A Guide to Surfboard Fin Set-Ups and Types
Surfboard fins have a major impact on your surfboard’s response and performance, just like with surfboard dimensions. Fin set ups allow for flexibility and to expand your boards performance in various surfing conditions. Fins drive your surfboards stability, control and direction by helping maintain your speed and “cut” through the water.
The 5 most popular fin types are Single, Twin, Tri-Fin, Quad and a 5 Fin set. Each fin set has their own variables and materials that enhance the performance and durability. Fins are tailored to an individual by establishing their fin set up, mount system, weight category and desired performance.
SURFBOARD FIN SETUPS
Single fins are the original fin setup and provide a smooth, predictable and often stable ride. Single fins also have significantly less drag than multi fin boards. Single fins are somewhat unique in their ability to allow the rider to pivot off the fin. This means that you can make significant directions changes without having to engage the rail (or as much rail as multi fin boards). These characteristics make single fins a fantastic choice for longer & straighter railed boards like longboards, eggs, mid-lengths and other retro or alternative shapes.
Ideal Conditions: All sizes of surf.
2 + 1
Adding 2 side bites to a single fin (to make a 2 + 1 fin set up) allows for increased grip, drive and control. This setup somewhat retains the smooth feel of a single fin – but allows the rider to engage a large section of rail and keep it in the water through a turn, at higher speeds and in more critical sections. The result is an increase in drive, bite and control while sacrificing a little bit of the pivot of a single fin. This setup will work well in most board shapes and can be used in a wide variety of conditions.
Ideal Conditions: All sizes of surf.
Twin fins offer an exciting blend of speed and manoeuvrability. Positioning a fin close to each rail of the surfboard makes it much easier for the rider to keep the rail & fin engaged in the wave face. It also allows people to effectively surf boards with wider tails. Wider tail surfboards generally create more of their own speed and lift, giving you greater ability to get moving down the line and stay gliding on the surface of a wave. This increased speed and lift does come at the price of control and authority over your surfboard. As a result, twin fins are an exciting and fun design to ride in small to medium sized surf – but generally lack the control of other fin set ups in larger, more powerful conditions.
Ideal Conditions: Small to Small-Medium surf.
THRUSTER / TRI FINS
This fin set up offers a fantastic blend of speed, control and predictability. As a result, it is the most popular fin setup used today. Compared to a twin fin, the addition of a centre, third fin settles down and stabilises the board. The addition of the third fin does add a little drag, but it also makes it much easier to control your board. The end result is a fast, manoeuvrable and consistent feeling ride. A fin set up that works very well in a wide variety of surfboard designs in the majority of conditions.
Ideal Conditions: All round conditions.
Quad fin set ups capitalise on characteristics from both the twin fin and the thruster set-up. When the rear fins are further up on the surfboard and closer to the rails are ideal in small surf, generating speed and helps to do quick turns. Extra 'hold' can be gained when the back fins are placed further back on the board. Advanced surfers enjoy the extra speed gained from not having a centre fin, and the additional hold on higher lines, due to having 2 fins near the rails
Ideal Conditions: Clean, powerful waves.
5 FIN SETS
Five fin configurations are generally not used with all five fins. The fin boxes allow you to mix and match fins depending on the surf conditions and your ability. it allows for ease of versatility between the loose action of a twin fin, to the traction of a thruster, to the speed of a quad without changing boards.
Ideal Conditions: Design to suit the wave you're riding.
Depending on wave height, your choice of fin size may vary.
If your weight sits in between 75kg-80kg, you might pick size M fins for your small wave board, but size L fins for your big wave board.
The optimisation of your “fin setup” is based on the characteristics of flex, height, base and sweep/rake.
Stiffer fins provide quick response but are less forgiving.
Bigger fins equal more hold, as more surface area is in contact with the water. The shorter the fins the more a board will slide and release.
This is the length of the fin at the part where it meets the board. Longer bases provide more drive. When surfers turn, they put pressure against them, creating acceleration. A small fin base will generate less drive but will provide quick and short turn arcs.
