Choosing Surfboard Fins
Choosing surfboard fins is a key part of your surfing life. A fin is an essential piece of surf gear that makes a huge difference to the way your board feels and how you surf.
There’s vast amounts of scientific detail surrounding fins. There’s also personal preference, what’s called ‘feel’. If you’re a Beginner, feel is something you will acquire over time. So this article is a practical overview of what to look for in choosing your fins without getting too technical or taking too much for granted.
As a Beginner one of the key things to do is to swap the fins you get with your Beginner board. In new Beginner boards just about all the fins are a soft plastic. Soft means you can easily bend the fin top over 3 to 5cm with your fingers. These fins give a safety factor. If you end up getting a bump it likely to be much less of one than when using a hard fin. However you can imagine that soft fin in the wave. The wave power overwhelms it so you get much less forward direction from the fins. Stiffer fins make a huge difference to your feeling of speed. Without doing anything, just holding your stance, the stiffer fin holds your board in a line on the wave and the wave pushes against the fin giving you speed.
On the left are the 2 most common fins you’ll get with your Beginner board. They’re constructed of soft plastic you can easily bend with your fingers. On the right is a fin with exactly the same shape that is constructed with hard resin. This fin will only bend a fraction of the plastic fins. In the power of the wave this fin will hold direction and allow you to start to push to generate speed
Before you try all the different types of fin shapes and sizes get an inexpensive set of hard fins. When you’re going surfing start with getting a few waves with your soft set then come in and swap to the hard set. You’ll notice a huge difference. This will progress your surfing as with the hard fins you can start to push down on your board and you’ll feel the push of the wave. Pushing against the wave generates speed and is the start of doing dynamic turns.
Original surfboards didn’t have fins. Fins have been added so you can perform optimally on the wave, doing manoeuvres you’d otherwise be unable to do
It’s worth keeping in mind that the original surfboards used by the Polynesians didn’t have fins. Some boards today still don’t. So fins are added to your board to give you performance. They help you surf the wave optimally, to do manoeuvres that you’d otherwise be unable to do.
Beginner Boards & Fin Systems
Many Beginner boards, whether softboards or normal surfboards, have the soft plastic fins, that are often black. These are an okay choice to start your surfing if they’re included with your board
If you’re a Beginner it’s likely your board will have Original FCS fin system plugs as this is a very widely used system. There’s also the FCS II system and Future Fins system. These three fin systems dominate the market with a huge range of fins available. At this point we’re keeping our discussion to cover standard Thruster and Quad fins.
The three main fin systems. FCS Original has two anchor points & requires two screws. FCS II has two anchor points and can be screwless. Futures anchors the entire fin base & requires one screw
Looking at shortboard fins, entry level fins tend to be soft plastic. They’re often black, and sometimes included with your surfboard or softboard.
Turn your softboard into a performance board? If you’ve got the ability! Making a choice for stiffer fins can make a huge difference to your surfing. Stiff fins can radically change how a board performs
These fins provide a certain level of performance on the wave. If you think about the water of the wave moving, the fins on the bottom of your board push against this giving you direction. Without the fins your board would slide on the open face.
So when you’re starting out these soft fins are okay.
As you progress your surfing, you’ll want to move your board on the wave with direction often against the wave. When you push on soft fins they’ll bend. So to progress look at choosing fins that are stiffer so you get hold and direction.
Are Your Fins Soft & Flexi
Check the flex of your current fins, or check before you choose your next set. Flex can be measured by pressing against the tip of the fin and gauging the amount of movement
How to tell if a fin is soft or stiff? When your fin is in your surfboard or while it’s in your hand push on the tip. Does it move more than 2cm while in your board or more than 1cm in your hand? Then the fin is relatively flexi.
If fins weren’t included with your board choosing a stiff set at the outset is the way to go.
As you start to explore and understand what fins can do you’ll soon realise you don’t have to keep each fin identical. Let’s briefly touch on what a simple change of fin configs might do for your surfing.
Stiffer Side Fins
Stiffer side fins will give you speed and direction. As a Beginner they will keep you going along the wave, this is good. But as you want to do more you’ll find stiff fins make it harder to change direction and put together turns.
Stiff side fins with a soft rear fin makes a big difference to your surfing. At the Beginner stage you don’t need anything fancy. Use what you’ve got to experiment and mix it up to find the feel you like
Changing just the side fins to softer fins will allow you to change direction more easily. The surfboard fins flexing as you turn, your board pivoting on the stiffer rear fin.
So stiff or soft side fins will give your board an entirely different feel.
Surfboard Fins Size
Similar types of performance and feel can also be achieved by fin size.
Bigger side fins will have the same effect as stiffer side fins giving you more speed and directional drive. In fact there’s many models of fins designed by the world’s best shapers and signatured by top surfers with bigger side and smaller rear fins.
