A Guide to Best Surfboard Fins
Surfboard fins may provide you with more drive, speed, power, stability, and control. Learn all about them with our guide.
Even if you’ve never seen the original Jaws or still rightly get sour whenever the horrible sequels are mentioned, you probably know that fins are very important in surfing. They are not only good for making your surfboard look like a mutated shark when it’s upside down either. More often than not, the much-appreciated control, balance, and stability of your board are down to a well-designed fin setup.
Yet, their importance is easily overlooked due to too much focus on the board itself. Therefore, especially if you’re a beginner, you can be forgiven for making careless fin choices. That being said, the OMBE guide to best surfboard fins aims to eliminate that carelessness by introducing you to all the different types of surf fins, the reason why they’re important, and the best surfboard fin options on the market.
A Brief History of Surfboard Fins
The first surfboard fin was conceived by the pioneering Hawaiian surfer and inventor Tom Blake in 1935. He attached a spare metal part he acquired from an old speedboat to the bottom deck of his board and realized it provided him with more control and flexibility. Before him, Hawaiians either surfed only on a straight line, without trying turns, trims, or carves, or they dipped their feet into the wave to achieve at least a bit of control.
You could’ve expected the fin innovation to pick up pace after its initial conception, but that wasn’t the case. Rather, it was quite a gradual process. In the 1940s, Bob Simmons made a modification to the fin shape, Green Greenough designed a narrower and more flexible fin, and the legendary shaper, Bob McTavish, started to employ the design in his boards. It was only a single fin setup, though, and it was the only one surfers had until the 1970s.
The breaking point came in the late 1970s when Australian surfer Mark Richard rode his fish surfboard with a two fin setup and won a couple of titles. His achievements led the board-shaping world to experiment with various fin setups.
Nowadays, there are many types of fins and fin setups for surfers. All of these fin types and different setups have their use depending on the type of wave the surfer wants to ride and the board they have.
Different Surfboard Fin Types, Setups, and What They Are Good For
Before going out to shop for fins, you need to know about the main types available on the market and what they’re good for. Otherwise, you might end up riding (or, at least, trying to ride) knee-high waves with fins meant for big wave surfing. You might even draw a couple of judgmental stares, question whether the universe is nothing but a simulation run by a god-like computer, and accidentally get yourself deleted because glitching is simply unforgivable.
Thank god (or computer), the OMBE crew is here with prophesized wisdom, and we won’t let you glitch.
The Main Types of Fins
The type of the fin depends on two basic factors: how it’s attached to the board and what it’s made of. Now, let’s see how many different ways you can attach a fin to your board.
Glass on Fins
The fin industry wasn’t always as advanced. Back in the past, the boards came with non-removable fins that were attached via fiberglass. However, they are troublesome to repair, and once they’re broken, your board can be declared redundant.
Removable Fin Systems
Nobody could blame a surfer for cursing at everything due to having their fin broken before removable fins were introduced to the world. Removable fins were invented by Bruce Whitty and quickly became an industry-standard thanks to Whitty's company, FCS (Fin Control Systems).
Therefore, they’re also known as FCS-style fins, and they’re the most popular type of fins for surfers. The operating principle is simple: surfboards come with a fin box where you can attach and detach your fin as you like.
There are fins made of hardened materials such as fiberglass and plastic. Some more performance-oriented and hybrid fins are made of bamboo or honeycomb core. However, hard fins are prone to break, especially when you’re surfing on shallow reef formations.
Of course, constantly-breaking fins can easily pose a nuisance for board rentals and sloppy recreational surfers. If you don’t want to pay for new fins over and over again, flexible fins are the alternative. Let us warn you, though, if you’re looking for performance, they shouldn’t be your go-to.
The Main Fin System Types
Once you have a heightened understanding of the ocean, surfing, and equipment, you can go on and start shaping your own surfboards, and you can go wild with the placement of fin boxes. Experimentation should always be encouraged, after all.
However, you’re probably not there yet, and you need to be contented with the systems that are already present on boards. They are as follows:
As we mentioned when we were talking about the history of surfboard fins, it’s the first type of fin setup and simply consists of a single, center fin placed under the tail. Nowadays, though, a single fin is mostly employed as a longboard fin. As longboards are mostly beginner boards, it makes sense too. There’s no need to confuse beginners, right?
As surfing became a more complicated sport over the years, the simple rides on a straight line turned obsolete as well, and to accommodate rail-surfing and provide more guile during turns and tricks, twin fins were invented. They’re mostly small fins that are mounted near both rails, and they contribute to the speed and control of your boards.
2+1 Fin Setup
As can be derived from how it’s referred to, it’s a combination of the two setups mentioned above: one large center fin under the tail and two side fins near the rails. As a result, you’re more comfortable on the rail. You have better lift when taking off, more control and stability during turns, and less drag overall.
Similar to the 2+1 setup, the thruster also consists of three fins. However, unlike the 2+1, the center fin is not large in thruster setups. It was invented by Australian surfer and shaper Simon Anderson in the 1980s, and put straightforwardly, it adds more thrust to your board.
