Before Tom Blake’s revolutionary idea of putting a fin on his surfboard in the 1930s, surfboards were flat and difficult to control.
So,Do surfboard fins make a difference?
Just like a rudder on a boat, surfboard fins make a massive difference to your surfboard’s stability, how it turns, as well as potential speed and responsiveness.
Below we will take a deeper look into the purpose of surfboard fins, different fin setups you can use, and various other questions that may be swimming around your mind.
Are Surfboard Fins Important?
The importance of using fins on your surfboard is undeniable.
Without the right fins for your surfboard, surf style, as well as surf conditions, you will find yourself slipping and sliding along the wave with no hold at all or find it near impossible to turn a quick enough angle to ride along the face of a steep curling tube.
It is near impossible to surf without fins on your surfboard.
In fact, some surfers claim that your fins can make up to a 40% difference in your surfing performance.
Although some surfers enjoy the odd fun session without their fins, simply to enjoy the sliding feeling, without fins, you will struggle to turn and remain straight, which will make your progression incredibly slow.
There is a reason that all correct surfboard setups include fins.
What Is the Purpose of Surfboard Fins?
Surfboard fins have two primary purposes: Stabilize your surfboard and help you turn.
Although there are many different fins, fin setups, and fin angles that all make subtle differences, the purpose of surfboard fins remains simple.
Sometimes referred to as the “hold,” surfboard fins are used to prevent your surfboard from sliding left to the right along the surface of the water.
Because of the angle and direction of your fins, water can pass through them, pushing on the interior and exterior of the fin, thus “holding” the board in place.
The larger and straighter, and more towards the stringer the fin, the more hold it will have; however, it will be less responsive to turns.
Without fins, or fins that are too small for your surfboard or the swell will feel loose as the tail of your board constantly slides out.
Responsiveness and Control
Just as the rudder of a boat aids it in turning, so do the fins on your board.
When you lean or put pressure on a particular side of your surfboard, you change the angle at which the water travels through the fins.
Less pressure on the outside fins and more on the inside create the tail of your board to move.
This is similar to snowboarding or skating down a hill on a longboard.
Fins towards the rails of your board and setups without center fins have the fastest reaction times but don’t hold as well as larger centered fins.
Without the right fins, you will find it incredibly difficult to turn your surfboard as there will be no surface to push against in order to change your angle.
What Do Different Surfboard Fins Do?
Different fin setups perform differently when used in various conditions, as well as with the board and surfer that is using them.
There are six main fin box setups and five fin setups that are commonly used, these include:
- Single fin
- Twin fin
- Quad fin
- Five fin box (not used as a fin setup)
The original fin setup and considered outdated by many. A single fin setup is most commonly found on longboards.
Because of the single fin, the board experiences less drag, which makes it faster; however, due to the large fin in the center, turning is slow and wide, which makes it difficult to turn quickly.
Single fin setups are stable, fast, provide control, and do not slide in the water.
Single fins are usually the largest fin and are often as long as 25”.
Twin fins are one of the fastest fin setups, thanks to their lack of large center fins and limited rail fins.
Duel fins or twin fins are maneuverable and playful, which makes them ideal for mid-sized surf.
Although they are fast and responsive, twin fins can feel loose and are not ideal for larger waves.
Because the fins are small and toward the rail, making bottom turns can be difficult as the board doesn’t hold as well as single find or three fin setups.
Twin fins can vary in size but averagely range between 3.5 and 4.5 inches long.
A Thruster setup, also known as a three-fin setup, makes use of three fins of the same size; a single fin in the center near the tail and a fin on each rail slightly more towards the nose of your surfboard.
Thruster setups have become the most popular setup and are standard throughout competitions, as they have a good balance of speed, responsiveness, as well as good hold thanks to the center fin.
Most surfboard setups make use of thruster fins as they are diverse and can be used in most surf conditions.
Thruster fins, as with the setup, are the good middle ground and are often between 4 – 5 inches long, which makes them dynamic.
Similar to the thruster setup, a 2+1 setup makes use of three fins; however, unlike the thruster, the center fin in a 2+1 is larger than the outside fins.
You can think of this as a combination between a single fin and a thruster setup.
2+1 Setups are often used on larger boards to give them more responsiveness on turns.
