In the words of Jimmy Buffet, you have fins to the left, fins to right. How does one make the right decision when it comes to selecting a fin? Afterall, the fin is an integral part to every surfboard – barring the first Hawaiian logs – as it provides stability, control and direction. Often overlooked as ‘all being the same,’ fins can actually have a major impact in your surfboard’s performance especially as you get more comfortable as a surfer.
Where did the fin come from?
The history of surfing dates back hundreds of years, yet the surfboard fin is actually a much newer invention. The concept of the fin is visible in many different forms across the entire nautical world. Rudders in boats essentially perform the same function as modern day surf fins, giving the boat traction and direction in the water. In 1935, Tom Blake, a pioneer American surfer, essentially discovered this similarity and attached an old boat keel to the back of his board, creating what we now know as the fin.
What fin configurations should I get?
The original fin design is the single fin. Still popular today, the single fin is typically a bit longer than its counterparts. Its aim is to really dig into the wave on the turns, yet also helping you to glide along the surface, since it can have the least amount of drag of other configurations. You will find the single fin almost exclusively on longboards and vintage or retro pin tail shaped surfboards.
Within the single fin category there is still much variation. Different sizes, shapes and lengths which all facilitate different styles of longboard surfing.
The twin fin was a design pioneered by Rob Simmons in the late 1940’s. The idea was to create a system that would create a more stable board than its only competitor at the time, the single fin. The Australian surfer, Mark Richards, was actually the one to popularize the model, winning the world title four consecutive years from 1979-82 on a twin fin board that he made himself. The twin fin set-up allows the surfboard to perform long, powerful, carving arcs while not compromising speed.
That is not to say that twin fins are exclusively for style and carves. Kelly Slater demonstrated the performance side of twinnies at this year’s Pipe Masters on the North Shore.
Dominating the market since its discovery by Simon Anderson in 1980, the thruster or, the three fin set up is by far the surfing world’s most popular fin set up. Thrusters are used by practically everybody from your beginner, surfing the white water on their summer holiday trip, to the world tour surfers dominating the most challenging waves on earth. While not as fast as some of the other configurations on this list, the thruster provides the most stability and maneuverability. The thruster set-up has been an integral piece of what modern surfing has become, with its evolution from purely gliding up and down waves to radical maneuvers and explosive moves.
The primary idea of the quad fin is to get the best bits from the twin and the thruster without compromising too much. The defining characteristic of quads is that instead of a single rear fin, they have two smaller fins alongside the two wide fins. The lack of a back fin significantly reduces drag which allows the surfers to generate a good amount of speed in weaker waves while maintaining much of the stability that a thruster would provide.
2 + 1 –
The 2 + 1 set up is, as you might imagine, quite similar to the thruster in the way that both of them have three fins. The 2 + 1 however is designed with the back fin being much larger than the other two fins, the size of a longboard fin. This provides more stability and drive than a conventional single longboard fin or thruster set up and is ideal for beginner or intermediate surfers. 2 + 1 setups are also a good idea for large waves when a single fin doesn’t provide enough control.
What materials fins are made of?
When you are a beginner surfer, you are going to need more flexible fins. These are the opaque, plastic (and often much cheaper) ones. If you are looking for high-performance, including speed and sharp turns, you’ll need really stiff fins. In this case you’ll use fiberglass or carbon fiber reinforced fins.
What fin sizes should I get?
Typically, when it comes to fins for any kind of shortboard, the fin size is done by weight. Most fins that you will buy will have a guide, but the basic guide is as follows:
XS – under 55 kg
S – 55-70kg
M – 65-80kg
L – 75-90 kg
XL – above 85 kg
The sizes for longboard fins are a different matter altogether. The rule of thumb is that for every foot of length that your board has, you have that same number of inches in the fin. For example, an eight foot board should have a fin that is eight inches.
Fins and Fin Boxes
One important question that is often raised is whether surfboard fins are universal. The short answer is no. When you buy your board, you are going to need to make sure that your fins you have at home match the fin box installed in the board. Different fins are designed in different ways so that they match their according fin boxes like a jigsaw piece. However, a number of fin systems do dominate the market. The two brands, fcs and futures are by far the most popular and many other fins have been adapted to fit into the fcs 1 and futures fin boxes. The fcs 2 fin boxes are uniquely for fcs 2 fins.
Needless to say, that from the everyday surfer to the professional carving the break, there is much to think about when setting up one’s board. We at Wyve are dedicated to providing you the best options, based on your surfing needs, to make you “fintastic.”