Once you start adding new fin boxes to your boards, who knows where you’ll stop, right? It’s like an addiction. So, for some, three fins weren’t enough, and they wanted four. To be more specific, they wanted two fins on each rail and nothing in the center. It worked, too, as it’s ideal for high-performance shortboards and rail-surfing. There are also variations on the theme, like the diamond quad setup, in which there are two fins on the rail and two central ones on the stringer line.
Four is a weird number, so let’s add one more and round it up to five. Bonzer consists of four aggressively canted rail fins (two on each) combined with a 7-inch central one. It was invented by the Campbell brothers in California to surf huge and powerful waves.
Best Surfboard Fins in 2022
Now that you have a general idea about how fins work and what you need in which surf condition, we can start listing our favorites to help you make an educated pick when the time comes to add more strength and control to your board.
FCS Fins Mick Fanning Tri-Fin
FCS’ athlete series has a fair number of high-performance fins designed for and used by great surfers, including Filipe Toledo, Sally Fitzgibbons, Kolohe Andino, and Jeremy Flores. Our pick of the bunch is Mick Fanning’s tri-fin, who is probably the most stylish of them all. Unsurprisingly, his signature fins are in line with what you love in his surfing.
It’s quite a carver, and it’s not only going to carve and retire either. You can prolong your roundhouse cutbacks for quite a bit with it. Moreover, it’ll allow you to perform sharp snaps on the lip of the wave since it also emphasizes power, drive, and dynamism. It can also help you make fast and powerful turns without you worrying about losing control.
It’s best employed on reef and point breaks where the wave’s face is open and ripe for some power-surfing. You don’t need to worry about breaking it on shallow reefs, as its performance core construction is able to handle a couple of dings while also being flexible and lightweight enough. The latter provides you with hold during turns thanks to its Glass Flex material that stretches from top to bottom.
As the stress is on high-performance, we recommend using it on performance-oriented shortboards with a moderate to extreme rocker.
Futures Fins John John TechFlex Medium
Futures Fins also produce signature models for great surfers like Jordy Smith, but the John John TechFlex Medium comes across as the most versatile fin setup in their catalog. John John Florence employed the fin template in many variations during a couple of World Championship tours, so you know that you’re in for a high-performance setup with the TechFlex.
Its flat foil stabilizes your board when you’re going down the surf line at high speed. Yet when it comes to showing off your tricks and playfulness, you’ll see it has quite a bit of spring on it and that it’s as responsive as you’d like. In that sense, we can also say that it’s suitable for all kinds of wave conditions.
In short, no matter your skill and surfing aspirations, the Futures Fins John John TechFlex is one of the best fins you’ll find on the market. So, why don’t you let Futures Fins be your future fins?
South Bay Board Co. FCS-Compatible Thruster Set
South Bay has consistently been producing great surfboards for beginners and recreational surfers, but their thruster fin sets aren’t bad either. Whether you’re after a fin set that’ll elevate your performance to new heights or one that’ll provide you with more stability and control, the South Bay Thruster Set can help you.
They’re made of an eco-friendly bamboo core, but you shouldn’t worry that a rogue group of miraculously agile pandas might break into your garage and try to eat them since they’re also reinforced with fiberglass. So, you don’t only have a great set of versatile fins but also durable ones.
The set is compatible with the FCS II system, and the packaging includes fin screws and a fin key, so you need not worry about how to set it up.
BPS Central Fin and BPS Bite Fins
BPS may not be as acknowledged a brand as the ones above, but they’re still a company founded and run by surfers, and they know what surfers need. Their fin catalog is a testament to that.
The options we have included in our list so far are high-performance fins that are more suitable for shortboarding. The BPS Central Fin, in that sense, is a deviation since it’s a longboarding fin ideal for gliding and noseriding on knee-high waves. Also, if you want to do some flat-water paddling on peaceful beach breaks, it may also be employed as a SUP fin. Moreover, it comes with a no-tool fin screw, so attaching it is no hassle either.
If you want to use the BPS Central Fin as the central fin in a 2+1 setup, though, you have the BPS Bite Fins for company. These are suitable for shortboards, fun boards, and longboards alike, and they’ll provide you with more drive and power besides great stability and control.
FCS II Mark Richards Twin + Stabilizer Fin Set
Sometimes having a small trailer fin instead of a large central fin may add more to the performance, balance, and control of your board. This FCS II fin set used by Mark Richards for drive and speed is proof of that.
Its construction and material are no different than the Mick Fanning Tri-Fin above. It features the same performance core and glass flex, but the fin design makes it exceptional in pivoting and maneuverability. On the other hand, the small central fin provides you with more control while not allowing you to lose your freedom to maneuver.
It can be used on almost all types of surfboards, but it’s best suitable for boards that bring fun and performance together. Therefore, using this fin set on fish boards and fun boards could pay dividends.
Good knowledge of fins and making an educated purchase will help you raise your surfing standards. If you’re after more hold, control, and stability, you’ll achieve those by picking the right fins. If you want more drive, power, and speed, there are fins that’ll help you get there as well. We hope that our guide made what’s important clear and gave you options worth considering, no matter what you’re looking for.