The other option of smaller side fins will make your board easier to turn. But it will also slide out more easily so this setup is not as popular.
Just a reminder that any discussion of fins is a generalisation. Good surfers can perform and surf well with almost any fin.
How To Progress Your Surfing
Follow your favourite surfers on the World Surf League. Check their equipment and fin setup
However observing the top surfers is a good thing. Checking what fin they ride will give you ideas on how you’d like to surf. The top surfers use fin setups they believe allow them to surf optimally in those conditions. If they’re in competition, they believe their fin setups will give advantage over their competitors.
So How Do You Progress?
Get stiff and soft fins. Start to experiment. Try mixing up the fins you’ve got. See what feel you like. Develop your preference.
Then try a set of fins of a Pro surfer you like. See what their fins feel like, what they enable you to do.
Slater vs Machado Surfboard Fins
Here’s a good example of two of the world’s great surfers who have different types of signature fins. Their fin preferences interestingly seems to reflect their differing approaches to their surfing-life-styles.
Kelly Slater surfs the FCS system. His two signature sets of fins both have the setup we described above. On the left the K2 fin set has bigger side fins and a smaller rear fin. On the right the K3 set has all the fins the same size but the fins have less area. Kelly keeps his fin choices tight
Kelly Slater, multi World Champion, surfs the FCS system. He has his signature K2.1 fins for when the waves are smaller to standard size. These fins are stiff, more upright and allow him to pivot in sharp turns. When waves are bigger or have longer walls Kelly goes for more swept K3 signature fins. These fins have a stiff base with flexi tip. They’re good for longer drivier turns. Kelly has also surfed with five fins in his board and can innovate. But generally his approach is to keep his fin selection tight, to surf optimally most if not all the time.
Rob Machado surfs the Futures system. Rob also has his signature fins with bigger sides and smaller rears. When Rob mixes it up though, he really mixes it up changing not just fins but entire board styles. For Rob it’s more about the feel and the fun
Rob Machodo is a great surfer and mate of Kelly. He surfs Futures fins and his signature set also has the larger side fins with smaller rear. His fins are very flexi with advanced tech on the side fins to achieve speed generation. So when using these fins Rob wants to perform.
When Rob changes this setup, he changes everything. His board style, surfing style, and fin style. For Rob it isn’t all about surfing optimally. It’s also about the feel, it’s about mixing it up, it’s about the fun.
So as you progress you can be like Kelly, going for optimum performance, or like Rob, mixing it up for fun. Or find your own unique path.
The way a fin feels to you can change depending on the surf. On a full wave your fins can feel slow and stiff. On a sucky wave the same fins can feel fast and loose. One of the reasons FCS and Futures fin systems are so popular is they have exceptional design quality and construction to give you good all round surfing in most conditions.
Quad & Five Fin Setups
An FCS Five Fin setup, note the rear 5th fin is not a thruster but a smaller nubster fin. A Futures quad setup. Quad is a good Beginners option as it gives you more direction and drive so you can get longer rides
A Quad and Five fin setup means that you have 4 or 5 fin boxes in your board and can install four and five fins.
A Quad setup gives a similar feel to two bigger side fins. They help you go along the wave, making it around the foam, making more sections, getting longer rides. So Quads are a good choice and option as a Beginner.
Five fins is a similar setup to a Quad setup with a small nubster 5th fin in the rear. Though small, a nubster makes a difference helping your board feel more stable and flowing. So when you do a turn the board feels like it wants to come around with you. As a Beginner there’s no reason why you shouldn’t try a five tin setup. But it’s not something to aim for. Note, putting a normal thruster fin, larger than a nubster, in the rear can make your board feel slow from extra drag.
Surfboard Fins Summary
The soft fins that come with many Beginner surfboards are okay to start with. Here’s the FCS Beginner style on the left and Futures on the right. The Futures entry level fins are much stiffer though and a better option to start with
In summary, choosing fins for your surfboard is an essential and extensive area of your surfing. The soft fins that come with most surfboards will get you going. Next, go for a set of stiff fins. These don’t have to be anything fancy. From there, start experimenting swapping the config around. Then start exploring what fins your favourite Pro rides. With this approach you will rapidly progress.
There’s many different types of fins. Here’s a small sample of the Futures range
So Many Surfboard Fins
Fins have many characteristics in addition to size and stiffness, and there’s many different types of fins. Terms often referred to regarding fins include template, base, height, area, rake and sweep, toe and cant, weight. As you progress, these characteristics and how they relate to your weight, size and performance, become more important to understand. Our next article covers how these impact the progress of Intermediate and Advanced surfers.
So, get your board, get your fins, and get out there and have fun!
To check our great surfboard fins and buy online click here.