Aussie scientists ‘print’ new surfboard fins

By AG Staff Writer May 5, 2016
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Researchers in Wollongong are 3D printing custom-designed surfboard fins they say will help surfers improve their performance in the water.

NEW 3D-PRINTED surfboard fins will allow for bespoke designs to suit individual surfers and the waves they ride, according to researchers at the University of Wollongong in New South Wales.

In the latest cool thing to come out of a 3D printer, the project aims to rethink current surfboard fin designs and manufacturing techniques in order to create new shapes, sizes and materials that are more efficient and individually customised.

“We want to come up with new, more efficient fins that can be bespokely designed for a particular surfer and a particular wave,” said Professor Marc in het Panhuis, who led the project.

3D printed surfboard fins wollongong

Professor Marc in het Panhuis, Associate Dean of UOW’s Faculty of Science, Medicine and Health and his team have tracked more than 1400 waves and 1100 turns, and 3D printed several fin designs. (Image: Paul Jones / University of Wollongong)

Marc, who is an expert in new materials, said that while there is a lot of flexibility to customise surfboards, it is currently too expensive to customise fins, which aid control and stability while riding a wave.

“Most current techniques involve moulds that are expensive to make and hence, are harder to customise based on individual surfer’s needs,” he said.

“In contrast, 3D printing is a process that allows for rapid prototyping and rapid optimisation of designs for individual surfers.”

Gnarly: Real-world testing

Marc has been using a small GPS tracking device fitted to the nose of the boards of a local intermediate surfer to test the fin designs. The data is compared to that of a pro rider on the world tour, who has been surfing with a similar tracking device.

Everything from wave count to top speed to the biggest turn and highest air is used to evaluate the performance of the new designs.

3D printed surfboard fins wollongong

The performance of the surfers using the 3D printed fins is evaluated using a small GPS tracking device. (Image: Paul Jones / University of Wollongong)

The work that goes behind 3D printing fins is no day at the beach: the team of students and academics working on this project includes computational fluid dynamics experts, biomechanics specialists, human geographers, 3D printing experts as well as local volunteer surfers.

“We’re already talking to a number of local surfboard manufacturers who are interested. We hope to offer the customised service in Wollongong first and then eventually expand it,” said Marc.