surfboard fins


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.


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.

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.

single fin surfThe 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 Some surfers consider these a touch outdated, while others appreciate the different feel it offers.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 manoeuvrability 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.


thrusther 3 fin
3 fin Thrusther

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 manoeuvrability. The two outer fins are angled towards the centre 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.


Quad fun surfboard
Quad 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 centre fin, there is less drag. This yields maximum speed but doesn’t sacrifice manoeuvrability. The quad setup will take a bit of getting used to. The first time you ride, it may feel a little loose.


5 Fin
5 Fin

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.

2+1 FIN

2+1 Fin
2+1 Fin

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 middlebox 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.


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.

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 backwards 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)

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!

In need of good waves?

At Swell we provide Learn how to surf holidays for people that have never surfed before as welll as a great social place to stay for advanced and expert surfers looking for a cool, comfortable & social place to stay. We offer full packages which include:

  • Airport transfers
  • Breakfast and 4 dinners
  • Comfortable & stylish accommodation
  • surfboard rentals and surf transport
  • A great social vibe


Located on the scenic north coast of the Dominican Republic is our purpose built surf resort

We cater for surfers of all levels, from beginners to expert surfers who are looking for an active surf holiday

Swell offers full surf packages holidays

Swell Bali is located in the south of Bali and is a new type of luxury surf camp in the south of Bali, located steps away from Bali’s best surfing beaches. Ideal waves for beginners, intermediate and expert surfers.


We hope to see you in the Dominican republic soon

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surf wave selection

4 Tips For Perfect Wave Selection

How do you get perfect wave selection?
Is perfection even possible? Maybe.
Waves are a funny thing, every wave is different, but they can look quite similar. Predicting how a wave will break may seem like a difficult task, but don’t worry. There are a few things you can do to get yourself prepared, and we’ve got four great tips right here to improve your wave selection.


In order to get perfect wave selection, you need to know your surf break in and out… or at least know what makes your spot tick.
Several factors go in to creating a surfable wave at your break.

Distant storms

It usually starts by a storm far out at sea. Powerful winds wash over the ocean, creating friction in the surface of the water. Over time, this friction builds up more and more, to create powerful swell that can travel over entire oceans. Once the waves reach shallower water, your surf break for example, they jack up in size and fold over themselves.

This is what we call breaking waves, or “surfable waves”.

Know what your break needs

To have those perfect, glassy waves of your dreams, a number of factors must come together.
At your surf break, we’re talking:

  • Wind speed
  • Wind direction
  • Tide
  • Swell direction
  • Wave periods

If the wave period is too short, with howling onshore winds, in an extreme high tide, chances are that the waves won’t be very good.
With terrible conditions, chances are most of the surfed waves will be pretty terrible too.

Perfect offshore winds
Perfect offshore winds

For perfect conditions, usually you’re looking for:

  • Light winds
  • Offshore winds (blowing across the beach towards the ocean, the opposite is onshore) (Light onshore if you love to pop airs)
  • The best tide for your surf break (check online)
  • Swell direction pointing directly towards your surf break
  • Longer wave periods, over 10 seconds.


Surfing in great conditions will make it way easier to select your perfect wave… … but as you already know, perfect conditions aren’t always there.

That’s why we strongly recommend you to surf in lesser-than-perfect conditions as well. If you can develop perfect wave selection in subpar conditions, chances are you will absolutely excel on those good days. Just don’t go out in hurricanes or anything too crazy.

Research your break

Research your surf break online. See what weather conditions and type of swell makes your surf break go nuts. Read up on the best tide, wind direction, swell direction and type of swell. Then go surf as much as you can on those good days.

2. Watch the waves

Playa Encuentro
Empty wave at our local surf spot in Cabarete

Watching the waves is a big one and goes hand in hand with our first tip. You first need to know about the perfect conditions for your surf break, to know when it’s go time. Then, you need to spend some time watching the waves when you get there.

It doesn’t have to be an hour long watching session… but in order to build up your perfect wave selection, you need to see how the ocean behaves before you paddle in. This could be done when doing your warm-up stretches, or when debating where to paddle out with your friend.
When watching the waves, there are a few things you should look for.

Find the peak

Surf line up
The Line up

“The peak” of a wave, means the position where the wave will start breaking first. Or, the ideal place to paddle and surf the wave.
You should always try to catch the wave right at the peak, to gain maximum speed and momentum. Shoulder hopping doesn’t do you any favors (on super crowded days we’ve all been there though…) and will limit your progress.

