Surfboards were finless until Wisconsin-born surfing polymath Tom Blake attached a low-profile metal boat keel to the back of one of his paddleboards in 1935.
The surfboard fin didn't catch on right away as most surfers thought it was too dangerous, but from the mid-'40s to the early '70s, with a few exceptions, all boards had one fin. The expression "single-fin," however, didn't become part of the surfing language until the early '70s. The “soul era” of Western pop culture is not a bad cross-reference, because if there was ever a surfboard design genre that could be characterized by the word “soul,” the single fin would be it.
A single fin offers a very smooth style that appeals to the visual senses. They stretch your surfing out and force you to use more of the rail, it teaches you to work on your technique, which leads to beautiful body positioning.
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