Surf Fin Setup: What Makes the Board Whole
Since their introduction in the 1930s, they have gradually evolved into various iterations. In this article, we are going to cover the most important and utilized fin setups in fin history.
There is an art to fin setups that every rider should have down. The main thing is that surfers need to have a good understanding of all the ways that their surf fin setup can (and will) impact their surf and their overall performance.
Remember that the surfboard fin setups on their own can’t really do much in order to keep you afloat, but together with the other components of your board, they make or break your moves.
This is why every single aspect of the surfboard fin should be up for scrutiny. Much like surfboards, surfboard fins come in all different shapes and sizes.
Once you settle on the ones that you need or like, you will have to choose a setup. There are a lot of different ways to set up your fins, but we’re going to stick to the tried and true ones.
What Are Surf Fins?
Surfboard fins are tail mounts to your surfboard that make it a lot easier for you to stay on a certain course and allow you to steer your board.
Fins also come in handy when it comes to lateral lifts. By applying your weight to different parts of your feet, you are able to change direction and take full control of the trajectory.
It might seem far-fetched today, but before the 1930s, there were no fins to be found on boards. It might even seem comical, but before the advent of fins, surfers used to make turns by putting down one of their legs in the water. You can imagine that this made it very difficult for them to retain their balance, especially during turbulence.
The very first fin setup was introduced by a surfer named Tom Blake. As you might have guessed, Tom took a keel from a speedboat and strapped it onto his board. The results were staggering. He couldn’t believe how much more control he had over his movements and his board.
Nevertheless, it took a couple of years for the trend to catch on. It wasn’t until 1936 when a gentleman by the name of Woody Brown started offering boards that featured a fixed surf fin.
You would think that because the fins made the surf so much more enjoyable and gave surfers much more control, it would spread like wildfire. But, the truth is that the popularity of the surf fin and its different setups grew gradually over a span of fifteen years.
Many of the old guard didn’t want anything to do with fins because they thought that the fins were dangerous. Even though the first double surf fin setup came along in the 1940s, it still took another decade for the fin to become a surfboard staple during the 1950s.
Now, you’re probably not going to believe this, but the three-fin setup wasn’t introduced until well into the 1980s. It took the surfing industry more than fifty years to develop the surf fin and have it as an integral part of every board.
Types of Fins
We did mention some of the trailblazing fin setups so far, but let’s go over all of the most popular ones in more detail. The fin setups that every surfer needs to know are the single fin, twin fin, thruster fin, and quad fin.
Single fin board setups are the oldest and most utilized longboard setup on the market. Modern surfers might find the single fin setup a bit too primitive for their taste because it doesn't allow for as much maneuverability.
That being said, this is completely based on preference. Some riders actually enjoy surfing one fin setups more than anything else. The ride is different, and there is a certain glide to it that no other setup can deliver. However, you don’t want to take a one-fin board out to surf big waves that come at you at great frequencies.
The one fit setup is more of a leisure setup than a competitive one. This is not to say that a professional surfer cannot and shouldn’t use a one-fin setup, but it does fall short when it comes to navigating through tough waters.
Even though the one fin setup will tie your hands in terms of cuts and maneuverability, it will provide you with all the spread that you could ever wish for.
Because there is just one fin, it’s usually bigger than the fins on multi-fin setups. Surfers that aren’t used to one-fin setups will have a hard time adjusting because they provide a lot less stability than any other fin setup out there.
This is why a lot of riders simply cannot have it on their boards. It basically comes across as an unstable, unmaneuverable big keep that sets you up for great speeds.
But that’s oversimplifying it—until you try one out yourself, you should reserve judgment. You just might fall in love with the way that one fin setups feel.
The twin fin setup rose to prominence during the early 1970s, and then once again at the turn of the decade, and into the 80s. Why? Well, the proof was in the pudding.
Champion surfer Mark Richards had a two-fin setup on his board when he managed to string together four World Championships in a row.
The fact that the twin fin setup gave him the ability to control his movements a lot easier and with less effort while still delivering on the speed front gave him an undeniable edge over his opponents that were still logging the one fin setup.