FIN SWEEP OR RAKE
Fin rake means how far the fin goes backwards (the way it tilts to the back). Less rake means it’s easier to pivot quickly, and more rake will create longer, more drawn out turns. Generally, more sweep or rake is enjoyable on big, playful shoulders.
The majority of surfboard fin systems are mounted in one of three box types: FCS II, Futures and Bahne single fin boxes. Brands such as Captain Fin Co. and True Ames share compatibility with the Futures fin box system, and larger single fin mount systems use a Bahne system. There is also a glass on fin systems that are fibreglassed onto new boards for a retro feel.
3Bahne - Single Fin
FIN MATERIALS and CONSTRUCTION
Construction materials define the flex properties of the fin. Finding a balance between flexibility and stiffness is crucial. Bigger waves require stiffer fins for more control don't need to create speed can use stiffer fins as these offer slightly more control. Smaller waves may require you to pump to create speed and flexible fins can offer a great relief. Most fin companies offer a range of options with construction and materials.
Precision moulded using flexible urethane. This is beginner friendly fins with the maximum amount of flex offered in any FCS fins.
Glass Flex (GF)
Precision moulded from engineering grade polymer. These fins are also good for beginners as they offer good flex, allowing you to maintain speed through turns.
Neo Glass (NF)
This is a lightweight, moulded construction using a high fibreglass content (50%) and marine grade polymer. These fins offer less flex than Soft Flex and Glass Flex fins, and so will create a more immediate response through turns.
Performance Core (PC)
These have a slightly higher fibreglass content (55%) compared to Neo Glass fins. They use fibreglass resin, and a hex core, to achieve a lightweight fin, with good flex and an immediate response through turns.
Performance Core Carbon (PCC)
These are similar to PC fins, however again have a slightly higher fibreglass content (60%) but also make use of carbon strips in certain parts of the fin, to create specific flex patterns. These are favoured by powerful surfers.
Performance Glass (PG)
These are machine cut from solid fibreglass and are often used by pro surfers as they offer stiff flex pattern with immediate response through turns.
Made from fibreglass with some carbon fibre. The Carbon fibre adds strength, reduces weight, and increases responsiveness. These are the stiffest fins in the Futures line up.
These are fins for those who surf in big powerful waves. They use a honeycomb core (similar to the FCS Hex Core fins) which reduce the overall weight of the fin dramatically. The carbon in the base and the tip keep the fin stiff and therefore increase control in big surf. They are slightly more flexible than the Control series.
These fins sit in the middle of Futures range in terms of flex vs control. These are made using a lightweight hexagonal core which reduces weight and maintains some flex. They are more flexible than the Techflex and Control series. Honeycomb fins are a good all around fin, and so if you surf in small mushy waves, as well as big powerful ones, this is a good option for you.
Alpha OFFER the same flex range as the Honeycomb series. They are made using a new carbon fibre infused material that is lighter than honeycomb but just as strong. Alpha fins have added thickness at the base of the fin and reduced thickness at the tip, giving this fin extra drive.
Generation fins are made using honeycomb, uni-directional, and bi-directional fibre glass and make use of V2 foil, which is meant for speed and drive. The fins feature bi-directional (the fancy term for 'normal looking') carbon fibre at the base which creates stiffness and rigidity. There are strips (uni-directional) of carbon fibre then running from the front half of the base vertically up the fin. This secures the leading edge of the fin, concentrating flex to the tip, which is not reinforced with any carbon fibre and so maintains the natural flexibility of the material. Finally, Generation fins use epoxy resin as it is lighter and stronger than polyester resin.
Blackstix fins are designed for generating speed. They use strips of carbon fibre running from the base through to the tip of the fin that controls the way the fin flexes. There is also bi-directional carbon fibre running in an arc from the base of the fin toward the leading edge, which stiffens the base, adding drive, but leaves the tip free to flex. Finally, they are constructed with epoxy resin, for its reduced weight and resilience. The result is a fin that has plenty of drive and that becomes progressively more flexible the further toward the tip.