Surfboard fins are seriously confusing right?
You walk into a surf shop and head to the ‘fin section’, and you're greeted by a huge, bright multicoloured wall stacked floor to ceiling with fins.
All different shapes, all different sizes, all different brands.
How do you even begin to choose?
It's a minefield to say the least, but don't worry, this post is going to explain ALL.
In this post you will learn;
We've got a lot of ground to cover, so lets get started.
WHAT ARE SURFBOARD FINS?
Surfboard fins are either fibreglass, plastic or carbon fibre accessories that attach to the bottom of your surfboard to help the board change direction - much like a rudder on a boat.
Surfboard fins come in all shapes and sizes and massively affect the way you're able to surf a wave.
WHAT DO SURFBOARD FINS ACTUALLY DO?
Fins are attached to a surfboard to give the surfboard control and to allow the surfer to pivot and change direction on a wave.
The extent to which they do so will depend on the following:
Put simply, fins are designed to give a surfer drive, the ability to change direction and control.
SURFBOARD FINS EXPLAINED
Below is a breakdown of the most common surfboard fin set-ups.
TYPES OF FIN SET-UPS
In modern surfing, there are literally endless combinations of fin set ups.
Walking down the beach on any given day you’ll see surfers riding boards with no fins at all, to five-fin bonza's.
Well, all those surfers - with their different fin setups - are chasing slightly different feelings when riding a wave.
Lets take a closer look at the different types of fin set-ups:
SINGLE FIN: ONE FIN [CENTRALLY ALIGNED ALONG THE SURFBOARD STRINGER]
A single fin set up is the most traditional surfboard fins type.
Single fins are typically found on beginner boards, longboards and mid lengths.
With a singular fin, turning ability is limited. However they offer control, stability and predictability, making them perfect for beginner surfers or surfers that enjoy riding fast in a straight line.
TWIN FIN: TWO FINS [ONE FIN EITHER SIDE OF THE STRINGER]
Twin-Fin refers to a surfboard with two fins.
The ‘Twinny’ is built for speed - perfect for fun, crappy, weak waves.
Typically found on shorter surfboards designed for small waves, generally unsuitable to larger surf.
THRUSTER: THREE FINS [TWO SIDE FINS, ONE CENTRAL FIN]
In modern surfing, the Thruster is the fin set-up type of choice.
Designed for performance surfing, allowing a surfer to ride with speed and perform radical manoeuvres whilst maintaining control throughout.
The modern Thruster is the most common fin set-up type of the bunch.
QUAD: FOUR FINS [TWO FINS EACH SIDE OF THE SURFBOARD STRINGER]
The Quad (aka four fin setup) is used for creating speed whilst maintaining control over your board.
Advanced surfers performing turns on a Quad get the benefit of increased speed, power and drive through turns.
BONZA: FIVE FINS [TWO FINS EACH SIDE OF THE SURFBOARD STRINGER + PLUS ONE CENTRAL FIN]
Over the last few years, the five-fin set up has become increasingly popular.
With most new surfboards coming with five fin plugs surfers now have the ability to swap and change fin set-up in a matter of minutes.
The five-fin set-up often (but not always) gets ridden as a quad with a small central fin called a 'trailer fin'.
The benefits of the Bonza set up are speed, grip and stability.
THE ELEMENTS OF A FIN
The elements of a fin impact the way it performs - with small adjustments in size, shape and contours completely changing the way a surfboard will feel.
Now, as far as surfboard design and construction goes, the micro-elements of a fin can get super techy at times, and is far from essential knowledge.
Nonetheless it's kinda handy to know, and actually pretty interesting.
Rake refers to the length of the front edge of the fin. Put another way, it's how far back the fin curves from the base to tip.
Fins with a small rake are great for speed and predictability.
Whereas fins with a large rake will be better for short, fast tight turns.
Splay refers to a surfboard's outer fins only - referencing the angle in which they stick out in comparison to the board's stringer.
Most surfboards (typically those made for performance surfing) are more splayed out, as it allows a surfer to ride with more ‘responsiveness’ due to the increase in water pressure along the outside fins.
The base length refers to (you guessed it) the length of a fin is at its base.
Fin's with a longer base length will give you more speed and predictability.
Fins with a shorter base allow for increased manoeuvrability, resulting in sharper, tighter turns.
Foil refers to the surface of the inside and outside of a fin.
Foil changes the flow of water through your fins and ultimately decides how your board will perform.
Although all fins will have slightly different foils, a traditional thruster will have a symmetrical middle fin with the two outside fins being slightly rounded on the outside.
Flex refers to how much a fin bends when a surfer is turning.
The more flex, the looser it will be. Making for a fun, unpredictable way of surfing.
An inflexible fin will make for a faster ride but will also be more stable & predictable.
Fin height is the measurement from the base to the tip.
The larger the fin, the more control and stability it will have. These fins are perfect for beginners and less experienced surfers.
Shorter fins will allow for more manoeuvrability - typically used by advanced surfers looking to perform more ‘radical’ turns.
