SURFBOARD FIN SETUPS EXPLAINED
Have you ever done research while looking for a new surfboard? If so, then you’ll know that there is an overwhelming amount of information on there on making the right choice.
THE SURFBOARD FIN
Fins for your board are no different. They are available in a variety of sizes, materials, setups, and flexibility. And whether you’re a beginner or pro, your fin setup will have a huge impact on your style and preference when surfing.
Now, before going any further let’s discuss what fins actually do. They essentially give you control, direction, and stability on your board. Without fins, you take away much of your ability to navigate through waves. Surfing with precision and speed is really only possible with fins.
As we said before, there are many different options out there for fin setups. We chose to highlight a few of the best for you to peruse.
DIFFERENT SURFBOARD FIN SETUPS
The number of fins and possible configurations will vary from board to board and depend on fin type. You’ll have to decide which setup will be best for you and go from there. We will discuss some of the most popular configurations to give you a better idea. Each one is used for a different reason and is chosen by different types of riders.
The single fin option is ideal for longboards. Some surfers consider these a touch outdated, while others appreciate the different feel it offers. These fins are really best for basic, straight shot surfing. Basically, they won’t help you while doing anything too fancy.
They are long, wide and big offering fairly easy control over the board. Single fins are best when surfing small/medium, fat and weak waves. Since one fin creates less drag than multiple fins, they are most useful when surfing smooth, slow turns. That being said, if you try and make quick turns or moves, a single fin won’t handle it as well as a multiple fin setup.
A two fin setup is referred to as twin fins or a dual fin configuration. You will typically see a twin fin setup on a shorter surfboard. They can offer more fun, playful surfing when used.
Twin fins give the rider more maneuverability and have a skatier feel than a single fin. This fin setup saw a spike in popularity in the 1970s and 1980s. Surfer Mark Richards used twin-fin “fishes” to win four consecutive World Championships. After that, surfers worldwide saw the competitive edge that two fins can offer a rider versus a single fin. A dual fin setup offers more control and speed than a single fin, but can also feel a little loose and make bottom turns harder.
THRUSTER FIN/TRI FIN
As you might have guessed this set up is three fins. The tri fin set up is by far the most popular amongst surfers across the board. It can be ideal for all skill levels from novice to expert.
It’s also the most practical purchase. If you have a tri fin setup you can always remove fins to try single and twin fin surfing as well. The third fin adds more stability and maneuverability. The two outer fins are angled towards the center of the board increasing tracking and speed. The middle fin is closer to the tail of the board. The tri fin setup came from Australian surfer Simon Anderson. He came up with the idea of three equal-sized fins in the 1980s. The setup exploded with popularity after that. The tri fins do well even in harsher conditions. They can hold up to steep, powerful waves. This setup is great for high-performance riding and tricks. The only real downfall is the drag you get from the additional fin.
The quad fin is, can you guess it? That’s right, 4 fins! This setup can offer you some of the best features of the twin fin and the thruster. Opposed to Thrusters, Quads can offer much more control and are best used in small surf.
When the back fins are positioned close to the rails they help increase speed for the rider. They also allow for fast turns, similar to a dual fin, however, with a quad, the surfer maintains more control.
The quad fin can stand up to powerful waves and not falter. Because this setup doesn’t have a center fin, there is less drag. This yields maximum speed but doesn’t sacrifice maneuverability. The quad setup will take a bit of getting used to. The first time you ride, it may feel a little loose.
5-FIN SURFBOARD SETUP
Although it may sound like a 5-fin setup means you attach 5 fins to your board, this is not the case.
Five fin configurations are not supposed to be surfed with all five fins.
Five fin boxes simply give you the option to mix and match fins.
Different types of setups using the various 5 boxes are used depending on your preference and the surf conditions you encounter. Basically, the more boxes your board has, the more fin options you have.
You can experience more fin setups with the same board.
Not many people ride with the 5 fin setup, most people either prefer 3 fin or 5 fin setup.
This is a 3 fin configuration, similar to a thruster/tri fin setup. The difference here: the middle fin is a longboard single fin. The remaining 2 fins are regular thruster side fins on each side.
The middle box is longer with a 2+1 setup. This gives you the choice to attach the middle fin more towards the front or back. This setup is gaining popularity with riders who use funboards, eggs, logs and SUPs.
Now that we have a general idea of fin setups, let’s dive into fin type. We are going to look at glassed-in fins vs. swappable (removable) fins. It is important to know the differences between the two and what each is used for.
The biggest aspect of glassed-in fins is that they are not interchangeable. They are permanently attached to your board. These fins are usually very smooth and offer a nice ride. However, because they can’t be taken on and off, they limit your versatility. This also poses expensive repairs when the fins get damaged.
Removable fins offer lots of versatility because you can take them on and off. These types of fins are screwed into your surfboard via “boxes”. Swappable fins are taken on and off using what’s called a fin key. The key adjusts the small screws and is very simple to do. Different types of fins are used in the corresponding type of boxes. Don’t force a fin into the wrong type of box and make sure the fin is being attached the right way. Once the fins are attached to the correct box in the correct position, you simply tighten the screws. It’s really that simple.
