of sacred surfing site for conventional surfers and its endless, wind-brushed lines are also perfect for finless surfing.
The ocean is very much alive at J-Bay and some of you may remember it as the location where Mick Fanning had his famous encounter with a Great White shark while surfing in a contest. Somehow Mick’s one-two combo of punches was enough to scare the shark away and he lives to tell the tale.
As it happened, Jordan’s maiden release – giving you the dramatic slide/spin. It’s something I realised when staring at a machine for years. It hit me like a lightning bolt!”
Jordan works as a concreter with his father in Perth. They specialise in formwork and building tilt panels on high-rise construction sites. Jordan suggests it’s the perfect gig for a wave slider who wants to work hard and surf hard. “It’s a great job to do if you’re a surfer. In summer you can be finished by midday and get six hours in the water afterwards. In winter, which is normally when the swell is up, you often get rained off. It just ticks all the boxes.”
After a full day’s work, Jordan suggests he is happy to drive an hour north of Perth to escape the crowds of hungry surfers who frequent the local breaks. “I often surf alone,” he boasts, as if wishing to emphasise the sense of freedom his pursuit brings.
Jostling The Champ
While riding finless boards can be fun in any sized surf, if Jordan really wants to test his skills and get a full kick of adrenalin he has to hunt down more challenging waves. One of his formative trips was to Jeffreys Bay in South Africa.
Jeffreys is a glorious right-hand point break, famous for its long, slate-edged walls journey to J-Bay coincided with Mick’s return to the scene of the incident. “I remember there being so much hype about Mick being in town,” recalls Jordan. “All the shark talk played on my mind, but it didn’t phase Derek one bit.”
Jordan was invited to J-Bay by Derek Hynd, considered the godfather of modern, finless surfing. Hynd is a former professional surfer and acclaimed surf writer with something of an eccentric streak. He turned to finless surfing around a decade ago, searching for a sensation that delivered a more on-edge kind of thrill. For Jordan the trip was an opportunity to surf alongside his idol and he remembers well the raft of emotions he had to deal with while waiting for Derek to pick him up from the airport in South Africa. “I remember I was shitting myself. I was about to meet the one guy I looked up to the most.”
As it transpired Jordan’s first surf at Jeffrey’s Bay took place in the lead up to the WSL event, which showcases the world’s most highly rated professional surfers. As Jordan paddled out on his funny looking finless board, all the pros were out there warming up for the event, tearing the waves apart on their conventional thrusters. “I must have stood out like dog’s balls on a cat, spinning and sliding around while the pros all ripped it apart,” quipped Jordan as he reflected on the experience.
Sure enough, after Jordan had skimmed his way through a few blissful rides, a surfer paddled up and asked to have a look at the bottom of his board. It was none other than the shark-battling world champion, Mick Fanning, who had grown curious about Jordan’s board after watching him fly down the line on a couple of waves. This particular board had been crafted by Derek, who had forthrightly insisted Jordan should reveal its secrets to no one. Now Mick Fanning was asking for a close look at the board and Jordan found himself in a bind – should he show loyalty to his mentor or honour the request of Mick Fanning? In the end Jordan bravely explained to the world champion, “Look, I’m sorry Mick, but I just can’t.” That was like telling Don Bradman he couldn’t check out your bat and not surprisingly Mick paddled away a little gob-smacked. When Jordan relayed the anecdote to Derek over dinner, Derek cracked up laughing and complimented his finless apprentice on his use of discretion.
The rest of the trip went splendidly and Jordan relished the opportunity to refine his finless act on the groomed J-Bay walls. There was however one more funny incident when they went on a day trip in Derek’s rental car.
Returning home they came across a local African family who needed a ride.
Quickly determining there wouldn’t be enough room for Jordan and the family, Derek stopped the car and promptly stated, “Okay, we’re going to pick these hitchhikers up and take them home. You have to get in the boot because there isn’t enough room.” Jordan was initially in shock, but after a few moments he saw the fun of it and happily obliged.
