Ok, so you’re at the surfboard shop and have chosen your first board, and are ready to hit the waves. Well, not quite. In the modern world of surfing you have one other important decision to make, what fins will you use? It’s important to know what you’re looking for in a surfboard fin and we’re going to take an in-depth look at the various types, brands, and setups for your board.

Surfboard fins are a crucial part of any surfers success on the waves, ensuring you have chosen the right fins that will work for you and your board. When you head down to the surfboard shop, you need to know what kind of board you will be riding, what conditions you will be surfing and what your weight and skill level are, to make sure you get the right fins. The surfboard shop staff should be able to assist you in making the right decision, but we have tried to lay it all out for you below. 

These days most surfboard shops will only offer removable fins, that use a fin box set into the board. In the old days most surfboards came with glassed-in fins, that you could not remove, but the advent of surf travel has almost completely removed these fins from the market, as they can easily be damaged when traveling. 

What Are The Primary Differences Between Glassed-In and Box Fins?

The two options are fairly self-explanatory. Glassed-in fins are laminated into the board at the point of construction, and they offer slightly less drag with a bit more drive — these are almost negligible differences though. They are also much harder to repair and simply don’t offer the versatility of a removable fin due to its flex from the base. They also make travel much more difficult, as you can fit less surfboards in your travel boardbag.

 

The more common option these days is boards with removable fins. These are surfboards that have a fin box installed and glassed over into the deck. These boxes allow for a range of different fins to be fitted into and screwed in. Different brands offer different boxes, but there are two major and notable options: FCS and FCS II, as well as Future fins.

The type fin you use will depend on your fin box. Fins are easy to install, and only require a fin key to secure the fin in. You can remove or replace your fins depending on your style, wave size, speed and a variety of other variables. 

Most surfboard shops will encourage you to invest in the removable fin systems, but you are still left with a choice between the many brands available.

Surfboard shop

Fin Types

The only surfboards that offer a fin box that is usable with all brands, are longboards. These generally have a slide box that uses a screw to secure. For all other surfboards, you will more than likely find your board comes equipped with one of the following three box types.

1) Dual-Tab Fin Box (FCS & FCS II)

FCS is a fin system originally designed in the early 1990s and is the most widely used and accepted fin system on the global market. FCS (Fin Control System) was started in Australia and took off due to its easy to use nature, but both the FCS and FCS II range come with dual tabs and backward / forwards compatibility making it the ideal option for your board.

With a dual tab system there are two tabs on each fin which are screwed to the board with the included screws. However, when using the FCS II box with an FCS II fin, there will be no need for screws, as the keyless technology allows your fin to fit into the box without any tooling by simply snapping the fin into place.

These can have a screw for extra security and when in remote areas we highly advise doing this just in case. The cost of the FCS II range are sometimes quite expensive and some surfboard shop clients are shocked at how much fins can cost. There are many generics available at the surfboard shop for the FCS original box though, offering more budget friendly options.

surfboard shop

2) Single Tab Fin Box (Futures)

The other major box system is the futures system. Unlike the dual tab system, the futures fin offer a single tab base which stretches the entire length of the fin box for a stronger fit. An easy-to-use grub screw holds the fin into place. Created in 1996 by the Longo brothers who tackled complex aerospace parts, they put their love of surfing to good use when they created a break through in surfboard fin systems. There are many generics for this long-used fin box and the surfboard shop will be able to offer you a variety of different options according to your budget.

Vanhunks Boarding primarily sells these Future fins, in quad and thruster set up.

surfboard shop

What Fins Do You Choose At The Surfboard Shop?

You are probably wondering where to even begin, what with so many options, never mind which fin box system to choose. Your surfboard shop and local board manufacturer probably have a favorite and sometimes this is the best option. Both fin systems have their fans, so perhaps try both over the next two surfboards you own and then you can decide which system you prefer. 

What Size Fins?

The size of fin you use will depend heavily on your weight. Start by using accurate scales to determine your weight range. Once you have determined your weight, use the suggestions below to work out your fin size.  

Weight (Kgs) Weight (lbs) Fin Size
45 100 Grom
55 120 XS
50-70 105-155 S
65-90 145-195 M
75+ 165+ L
90+ 190+ XL

 

How Do Fins Work?

Understanding how fins work will help you choose the right set when you are at the surfboard shop. Fins work due to measurements such as rake, splay, base length, foil, flex and their height. 

Rake

When looking at the rake of a fin, it is how far the front edge of a fin arcs backwards. Rake is the measurement that determines how far back a fin curves in relation to it’s base. This is what propels the board, the smaller rake fins will offer greater speed and will be more predictable but less ideal for short, fast turns. Large rake fins offer you a ‘squirrelly’ yet playful experience whilst letting you make tighter turns.

Splay

Often defined by the manufacture of the board, the splay of a fin system is the angle of which the side fins are in relation to the boards central stringer. Often, side fins are referred to as ‘spayed in’ with the front of the fin angled towards the middle of the board. This allows water pressure to build on the outside fins which will ultimately increase your responsiveness.

Base

The widest point of a fin is the base, giving the fin strength and is the part that sits flush with the base of your board once installed. The length of the base will effect the boards responsive behaviours in turns. The longer base creates trajectories for water to propel past, which creates a faster ride. For sharper, more maneuverable fins, go for a shorter base. 

