SONIC – a SUP race fin designed to win races
The SONIC SUP Race Fin is the culmination of 12 months of testing by our elite stand up paddle racers on Maui and around the world. Building on the success of the Tiger and Maliko paddleboard racing fins we wanted to make something quite different which added a new dimension to SUP race board tuning. It was clear at the start of the project that we were making an SUP race fin that would not be the optimal choice for many riders, we were making a race winning fin to give our riders the advantage in the heat of battle. The aim was to increase top end speed for elite paddlers while enhancing the maneuverability and surfing characteristics of somewhat cumbersome race boards. The Sonic is aimed at Advanced to Elite Pro Racers.
How did we develop the SONIC?
In many ways the Sonic was a dream project, with the Tiger so successful there was no real rush to bring out a new product which enabled us to be free thinking and try a wide range of concepts and foil variants. We never release a new product until we are convinced that we are offering something which can enhance performance for riders. The final testing sessions coincided with the APP Maui Pro Am so we had all the Pro team riders here in Hawaii at the same time. This was an amazing experience as it brought together riders such as Bart, Sonni & Leo who have been riding Black Project for a number of years and those riders newer to the team including Zane, Fiona, Bernd & Ryan. This wealth of experience and range of styles is invaluable and directly helps us make better products for all riders.
Detailed foil analysis and 3D modeling are the fundamentals, this is what Tom spends his days looking at while the riders get to enjoy the water. While modeling produce baseline information this has to be combined with real world testing to ensure that not only the mathematics are correct in theory but do they work in the ocean with multiple variables apparent. Our initial prototype fins are all made in our Black Ed. G10 material, this is precision milled by our factory and enables us to rapidly test multiple options while keeping development costs under control. This is the same material which we use for our windsurfing fins. While heavier than carbon it is extremely strong.
#1 The SONIC must be the fastest fin
We began with our extensive testing on flat water, we are lucky to have the Kahului harbor, flat, no wind and ideal for GPS testing. At the same time Leo and Sonni were testing in Europe over the winter in a range of conditions. The testing process takes a lot of time, a bunch of fins from leading brands and input from a range of riders. We are luckily to have access to a range of boards and special thanks must go to SIC Maui, Naish, Starboard & Kanaha Kai Maui who always make sure we have the latest race gear to test on.
When testing you need to be careful to interpret but not over analyze data especially when there are external forces e.g. wind or a human factor e.g. effort, fatigue etc. While the GPS data is important often it is the qualitative data, feel and rider vs rider comparisons which will help guide final decisions. Our project management software really helps riders to give instant feedback to Tom as he looks for trends in the rider chatter, what might seem like a throwaway comment to a rider can the golden piece of insight which Tom had been listening out for.
How small is too small?
As we went smaller with our prototypes we were going faster, but what is too small? As you reduce fin size the potential speed increases and the course time thus decreases. However the variance in speeds/times also increases and a smaller fin potentially becomes a riskier strategy for racers. As we went smaller some riders started to get slower course times, even if there average and peak speeds were higher, they were having to paddle longer because tracking was lost. Eventually as we went smaller all riders went slower. There is an observed steady increase in speed up to a certain point and then after the peak is reached any further decreases in size resulted in a rapid deterioration of performance. While some smaller riders such as Fiona and Ryan were able to go smaller most riders experienced their peak speeds and quickest times using the 18cm with the v4.1 foil. While we mention size that is just one aspect of design, our foiling is proprietary and is the biggest factor in making a fin fast, so when we mention smaller being faster we mean that while holding the foil constant. We can make a smaller slower fin and bigger faster fin by changing the foil.
The result is that the Sonic is the fastest sup race fin on shorter courses however in longer distances the Tiger is faster for some riders. At the same time as testing pure speed we needed to see how things changed as the water state became rougher, while it is harder to get the GPS data accurate in these conditions rider qualitative feedback is very informative, it is amazing how elite riders can feel small changes. It is more challenging to paddle in rougher water and hence a smaller fin is harder to ride in these conditions. The 18cm version gave us enough stability in the rougher conditions while the 17cm prototypes were just too small for most testers in the more confused waters.
#2 The SONIC must turn quickly
The new fin had to improve the maneuverability of race 12’6” & 14ft race boards. On flatter water we aimed to increase the responsiveness with foot steering, rather than railing the board to change direction (needed with bigger fins) we wanted riders to stay as flat and fast as possible. The Sonic was tuned to enable riders to steer the board without the need for aggressive railing, more akin to riders using unlimited boards with rudders. Testing showed that these changes enabled riders to fine tune their path and hit the buoy and reduce recorded GPS distance, another observation is that this increased steering ability aided riders while drafting, they found it easier to stay in the wake and also for overtaking. Conversely the wake generated by the Sonic is less making it harder for other riders to draft. The most fun aspect of testing was the surfing component, race boards are always tricky in surf, but the Sonic really loosens things up and enables improved carving and flow, riders were having so much fun. If you can link flowing turns then you can maintain your speed and also save energy. This maneuverability translated into enhanced downwind performance, the speed and flow when combined enabled the riders to catch, surf and connect the bumps more than ever before, the fastest downwind paddlers aim to paddle less and surf more, this is what we were looking to further enhance.
How is the SONIC produced?
Our Pro Carbon SUP race fins are produced using Resign Transfer Molding. RTM is primarily used to mold components with large surface areas, complex shapes and smooth finishes hence it is ideal for making premium quality fins. This production process delivers the best possible strength to weight ratio. We use steel molds as they produce higher quality results than other cheaper materials. Our quality control (QC) process is the most rigorous in the fin world and any fin which do not meet or exceed our quality benchmarks is destroyed. Once the factory QC is complete all Pro Carbon fins come to Hawaii for final inspection by Chris and/or Tom, only fins which have been signed off as perfect ever get to enjoy the water.
“The SONIC opens up a whole new range of tuning opportunities. It is FAST, extremely maneuverable in downwind & surf and has the quickest acceleration off the line.” Fiona Wylde, 2016 Racing World Champion
“The SONIC is the superior all water fin for anyone racing in Hawaii and California (or anywhere in open ocean).” Bernd Roediger
“The SONIC race fin quickly became my favorite, I have had my best downwinders, fastest sprints & most enjoyable (race board) surf sessions while using this fin, I love how it livened up my Starboard All Star on the flat & on the bumps.” Chris Freeman, Black Project Hawaii
How does the SONIC compare to the MALIKO & TIGER?
Who should get the SONIC fin?
By design this is not a fin for everyone! Hopefully by reading the above comments you will be either “Yes, I definitely want the Sonic.” or “That is not for me.”. Experienced paddlers are those most likely to benefit from the Sonic’s performance characteristics. Riders who like a free and fast feeling and are confident on their boards will experience benefits. If you like grinding out long distances with a low cadence then the Tiger or Maliko will be more suitable. If you have a higher cadence and want to enhance your agility then the Sonic if for you. If you like to surf your raceboard then the Sonic is certainly the choice. If you are an experienced downwinder then the Sonic will help you improve further. The Sonic has a 45 degree initial angle on the leading edge and becomes progressively more raked, hence it is great at shedding weeds and trash, given it is short at only 18cm then those in shallow waters will also like this fin option. If you are planning to attend a race like PPG then then make sure that you have a Sonic in your fin quiver and get training hard (we’ll see you there).
Sonic Pro Carbon Fin – Overview
- Depth 18cm
- Area 214cm2
- 45 degrees leading edge with progressive rake
- RTM Pro Carbon construction
- 150 grams
**All action pictures by FISHBOWL DIARIES we hope to be working with these amazing Maui based photographers more in the coming year.