Look for where the line-up is and see where the other surfers are. Hopefully, most or at least a few surfers will know where the best place to sit is.

See how the waves break

In order to perfect your wave selection ability, you need to watch how the waves are breaking.

Are they mainly lefthanders? Righthanders? Is it a slower, mushier wave, or a fast, steaming, barreling freigh train? See if you can spot different sections in the wave. How many waves are in each set? Which wave is the biggest, and how far apart are the sets?

Having crystal clear knowledge about the waves you’re going to surf is critical for perfect wave selection.

If you don’t know which waves you want to surf, how could you see them in the line-up?

Other things (not necessarily related to wave selection) to look for include:

  • Entry/exit points
  • Rip currents
  • Hazards (rocks, dry reef, structures etc.)

It makes a lot of sense to know what you’re getting yourself in to before paddling out, which is why this is so important.
Watching the waves accomplishes three things:

-You develop a greater understanding of your break and the current surfing conditions
-You know which waves you want to catch…
-And which waves you don’t.

3. How to read waves

While in the water, having the ability to read waves is essential for perfect wave selection.
Imagine, you’re sitting on your board in the line-up, waiting for the next wave… you are first in line and stoked. The next set comes in. A huge, dark wall is

coming at you fast. Almost in an instant, you have to make the decision of whether to go, or to bail.

Incoming wave
Spotting an incoming wave

How do you even know if it’s a good wave? Are you in a section that will just close out or are you in perfect position?

When to paddle

There is quite a simple technique you can use to read how a wave is going to act.
First off, use the horizon as a reference. Compare the angles of the incoming wave to the vertical line. The picture beside shows what an incoming wave could look like. You could be closer to the right or left side, or you could be right in the center. What does this mean? When should you paddle?

The parts of a wave

left wavesLooking at the wave coming at you, the left side is called a “right” because you go right when you surf it. The right side is called a “left” because you surf it to the left.
On the left and right side, you see the ends of the wave. This is called the shoulders of the wave. Shoulder hopping means catching the waves far out on the shoulders and should be avoided. The shoulders lack the power and speed that the peak provides.


Beware of closeouts (a wave “shutting down”). On an incoming wave, it’s quite easy to tell whether it’s a closeout or not. Any part of a wave that’s parallel to the horizon (vertical) will break first. Only the angled parts of a wave will break slower. In the example below, pretty much the whole middle part of the wave would break at once.

Is it a slow or fast breaking section?

The more vertical the wave is, the faster it will break. A steeper angle will break slower. In the example below, the right hander on this wave would break faster than the left hander. Why is it like this? Physics. And gravity-stuff… I don’t know.

Which direction do you surf?

If the wave looks exactly like in the picture, with both the option of going left and right, you have to make out which side you are closest too. If you are closer to the right, you catch and surf the right hander. Closer to the left? Then you surf the left hander.
What’s important is that you catch the wave in the steepest part of the wave, “the peak”. Then you ride towards the shoulder you are closest too. Or in other words, along the direction of the brea

4. Adapt your surfing

To get the most out of each wave, it’s important to adapt your surfing to the waves you surf.
You now know which conditions make your surf break great. You have watched the waves. With the surfboard around your arm, you sprint down to the beach, adrenaline rushing through your system.
Reading waves is now a piece of cake. You now know whether it’s a right or left hander and have some ideas on how to surf it. You also know where the peak is located and have decided on your focused location in the line-up.

Now what?

Adapt your surfing to the conditions you’re about to surf
If it’s a smaller day and a bit onshore, with fast sections, try working on your airs. Maybe work on your bottom turns or quick snaps. If it’s barreling but closing out, work on getting tucked in the barrel. Practice steep, fast drops. Work on getting pounded.
Make it clear in your mind before you jump in, what kind of surfing you are going to do with the waves of the day. This way you take full advantage.

You vs. Perfect wave selection
Perfect waves only exist on the most perfect of days. And the perfect days could almost always get better…
The key to selecting the perfect wave is to know which wave you want. And paddle for it.

In need of good waves?

At Swell we provide Learn how to surf holidays for people that have never surfed before as welll as a great social place to stay for advanced and expert surfers looking for a cool, comfortable & social place to stay. We offer full packages which include:

  • Airport transfers
  • Breakfast and 4 dinners
  • Comfortable & stylish accommodation
  • surfboard rentals and surf transport
  • A great social vibe


We hope to see you in the Dominican republic soon

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