A more recent adventure saw Jordan travel to a desert-meets-the-sea setting in northern Western Australia known as Red Bluff. Set against a huge red-tinted headland, the hollow left-hand wave breaks over an extremely shallow reef.
It’s an isolated, sharky break that is challenging to ride on a regular board, let alone on one without fins. Jordan arrived with a quiver of boards, determined to put his skills to the ultimate test and ride the biggest, steepest wave he could find. One of the boards, a seven-footer, was a gift from Derek that Jordan had picked up at Perth airport before making the long journey North.
As Jordan stood at the keyhole in the reef, preparing to paddle out at The Bluff, another surfer glowered at his finless board and scoffed, “It can’t be done.” Others cackled and shouted the standard gibe, “Where’s your fins mate?” Fortunately, for the first couple of days the waves were small, enabling Jordan to adapt his unhinged approach to the Bluff’s steep, hollow coils, which made no allowances for fumbled takeoffs, let alone uncontrolled descents on finless craft. He even managed to ride a couple of tubes, guiding his plank-like craft through the crystalline tunnels and relishing the sense of weightlessness created by the tongue of foam which often forms inside the tube. “I can clearly remember that exact feeling on a wave at Red Bluff where I back-doored a section, flying through, then up and over the foam ball where it felt like I was levitating on top of the foam due to no friction on the bottom of the board,” reflected Jordan.
By the second-last day of the trip Jordan’s confidence had grown and the waves had also increased in size. He felt ready for whatever the reef break might throw at him, and sure enough he got what he was asking for. When a particularly solid set jacked up in front of Jordan, he felt equal to the task and stroked in confidently. “I took the second one so there wasn’t much water left on the reef,” explained Jordan. “I took the drop, made it, set my bottom turn, then it just turned square and engulfed me. I bounced off the bottom and looked up to see my new, 7-footer in two.”
On his long swim in to the keyhole Jordan was circled by a shark, but he shrugged off the encounter as if it’s all part of the northwest experience. “It wasn’t really that bad.” Despite his disappointment over the wipeout and the snapped board Jordan’s memory banks were already full of good rides to reflect on. He could return home, confident in the knowledge he had skimmed across the Bluff’s muscular walls on a board many thought impossible to ride on that kind of wave. The hardest task was explaining to his mentor, Derek, he’d broken the board. “He was angry. He just told me exactly how to fix it down to the smallest detail. Like what temperature to store the board in while the curing process was happening, ha, ha.”
More recently Jordan has taken to making and modifying his own finless boards. After riding so many waves he has developed an intuitive sense of exactly what he needs in a design. The boards are made from fibreglass and although they don’t have fins they feature a series of grooves and channels to give them bite and traction on the wave. Every design is a search for the board which offers the perfect balance between freedom and control.
A new board from a well-known shaper usually costs close to $1000. Fortunately Jordan’s peculiar wave-riding approach is perfectly suited to refurbished older boards. “At the moment I have been recycling old tip boards, stripping them back to the bones and redesigning their DNA. This comes with a lot of mess and time but it’s 100% worth it when you ride something that had been rotting on the ground for years and you revive it.”
Documenting The Ride
In surfing, irrespective of what type of board you’re riding, your skill level can only really be demonstrated to a wider audience if your performances are captured on film or camera. Jordan has already released a couple of surf clips featuring a startling display of spins and slides on his finless craft (Google ‘Jordan Rodin video’ and you’ll see some great action) but he still wants to produce a short film which really demonstrates what is possible on a strip of fiberglass with no fins. “I really want to make a well-presented clip, surfing a few locations, and to put the possibilities of free friction to bed. That’s something that I have to work towards. Maybe it will be out in 2030, ha!”
For the time being the young concreter with the mop of curls will be on the job with the old man. However, you can bet every time he operates the concrete trowel machine he’ll be dreaming of his next finless adventure and visualizing the unparalleled sense of freedom he feels as he drifts across the face of a wave at break-neck speed with nothing but two inches of unhinged fiberglass beneath his feet.