The two-fin setup is ideal for medium surfs because it provides riders with the best of both worlds. With a twin setup, you can move fast and go for sharper turns. However, two fin setups do have a weak spot to them.
They can seem a bit loose in hard turns and bottom turns that require a bit more acrobatics.
The thruster setup, also known as a three-fin, is without a doubt the most popular and coveted setup on the market. Since its introduction, it has become the go-to setup for almost all professional surfers because it’s the best fin setup for big wave surfing.
The fact that it’s quite suitable for beginners as well because of the stability that it provides makes it an absolute favorite.
The most common three-fin setup features three identical fins that are spread out in the form of a triangle at the back of the board. Without a three-fin setup, there is no way of performing the maneuvers that we are used to seeing on a daily basis.
Overall, the setup is super fun in good to epic conditions and holds well in steep waves. Surfers that are into extreme surfing and performance surfing all have three fin setups as their default board setups.
On the flip side, three fin boards cannot reach the speeds of one-finners because the three fins create more friction and drag at the end of the board.
Quad fin setups are ideal for riders that want something between the two and three fin setups. Some see this setup as a middle ground, while for others it is simply no man’s land. In either case, it’s safe to say that quad fin setups aren’t everybody’s cup of tea.
They excel at small surfs, as the fins that are positioned closer to the rear are closer to the middle of the board. This goes double if the fins are spread out closer to the rails of the board.
This setup is ideal for surfers that want to accelerate even on weak waves and do quick maneuvers while not falling downhill from a liquid building.
In essence, the quad setup is very comparable to the twin setup, but it does offer some more stability because it’s more spread out.
Because the quad setup provides extra control, it is popular with riders that enjoy surfing big hollow waves.
By having the back fins further back, they are able to generate extra speed and are very suitable for navigating clean surfs.
While they are more stable than the one and two-fin setups, they can’t really compare to the stability that a thruster setup offers.
Things To Consider
The fin setup and how the fins are spread out go hand in hand with their parameters. There are literally an infinite number of parameters and aspects that can be taken into account when hunting for the perfect fin setup.
Let’s take a look at some of the most obvious and important ones.
The fin dimensions are paramount to the way that the fin reacts to the water and, in turn, with the board. The bigger and longer the fins, the more hold they will provide.
This is because there is a lot more surface for the water to go against.
Fin flexibility is a very important factor to consider when you are on the lookout for your fin setup. You want to know if you want the board to have a quicker or a slower response to your movements.
Surfers that are used to making surgical moves are better off sticking to stiff fins because, that way, they are able to slide across the water like a hot knife in butter.
That being said, it's a two-edged knife that we’re talking about here. Stiffer fins are much less forgiving, so expect to really feel and see your mistakes tenfold.
The base of the fin is the part of the fin that comes in direct contact with the board, and as such it is the most important part when it comes to driving the board.
When a board changes direction, there is a lot of pressure from the water on the fins. This is especially true for the base because it is the widest and longest part of the fin.
Riders that opt for smaller fin bases usually want to have less drive and are after shorter turns on arcs.
The rake of the fin determines how far the fin can tilt back before coming to a halt. Fins that have less rake to them are much easier to pivot and provide greater response times on turns.
If a fin has more rake to it, it will be more suitable for turns that take more time. Although it might not seem obvious, the rake has a lot to do with the upper body motions.
Moving your body in a certain direction in the upper part creates a pull for balance, and it elicits a reaction from the rake.
The give directly affects how flexible a rake is when it responds to body movement.
A single fin setup cannot be compared to a thruster fin setup because the middle fin will react much differently than the outer fins.
The stability and control depend on the fin control system and the fin surface. For instance, a twin fin setup is more comparable to a quad fin setup. That said, twin fins cannot offer as much stability as quad fins.
In a way, it’s all relative to the situation at hand and the fin setups. Ultimately the fin box can have a number of fin configurations, but it’s the fin application that makes or breaks a setup.