It began as a mistake; a misinterpreted, custom order that was mostly the result of my tendency to mumble over the phone. You can imagine my distress when I showed up brimming with anticipation to collect my new thruster, only to be handed a board with four fins instead of three, and no, there was no fancy, fifth fin plug to facilitate a swift sex change either. A minor tantrum and temporary bout of depression ensued, however something Joel Parkinson had said to me on a trip helped me get over the initial disappointment. “Once you’ve ridden a quad it’s hard to go back.”(Please forgive the shameless name drop) I ultimately decided to embrace the alternative fin set up and see it as an experiment if nothing else. Plus, it’s near impossible to send back a gleaming new stick that’s got your name etched on the stringer, even if there’s been a minor miscalculation on the fins.

The first couple of surfs were admittedly a challenge. A lifetime on a thruster makes you dependent upon having the back fin as a pivot point. When you first jump on the quad and jam all your weight on the tail where the trailing fin usually is, things can go a little awry. I soon learnt that turning the quad meant learning to use the rail in conjunction with the two side fins. Suddenly it was important to be hyper-aware of what the board was doing and conscious of the way water was moving through the fins. No longer could I afford to be in automatic mode and although this meant concentrating a little harder I found myself enjoying the challenge. The board was like a problem that had to be solved. Much of the satisfaction was derived from determining how to make it work.

After a few days of experimentation I was back at the shaper’s bay explaining the pros and cons of the quad I’d experienced thus far. His response was to instantly replace the two back fins with a pair that featured a trailing edge that put more of the fin’s volume closer to the tail. Although the fins were smaller than the previous pair the result was to tighten the board up and make it drivier, while still preserving the sense of flow that is synonymous with a quad.

The past few surfs have been a mixture of frustration and bliss. When the quad works it’s like riding a flying carpet, the board glides effortlessly through turns and throttles down the line once the wave has a little curve and push. At its best it’s like a Buddhist principle, always finding ‘the path to least resistance’. Legendary shaper Dick Van Straalen once suggested that it’s unclear whether or not a quad is actually travelling faster or if it just feels like it is. For Dick it was the sensation of going faster that really mattered and after a dozen sessions on the new board, there’s no doubt that the quad creates the impression (real or not) that  you are setting personal speed records on a surfboard.

For now my four-finner remains a work in progress – a problem unsolved – but like Parko suggested I might actually find it hard to go back because the moments of butter-smooth bliss are certainly addictive. The experience has also highlighted questions about what the objective of surfing is. It’s great to have that one stick that is dependable as hell and allows you to push your performance in accordance with popular norms, however if you don’t have a world title to win it seems there is nothing wrong with sleeping around a little either when it comes to boards. There is a lot to be said for trying alternative fin configurations and shapes that deliver new sensations and surfing challenges. Boredom is always the biggest enemy and if you want to avoid it, a little four-play isn’t such a bad place to start.