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Quadratic Formulas

In Jungian fashion, four fins descend from the collective unconscious in the early 1980s.

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Single-fin: Tom Blake. Twin-fin: Mark Richards. Thruster: Simon Anderson. Quad: Glen Winton. Wait, are you sure? What about Ricardo Bocão?

To reduce the history of each mainstream fin configuration to a single name, and then end the above list with a question mark, might seem lazy. Unless, of course, you’re calling attention to the lingering debate of “Whose name should be attached to the quad?” Let’s dig in.

Eleven-time world champion Kelly Slater could make a solid claim. Since the turn of the century, he’s taken the quad to maximum performance levels at Pipeline and Teahupo‘o, bringing more visibility to the design’s capabilities than anyone. It’s similar to the way Richards did it for the twin-fin in the late 70s: The design already existed, but he refined and rode it to four consecutive world titles, forever attaching his name to it. This differs, obviously, from Anderson, who conceived of his three-like-size-fin design in 1980, then proved its validity and versatility to the world in 1981 by winning the two most prestigious events on the pro circuit that year, Bells and Pipeline.  

At the same time Anderson was collecting trophies on his thruster, the quad was being engineered by two different surfers on two different continents: Australia’s Winton and Brazil’s Bocão.

“My first quad was 1981,” says Winton, the most cited name when it comes to quad credit. He has no qualms, however, conceding the majority of the design’s innovation to his Brazilian contemporary.

Board talk, Velzyland parking lot, 1983. Brazilian surfer/shaper Ricardo Bocão, at right, hyping his quad innovation while unconventional-skeg devotee Cheyne Horan, at left, gets deep into his own trip. Photo by Gordinho.

“Bocão was probably riding them before me, because I hadn’t taken the extra two fins off my six-fin design, as I enjoyed the six-fin. I was the first to make the six-fin, but knew I’d eventually take two fins off and have a quad. Unbeknownst to me, Bocão made a four-finned surfboard at the same time. I saw Bocão’s quad in Hawaii, and I was positive his design could only come from him because his fin placements were totally different from mine.”

“I came up with the quad idea in Rio,” Bocão says. “It was June 1981, while getting prepared to shape my first thruster. I had a McCoy three-finned model in hand, just brought back from Australia by a friend, [lying] side by side with a twin-fin, the prevalent board at that time. As I was examining them from a distance, suddenly this vision of four fins came to me. I had just tested the thruster and didn’t like it, but I was using it as a reference to shape one for my team rider. I got his order out of the way and went right back to the shaping bay to create the first quad ever.”

To add more to the confusion, another claim comes from Australian kneeboarder Peter “The Friar” Ware, who says he invented the quad in the late 70s. Bocão says he didn’t know about Ware. Winton says it might be possible, though he believes there were some design caveats: “Maybe Peter did [make the first quad]—a photo would be good. Peter’s fin placements were more like the Twinzer, but still four fins.”

It’s well documented, in both surfing and other endeavors, that different people in different parts of the globe can simultaneously have the same idea. According to Bocão, though, “sticking to the concept is what makes the difference” in terms of who gets credit.  

Bocão took a whole quiver of quads to the North Shore in the winter of 1981-82. One afternoon, a large group of the era’s standouts were hanging out in Bernie Baker’s backyard at Sunset Beach, where a number of boards were strewn about.

Some of the big names poked fun at Bocão’s innovative design. 

“Shaun Tomson just laughed at it,” recalls Bocão. “Randy Rarick asked, ‘Why not have two more fins placed on the nose?’” 

None of the discouragement or lack of interest deterred Bocão from pushing along the concept over the ensuing decades. He continued to ride and fine-tune them even though they wouldn’t gain mainstream popularity until the early aughts. 

Unlike MR and Anderson’s success on their respective fin setups, Bocão was not a successful world tour competitor on his quad. On the other hand, Winton led the rankings for a time in ’84, but he had switched to thrusters by then, a move he justified with his usual directness: “The tri-fin is just too good an invention. And besides, the judges liked thrusters.”

Had Bocão hoisted a few trophies, perhaps his name would unequivocally and correctly be attached to the four-fin, scaling back 40 years of debate.