The added outside fins and large center fin create more friction and are therefore slower than other setups; however, this fin setup is incredibly stable and more responsive when turning than a single fin.
Quad fins are excellent at generating both speed and drive-through turns.
This setup channels water through the center and tail of your surfboard; a quad fin setup is fast, loose, and possibly the most responsive setup.
This setup is only ideal for smaller, quick waves in calm conditions.
As they are fast and loose, quad fins are difficult to surf in big surf or choppy water.
Quad fins can be set up with 4 thruster fins, or two larger fins on the inside, and 2 smaller twin fins near the rails.
Some surfboards are manufactured with five possible fin locations; however, they are not intended to all be used at the same time.
Surfboards with five fin boxes are simply made to offer you the choice to use any of the previous five setup options.
Surfboard Fins: Expensive vs Cheap
As with most things in life, if we want quality, we need to be willing to put in the extra buck.
Surfing fins are no different; however, using mid-range fins on your board will likely be all you need unless you are performing in a high-end competition.
For most surfers, the difference between a mid-range and high-end fin will be unnoticeable.
That being said, if you go full budget on a cheap set of fins, you may find that they loosen from the fin box easily, do not hold well, and are not flexible enough to sufficiently aid you in turns.
Surfboard fins are expensive, but this is likely due to the fact that surfers are willing to pay just about anything to catch a wave.
If you are looking for high-quality, mid-range surfboard fins, then the following could be significant for each setup:
Mid Range Fins
Future Fins are the strongest, lightest fins on the market. Futures scientific design maximise speed, power and control to revolutionise your surfing experience.
The Futures Fins 8" Tiller Longboard Fin is a modern spin on a classic favorite. This single fin boasts a large base to hold your line, while the thinned tip adds responsiveness from rail to rail.
Neo Glass fins are precision molded using long strand fiberglass and a marine-grade polymer. Very affordable yet considered a premium
For high-end fins, you could consider:
The flex pattern in PC fins extends progressively from the base through to the tip, helping the surfer to maintain drive and hold through a turn.
Performance Core (PC) fins are made using a multi-layered resin transfer molding process. The flex pattern in PC fins extends progressively from the base through to the tip, helping the surfer to maintain drive and hold through a turn.
Future Fins are the strongest, lightest fins on the market. Futures scientific design maximize speed, power, and control to revolutionize your surfing experience.
Do Surfboard Fins Float?
The feeling of losing a fin while surfing is not one that any surfer enjoys.
Fins are expensive and as you should now know, incredibly important to the performance of your surfboard.
If you find that one of your fins has come loose in the water, one of two things will happen, either it will sink, or it will float.
Some surf fins float while others sink.
It is always a good idea to test whether your fins float in water.
That being said, even if your fins float, it is unlikely that you will be able to spot it floating in the ocean.
This is one reason why it is a good idea to both ensure that your fins are correctly secured, as well as use brightly colored fins when possible.
Helpful Surfboard Fin Definitions
When buying and researching new surfboard fins, it is easy to become lost in all the lingo, jargon, and confusion definitions.
The list of words below is commonly used when describing the shape and design of surfboard fins.
Knowing these will make purchasing and setting up your fins easier than you could imagine.
- Template: The outline of the fin (general shape).
- Area: The total surface area inside the template.
- Base: The widest point of the fin (the point that the fin connects to the surfboard).
- Depth: Distance from the tip of the fin to the base (longest distance of the fin, or the fin’s length).
- Rake: The angle at which the fin is tilted towards the back of the board.
- Flex: Flexibility of the fin for side-to-side movements (how much the fin can bend).
- Foil: The contours that run along the fin (used to direct water flow).
- Toe: The angle the fins are pointed in towards the stringer (the centerline).
- Cant: The angle the fin leans towards the rail (outside edges of your surfboard).
Using fins on your surfboard is an essential part of a functional surfboard setup.
Without fins on your surfboard, your board will slide all over the water, which will make it difficult to control, near impossible to turn, and more than slightly challenging to remain standing on.
Different surfboard setups are not only important when it comes to swell and surfboard size but will perform differently when it comes to stability, turning abilities, speed, and all-around control.
Although they are not cheap pieces of equipment, they are necessary costs if you want to get the most out of your surf sessions.