Foil

Foil is one of the more important aspects of your fin, referring to the shape of the outside and inside faces of your fin. Your fins will be thinnest near the tip of your fin, and thicker near the base. Altering the flow of water over the fin surface has a direct impact on the performance of your fins and surfboard. Your central fin will always be symmetrical and convex on both sides, this is often referred to as “50/50”, this offers even distribution and stability. Outside fins are typically convex on the outside faces and flat or curved inwards on the inside. The flat inside creates a solid balance of control, speed and maneuverability, whilst a curved or concave inside maximizes lift and minimal drag, more ideal for speed and fluidity.

Flex

The fins flexibility or lack of flex significantly impacts the way your board reacts. A more flexible fin offers a more playful and fun experience, where a stiff fin will offer you greater speed on hollow waves. Higher end fins come with both soft and stiff flex patterns being stiff at the base and softer at the tip. 

Height

This is the measurement from the base of the fin, to the tallest point at the tip, The varying heights of fins are designed to change your boards stability and grip through turns. If you’re looking for control and to surf in a more relaxed manner a taller fin is the way to go, shorter fins don’t give grip through the water like taller fins do, meaning more experienced riders can maneuver the board more freely.

Cant

Cant is the degree in which the fin sits in relation to the board’s base, for example, a fin that is straight up/down has a cant of 90 degrees, this makes your ride faster by carving through the wave more freely. Anything outside the 90 will increase the boards responsive behaviors through turns. Less cant allows for greater acceleration and drive.

What Fin Configuration Do You Need?

Once you’ve determined your weight range and fin size accordingly, the next step is understanding your board’s fin configuration. 

Looking at the base of your board near the tail, you’ll see your fin boxes, this will likely range from one to five boxes, the more common setups are Single, Twin, Thruster, and Quad. Most  surfboard shapers, and the surfboard shop, will offer boards with a five fin-box setup to give you the variety of choice between different fin setups. 

Single Fin Setup

Single fins are typically found in longboard configurations and older traditional surfboards. The single fin setup is ideal for surfers that want a more relaxed surfing experience, turning is limited, meaning it’s ideal for fast, straight surfing, while offering control, stability, and predictability on your board. Most single fin boxes allow you to make adjustments to fin positioning allowing forward and backward movements, changing the drive and ability to turn the surfboard.

single fin surf set up

Twin Fins Setup

Twin fins are for fast and maneuverable surfing. Twin fin configurations, however, are not ideal for large wave riding and typically found on shortboards to enhance the riders speed. Dual fins also offer a longer more drawn out turn and skateboard like feel. You typically have the choice between a standard twin fin or a keel twin fin. The keel model is typically used on more retro, ‘fish’ style surfboards. These are more for small, slow waves and you should ask the local surfboard shop if they are suited to your local conditions before buying these.

twin fin surf setup

Thruster / Tri Fin Setup

This has been the most popular fin setup for many years, since Simon Anderson famously designed them in the 80s. The two outer fins are angled towards the boards center or ‘toed-in’ and can be flat on the inside in order to increase water tracking and speed. The inner centered fin is asymmetric fin which means its the same on both sides. Thrusters perform extremely well as they add control and stability whether you’re a seasoned professional or a complete amateur.

thruster fin setup

Quad Fin Setup

Quad fins are the perfect fin configuration for greater speed by channeling the water to the end of the board which offers much better acceleration. The two outer fins offer great stability whilst the two inner fins offer more speed. Quad fins are great for generating drive through your turns. Originally thought to be better in smaller waves, surfers like Kelly Slater have shown that they work very well in big and hollow waves, making them ideal for riding the tube.

quad fin setup

Five Fin Setup

This setup is becoming a more commonly used system due to it’s flexibility. Five-fin systems are not designed to have all five-fins used, but offer you the option to have a quad-fin setup, thruster setup, twin or single. The fin positioning allows for your own configuration based on your desired surfing style. Typically, the better setup for those who surf in varying surf conditions and styles. The team at the surfboard shop will also show you how you can put a fifth, small rear fin in with your quad setup for more stability.

Two-Plus-One Fin Setup

Typically found in a longboard the 2+1 fin system allows for 2 fins on the outer sides and a single fin in the center. The difference in this as apposed to a thruster is the larger center fin, allowing the larger longboard fins to fit and be adjusted to the surfers desired positioning. A popular option for eggs, fun boards, SUPs, and Logs. This setup allows better control through turns than the traditional single fin and is the setup of choice for modern, high performance longboarding. 

Now You Are Ready To Get Your Fins

Now you have all the information you need to choose the right fins for you. Don’t be scared to ask the team at the surfboard shop for assistance, especially if you are just starting out. We advise picking one fin system and sticking with it, so that you can use your fins on all your surfboards (yes, most experienced surfers have way more than one surfboard). 

It will be easy to get confused when you are looking at the huge display of different fins at the surfboard shop, but use the information we have given you and you should make the right choices. Remember, fins do get knocked out, rather accept that it does happen and if you are beginner, rather avoid the most expensive fins. The surfboard shop should have cheaper generic models for you to start with. Once you progress to a higher level, your fins can progress too. 

Enjoy your time in the surf and we hope you score some waves.