AMS Spring 2023

Surfer Looks to Whales, Shark Skin, & 3D Printing to Make Surfing a Smoother Operation

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Roy Stuart and his 3D Printed Warp Drive Fin

Roy Stuart and his 3D Printed Warp Drive Fin

Roy Stuart started surfing when he was just four years old and he built his first surfboard in the garage using his grandfather’s tools when he was nine.

Stuart went on to build his first surfboard fin when he was fifteen, and by 1994 he and his wife were building and selling a line of wooden surfboards. In October 2013, Stuart began offering the first 3D printed surfboard fin, and the rest is history.

Stuart’s fins are 3D printed in polycarbonate and they take the biology of the humpback whale and the microgrooves of shark skin as inspiration.

Aqua-Gull-WingAccording to Stuart, much of the reasoning behind his use of 3D printing springs from his desire to minimize the impact of manufacturing on the environment. He’s a philosopher, a designer, a craftsman, and above all a surfing guru, and his efforts have led him to consider every aspect of building the classic board.

“Although plastic is not viewed as a ‘green’ substance like wood is, 3D printing is very low on waste as material is added layer by later in exactly the spot where you want it,” he says. “Material is not wasted by milling away like in the traditional way of making surfboard fins. Polycarbonate has a high resistance to breaking down in sunlight, so your fin will last for a long time.”

With his Warp Drive fins, the native New Zealander says fins like the Bumpy Leading Edge Foiled (BLEF) spitfire fin were once painstakingly hand foiled in wood, a process which took over 40 hours of work. Stuart says the process of creating a custom fin that could be sent anywhere in the world at short notice is simply not possible using traditional methods and glass and plastic materials.

“Injection molding, for example, lacks the ability to customize fins due to the great expense involved in mold making and the requirement for vast production runs,” Stuart says. “CNC milling of glass and resin is not possible due, not only to the complexity and intricacy of the shapes, but also the standard of accuracy needed for the refined foil sections used. “

image001 (4)Stuart says 3D printing has enabled the creation of lightweight, honeycomb cored fins which are tabbed for use with “Futures” fin boxes and universal single fin boxes.

But the design of the fins themselves — with their optimized series of bumps along the leading edge of the piece which forces water into mini currents — increases performance. The complex geometry possible with 3D printing came about as a result of Stuart’s partnership with 3D printing firm Palmer Design and Manufacturing.

Designed in Solidworks, the fins are printed vertically using the FDM process to make certain that when the fin flexes, the various layers undergo the least stress. Sturart says it takes between 2 and 6 hours to print each fin. He has an extensive FAQ to cover some of the main customer queries about his work and designs.

And some of his work? It’s likely well beyond your means. He once built a board, which, at 10’6″ long and constructed from a hollowed out Paulownia timber core reinforced with high-strength polycarbonate supports, retailed for a cool $1.3 million.

Do you surf? Would you consider one of Roy Stuart’s 3D printed surfboard fins? Let us know in the Whales, Shark Skin and 3D Printing forum thread on 3DPB.com.

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