Fins to the surfer are like footwear to the footballer. Sure they mightn't matter much to those just starting out but for the more experienced, different designs can deliver the added stability and control that is vital to improving performance. With a view to bringing bespoke rides to more surfers, Australian researchers are 3D-printing fins that can be tailored to individuals and their local waves.

Crafting surfboard fins is generally an involved process requiring expensive moulds, leaving the majority of riders with more of a one-size fits all solution. But just as it promises to do in many other industries, 3D printing might be about to change that by making bespoke fins a great deal cheaper and easier to manufacture.

Led by Professor Marc in het Panuis, researchers at the University of Wollongong have used 3D printing to create several surfboard fins, which are currently undergoing testing. The team has attached GPS tracking devices to the nose of those boards, gathering data on wave counts, top speed, turns and airs.

This information is then compared to the data of a pro surfer, who is also currently riding with a similar tracking device, to help them assess the performance of the 3D printed fins. So far, the team has tracked more than 1,400 waves and 1,100 turns, helping them refine their approach.

"We want to come up with new, more efficient fins that can be bespokely designed for a particular surfer and a particular wave," says in het Panhuis. "Most current techniques involve moulds that are expensive to make and hence, are harder to customize based on individual surfer's needs. In contrast, 3D printing is a process that allows for rapid prototyping and rapid optimisation of designs for individual surfers."

The researchers are already in talks with a number of Australian surfboard manufacturers and are planning to first introduce the service in Wollongong, and expand it thereafter. You can hear from in het Panhuis and more about the manufacturing process in the video below.

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