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Surfboard fins - the ultimate buying guide

Fin setups are designed to get the most of different types of waves. What is the best fin setup for a small mushy wave? With what set of fins should you paddle out in a big wave surfing day? Sometimes, it's hard to pick the right fin setup for the right wave, but this chart will help.


More than 95% of the surfboards have five fin setups: single fin, twin fin, thruster, quad or five fins. There are new laboratory experimentations and adaptations with futuristic designs and innovative fin functions but, in essence, surfboard shapers work with five fin setups.

When Simon Anderson developed the thruster - three fins - he was changing surfboard performance forever. Nowadays, the thruster is the most popular fin design for surfboards because of its behavior and performance in fat and hollow, small-to-big surf.

Nevertheless, there's more to life than thruster surfboards. You can improve your performance in a deep, fast waves riding a quad surfboard. Or, if waves are really small, why don't you enjoy a retro single fin summer session?

Hydrodynamics is a science and there are many variables at stake, when choosing the right fin setup for a wave. The fin, itself, has several components that change the way you surf your standard local break. Base, cant, depth, flex, foil and sweep of fins influence the way your surfboard perform in the face of the wave.

The optimal fin setup for a wave type goes as follows:

WAVES & FIN SETUP Single Fin Twin Fin Thruster Quad Five Fin
Small Fat Waves                                                                                
Small Hollow Waves                                                                                
Medium Fat Waves                                                                                
Medium Hollow Waves                                                                                
Big Fat Waves                                                                                
Big Hollow Waves                                                                                
Giant Waves                                                                                
           
 SCALE                                                                                 
  Perfect Adequate Fair Avoid Don't Use


Print this chart whenever you're unsure about which fin setup or surfboard you'll be paddling out with, in a determined wave type. Caution, though. This wave and fin setup chart applies to standard surfboards and should only be taken into consideration as a rough guide and advice.

Single - The single fin setup is the original setup. The first surfboards with fins, were rode with a single fin, which was usually long and wide. This gave a surfer control of the board with only one fin. Ideal for point break waves, drawn out turns with larger arc and an over all cruisy feel.

Twin - The twin fin setup is a board with two fins that sit parallel, and are the same size, which provides extra speed and finer turning. Commonly found on fishes or boards designed for smaller, mushy surf. Great for down-the-line surfing, as opposed to top-to-bottom.

Tri (Thruster) - The most common fin setup, which consists of three fins of the same size, two parallel fins, and one in the middle sitting slightly back further towards the tail. This setup is used by the worlds best surfers and most popular for ripping waves.

Quad - This setup consists of four fins, two on each side, and provides more speed because there is no center fin. Quad fins are great for surfing steep waves, when its crucial to have two fins in the water for extra shred-ability. Great for down-the-line surfing. The surfboard also tends to release easier in top-to-bottom turning situations. Bigger fin sits more towards the nose, smaller towards the back.

2 + 1 - This setup is two small fins parallel with one larger adjustable fin in further back. Most commonly found on performance driven, longer boards. The two side fins help you turn sharper, and hold you higher in the pocket in steeper waves.

Twinzer - This setup is similar to a quad fin setup. Four fins total, the back two fins are much larger than the front two fins. All four fins have much more canter *(link to glossary) than a traditional Quad setup.

Bonzer Keel - Bonzer fin setup is very different. The bottom contour of the surfboard will have a double vee concave out the tail, combined with either three or five fins. Most common Bonzer setups include a larger back center fin, with two smaller trailer fins on each side. Bonzer fins drive the surfboard beyond its natural arc. “The Bonzer feel is essentially that of an enhanced single-fin, very sure of itself in the pocket and on the rail, and very tail-based.” Nick Carroll

Sweep - The angle measuring how far the outline of the fin is curved backwards; also referred to as rake. Sweep has a direct influence on pivot. Fins with more sweep produce a longer turning arc, less sweep offers a tighter turning arc.

Flex - Referring to the distortion of the fin from its original shape caused by lateral pressure during a manoeuvre. Flex influences the response characteristics of a fin. Fins with little flex (stiff) produce instant response, speed and drive. Fins with more flex are more forgiving and offer a whipping sensation.

Cant - Referring to the angle of the side fins measured from a vertical line perpendicular to the flat bottom surface of the board. Cant has a direct effect on acceleration and maneuverability. Less cant produces faster acceleration and a stiffer feel. More cant will increase manoeuvrability and gives the board a loose feel.

Base - The length between the leading and trailing edge where the fin meets the board. Base is primarily linked to drive. Fins with a longer base will offer substantially more drive and acceleration.

 

Depth - The distance the fin penetrates into the water. Depth directly relates to hold. The greater the depth the more hold, the shorter the depth the more a board will slide and release.

Rake - The part of the back of the fin where it curves up from the bottom to the tip.

 

Tip - The top part of the fin or the furthest part of the fin in the water.

FOILS

Referring to the shape and geometry of the inside and outside faces of the fin. Foils directly affect the flow of water over the surface of the fin. Different foils create variations in water flow and have a direct link to the overall performance of the fin and the board.

 

THRUSTER FOILS

 

Flat - A flat inside face combined with a convex outside face. The traditional flat sided foil offers an even combination of drive, pivot and hold and provides a very consistent, reliable feel over a wide variety of conditions.

 

Vector - Great for linking together turns, accelerating off your bottom turn and generating speed in slower waves.

 

Inside - A sophisticated hydrodynamic foil consisting of a convex outside face, a rounded leading edge and a concaved inside face. Inside foil increases the efficiency of water flow over the surface of the fin adding lift and reducing drag. The result is a fin with more options through increased hold and speed.

 

50/50 - A symmetrical foil used on all centre fins where both sides are convex. Even water flow on both sides creates stability and control.

 

QUAD FOILS

 

Flat - Mimics the performance of a regular side fin offering fast transitions between turns, quick release and added hold on rail. (Ideal for boards with a wider tail, performance shortboards and boards with rear fins positioned close to the rail)

 

70/30 or 80/20 - Combines the performance of a centre and side fin offering increased speed, smooth rail-to-rail transitions and a consistent feel in a variety of conditions. (Ideal for all board types and rear fin placements)

 

50/50 - Mimics the performance of a regular center fin offering increased pivot with the added advantage of stability and control. (Ideal for all board types and rear fins positioned closer to the stringer)

 

PERFORMANCE

 

Drive - provides forward acceleration and helps maintain speed through turns. The amount of drive produced by a fin is directly influenced by the base length, material and the total surface area. Put simply; a larger fin with a longer base will offer more drive.

 

Pivot - refers to the length of the turning arc. Pivot is influenced by the sweep angle or rake, the foil and the depth of the fin. Fins with less sweep angle will turn in a tighter arc; fins with more sweep angle will turn in a longer arc.

 

Hold - is defined as the binding of the board to the wave. Hold is determined by flex and the overall fin template. Fins with more hold prevent the board sliding through turns, less hold allows the board to easily break free from the wave during turns; this is often referred to as ‘release’.

 

 

 

 



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