HOW TO CHOOSE SURFBOARD FINS
Now we know the fundamental elements of surfboard fins, let’s take a closer look at what you need to consider when choosing your next set of fins.
Enter yourAs with most things in surfing, your ability will effect your equipment choices.
For example; the waves you like, how often you surf, your surfboard type and how you choose to ride a wave.
Fins are no different.
It's important to choose fins that are suited to your ability that allow you to ride in the way you want.
For example a large, stiff single fin on a longboard is going to be suitable if you're a beginner.
Whereas for an advanced surfer, a thruster set up with small, flexible fins would be more appropriate.
Another factor to consider when choosing fins is your size.
Your height and weight is going to affect how a board performs and subsequently the fins you should choose.
As a beginner surfer, you should be looking for a large stable fin set up.
Put simply, the heavier and taller you are, the larger your fins should be.
FIN SIZE GUIDE (CHART)
WHAT ABILITY SUITS WHICH FIN SET UP?
Single Fin - Awesome for beginners. Stable, predictable and safe.
Found on most beginner boards. Some older surfers also love riding single fins as it allows them to ride with speed in a straight line, without having to do much work.
Twinny - Intermediate surfers love twin fin set ups as it allows for maximum speed in small, crappy waves.
Also loved by many advanced surfers when the waves are poor.
Thruster - Advanced surfers who are performing radical manoeuvres.
Or any surfer who is looking to improve from intermediate level onwards
Quad - Advanced surfer who wants to change the feeling of their surfing.
Someone who wants to go fast whilst still having plenty of control.
Five Fin - A surfer who wants to change their surfing style around.
The ability to go from thruster to twinny to quad, is going to keep things interesting.
Very good if you’re a surfer who gets bored with the same feeling.
WHAT MAKES A GOOD SURFBOARD FIN?
As is the case with any product, you get what you pay for.
It’s the same with fins.
Generally speaking the more you pay, the higher quality construction you'll get.
Cheaper fins are usually made of plastic and often come free with a beginner surfboards. And if not, you can pick up cheap plastic fins for next to nothing!
Plastic fins are fine for beginners, so stick with those until you feel the need for more performance.
And when you're out of that stage, here's what to look for when buying a premium fin set up:
CARBON FIBRE CONSTRUCTION
Used mostly by advanced surfers. Not only stronger than your standard plastic fins, it can allow for more drive/flex as well, making for better surfing.
PRO SIGNATURE MODEL
More expensive fins will have similar constructions (but built with slightly different attributes) but pro surfers will have their name attached to the model, therefore increasing the price.
As nice as it is to have lovely, expensive, carbon fins, it’s important to be careful and buy appropriately for your ability.
As a beginner, the cheap plastic fins that likely come with your board will do the job perfectly.
However as you progress and are looking for more performance from your equipment you may then want to invest more money in high quality and the latest technology.
ALIGNING FIN CHOICE WITH YOUR ABILITY
The fins you buy should align with your level of surfing.
If you're a beginner, you need a large stable fin and that's about it. No need to sweat on the construction side of things too much.
As an Intermediate surfer, you might want to think about what style of surfing you aim to perform.
Are you looking to improve by surfing faster, in small waves?
If so, then maybe a twin fin set up is for you. Looking to start performing more radical turns in the pocket of the wave? Then it’s probably time for a good thruster set up.
Whatever fin set up you choose your budget will play a big part in the fins you choose (as fins can get damn expensive).
FCS VS FUTURE FINS - WHO WINS?
In the surfing world, there are two main types of fin brands/systems.
FCS & Futures.
Both have equally amazing fins for all different levels and styles, differing slightly in the way they fit into your board.
Pretty much every surfboard you see on the market will have either FCS or Futures fin boxes.
Let's break them both down below.
Founded in 1995 on Australia’s Gold Coast, FCS is one of the largest surf hardware brands in the world.
FCS have recently changed their fin system. Going from the FCS 1 system (where a double tab fits into the fin box and is attached by screws) to the new and improved FCS 2 system (where a single tab fits into the fin box and clips in, with no screws required).
FUTURE FINS (AKA FUTURES)
An American company based in Huntington Beach, California. They produce high quality fins for all levels and abilities, much like FCS.
Futures are ridden by 2 x world champion John John Florence and a number of the world’s best surfers.
The system is slightly different from FCS. Using a similar single tab, that fits into the fin box.
When pushed in, this tab is then secured with a screw which you then have to tighten using a fin key.
Which is better FCS or Futures?
To be honest there's very little between the two, and in all probability you'll have little say which fin set-up you choose as if you're buying off the shelf, the decision's been made for you already.
WRAPPING IT UP
Who knew there would be that much to know about surfboard fins hey!
I know this post may seem overwhelming, because fins really aren’t that complicated.
As long as you're riding the right type of fin for your style of surfing and size, you can never go too wrong.
If you have any more questions just hit us up in the comments.
Dan is officially a surf nut, in fact you'll be hard pushed to fin anyone that surfs more than this guy.
A lover of all things travel, in the rare time he spends out of the water he'll spend researching his next trips.