If you decide removable fins are the right fit for you, there are a few things to know about the boxes used to attach the fins to your board. There are a few different types to choose from.
BOX TYPES & COMPATIBILITY
The only surfboard that is widely compatible with many different fin boxes are longboards. Most all other surfboard styles are a little more specific with what’s required. These boards will generally be equipped with one of three different box types.
DUAL TAB (FCS AND FCS II) FIN BOXES
FCS (Fin Control System) came out in the 1990s and has since been the most popular fin system used by surfers worldwide. The FCS fins are attached by two tabs or plugs that are screwed into the board. FCS recently released the FCS II keyless Fin Standard. This option does not require screws or a fin key to attach and remove the fins. FCS II is also backward compatible. This means you can use your older FCS fins with the new FCS II system. All that’s required is a compatibility kit.
More info: FCS Fins (opens a new window)
SINGLE TAB (FUTURES) FIN BOXES
The other common type of fin box is a single tab (futures). The single tab fin box connects to the entire length of the of the fin box (unlike boxes with plugs). This box type offers a strong, lightweight connection to the surfboard. These boxes are also attached with screws.
More info: Future fins (opens a new window)
Different Aspects Of Your Fins To Keep In Mind
Bigger fins will offer a tighter feel. More of the board’s surface is in direct contact with the water. On the other hand, small fins will offer a looser feel. Of course, it gets a touch more technical than that, as there’s a lot more to it.
As you might imagine, the flexibility of a fin will affect how your board will handle certain waves. Fins that are stiffer will respond quickly but don’t allow for much give. These fins are great for all skill levels. They are quite stable and predictable. A stiff fin works best in hollow waves.
A flexible fin is best used with playful waves. They offer a much skatier feel. These fins are ideal for fast turns but are harder to control. Of course, it’s not as simple of just stiff versus flexible. Fins have flex patterns. This means that certain fins may have a stiffer base while the tip is flexier. A fin-like this can offer a rider stability while simultaneously providing agility.
The fin base measurement refers to the part of the fin that is directly attached to the board. The longer the base, the more drive and speed you can expect. When a rider turns the surfboard, pressure is put against the base of the fin which increases their speed. If you choose a fin with a smaller base you won’t feel as much drive but you’ll see more success with quick, short moves.
When looking at a fin, the rake (sweep) refers to how far the fin tilts to the back. A fin with less rake will make it easier to turn fast, while a fin with more rake will help riders with longer turns. If you enjoy big, playful waves, you’ll want to opt for more rake. If you are a quick turning, fast rider, you may choose less rake.
The toe (splay) refers to the angle of the fins on the side in comparison the fin in the middle. Side fins are usually described as toed-in. This means the front of the fin is angled towards the middle of the board. This angle allows water pressure to build on the outside of the fins and helps the rider with responsiveness.
The term foil refers to the curve and shape of outer and inner sides of the fin. The thinnest part will be near the tip and thicker part near the fin’s base. Different types of foil will alter the way water flows over the surface of your fin. This will, of course affect the way your fins and board perform. Your middle fins will always be symmetrical and convex on both the inner and outer sides. This is sometimes called 50/50, signaling even stability and water distribution. Your outside fins will typically be convex on the outer side and flat or curved on the inner side. A flat inside will give the rider more balance and control as well as speed. A concave or curved inside will offer less drag which helps build speed and gives more fluidity.
The height, sometimes called the depth, is the measurement from the fin base to the very tip. This feature can affect how stable your board feels through turns. Typically, the taller the fin, the more forgiving and easier it is to handle. For more advanced riders who will be doing quicker, more trick turns, shorter fins offer a smoother ride.
The degree that your fins tilt in regards to the surfboard’s base is called the cant. When the angle of the fin to the board is completely straight up and down, it’s at 90 degrees; this means it has a 90 degree cant. A 90 degree cant is also called “no cant” because it has no angle. When you have a 90 degree cant, you will usually ride faster. Any angling that is greater than 90 degrees will give you better response. Surfers will cant their fins to help feel more control of the board and increase responsiveness. Canted fins are especially helpful through turns. Fins with no cant will give you speed, but offer less playfulness. When you give your fins a little cant they’ll allow for more maneuverability and a looser feel.
When learning about fins, it can be a lot to take in. There are so many different choices and aspects to consider. The best advice we can offer is to try different combinations until you find what feels best for you personally. Think of it as test driving a car. Test out different fin types and setups to get a sense of how each feels for you.
•For a playful setup, add small fins with a little flex and sweep to a stiff surfboard
•For a faster ride with more drive, add stiff, big fins with a lot of sweep to a soft board
•The terms cluster and placement of the fins mean how close together or far apart they are on the surfboard
•The more spread out a fin cluster is, the more control the rider will have; the closer together a cluster is, the more speed and response the rider will feel
•Where you place your fins in relation to the tail of your surfboard will change how it feels. Fins attached more towards the front will feel looser. While fins more towards the back will give the surfer a more controlled feel
•Wide-tailed boards are usually best paired with bigger fins
•Surfers who prefer shortboards and ride bigger waves will benefit most from fins with more rake
We hope you enjoyed this article and learned a little bit about the world of surfboard fins. Happy riding!
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