Fin Placement on Surfboards: Everything to Know

Just as the size and shape of your surfboard determine its agility, buoyancy, and stability, so does your fin set up affect the way your surfboard performs.

When choosing your fin placement, everything has an impact. The number of fins you use, how close to the nose or tail you place them, the angle that the fins face, the size of the fins, and how close they are together will all play a significant role in the way your surfboard handles.

Below is a breakdown of how all these factors affect your ride, and which work best in different situations.

Fin Location

Fin location affects speed, turning, and stability. This is because the way your board handles comes down to the angles that the water can travel beneath your surfboard.

A well-balanced fin placement will provide the most diversity with surf conditions but will underperform when compared to a customized setup.

For example, a fin set up created for speed will outpace a balanced board, but will not perform as well when conditions become choppy or the waves become larger.

Fin Position Relative to the Board

  • Towards the nose: Fins closer to the nose will feel looser as your back foot does not dig them as deep into the water.
  • Towards the tail: Fins closer to the tail of your board create more stability and hold, but are less agile. You should expect a larger turning radius when your fins are near the tail of your board.
  • Loser to the rails: Fins placed closer to the rails provide less friction and sharper turning angles and reduced stability.
  • Closer to the stringer: Fins in the center of a surfboard create extra drag but hold the board more stable in larger or faster surf.

Fin Position Relative to Each Other

  • Closer Together: The closer together your fins are clumped, the faster your board will react to your movements, but the board will feel looser.

Fins placed closer together are best for trick surfing in medium-sized swell.

  • Further apart: Fins placed further apart from each other will feel more stable in the water but have a larger turning angle.

This fin setup is best for larger, fast, barreling waves.

Fin Position Summary

  • Fin position for speed: Fins spread further apart and near the back of the board will provide the least drag with the most stability.
  • Fin position for quick turns: Fins clumped closely together, closer to the nose of your surfboard will slide more and make the board more agile, therefore providing a smaller turning ark.

Angle of Fins

Just as the position of your fins affects the way your board handles and performs, so does the angle that your fins face, relative to both the center of your board and the board’s belly.

The amount of water that flows beneath your board and the angle at which it moves between the fins make a significant impact on how your board feels.

The Fin Toe

The fin toe, also known as the splay, refers to the angle that your outer fins face in relation to the center fin.

Outer fins are usually “toed in”, meaning the front of each side fin is facing slightly towards the centerline of your board.

Fins with greater inward angles (toe-in) will respond faster to movements and feel loose while producing more drag.

Fins that are set straight (zero toe) will be faster as they allow more water to travel past them at faster speeds, will feel more stable, but will not be as responsive.

In short, zero toe fins are faster, steady, and have a wider turning angle, while toed in fins are more responsive, loose, but slower.

The Cant

A fins cant is its angle in relation to the bottom of your surfboard. The greater the cant, the more the bottom of the fin is angled towards the outside rail.

Fins with a zero cant are straight up and down (the base of the fin is at 90 degrees with the base of your surfboard).

Fins set with a zero cant will feel faster as they do not create as much drag at the expense of responsiveness.

The greater the cant, the more drive you will feel, especially when surfing on the board’s rail.

Number of Fins

Four major fin setups are commonly used on surfboards. Although most boards will have either a thruster setup or a single fin, there are many surfers worldwide that prefer a more alternative approach.

Single Fin

Single fins are the fin setup for surfboards and are most commonly seen on longboards.

In this setup, only a single large fin is used near the tail of the board and along the stringer.

Although single fins are outdated and not used widely in competitions, they are still held dear by many as they provide a different surfing experience.

Single fins are often long and wide which provides control over a larger surfboard, but sacrifices maneuverability.

If you have not surfed a single fin board before then you may feel unstable and find it difficult to make quick turns, but will experience more speed due to the reduced friction from fewer fins.

Twin Fin

Becoming popular in the 1970s when Mark Richards used fish boards to win the World Championships four times in a row, twin fins provide extra speed and maneuverability.

Twin fins are fixed near the rails of the board and usually in line with the back foot.

Twin fins are more stable than single fins but can feel loose in the water as the missing center fin makes deep, sharp angles such as bottom turns tough.

Twin fins are ideal for small and medium surf but will likely slide too much in larger swell.

Twin setups are primarily used on fish boards but it is not uncommon for a surfer to remove the center fin from their shortboard in search of a different experience for the day.

Thruster/ Tri Fin

A thruster setup is the most common setup used by both professionals and beginners.

In a tri-fin setup, three fins of the same size are used. This is different from the 2+1 setup that is mentioned below.

The added center fin of a thruster setup provides more stability and maneuverability than a twin fin, although it will not react as quickly.

Thruster fins were first used in 1980 as a solution to the “loose” feeling experienced when surfing twin fins.

With the added fin, surfboards hold up better in larger surf without sacrificing too much agility.

The only downside of a thruster setup is that it’s slightly slower than twin fins due to the extra drag.

Quad Fin

Quad fins provide the best of the thruster and twin fin setups. 

By sacrificing the center fin you will experience increased speed, and with the added fins on each rail, your board will not slide as much as it does with only two fins.

Quad fins hold up well in larger surf, but when the fins are placed further towards the nose, they are perfect for gaining speed on smaller waves.

Although a four-fin setup will feel looser than three fins when you first try it out, it is the best way to increase speed without sacrificing too much control.

Other Fin Setups Worth Noting

The above four setups are the most common within the surfing community, however, the following are worth a mention.

5 Fin

Some surfboards come with five (or more) fin docks. Although you may assume this is for a five-fin-setup, very few surfers use all five fins.

The reason for the extra fin dock is for the option to change your fin setup to a style that suits you.

In short, the more fin sockets your board has, the more options you have.

2+1

2+1 setups are a combination of twin fins and single fin setups. Two shorter fins are used on the rails as with twin fins, and a larger center fin is used along the stringer.

This differs from the classic three-fin setup as with the thruster, all the fins are the same size.

A 2+1 setup is typically only used on longboards to improve its stability and control, particularly when riding on the rail.

Helpful Fin Information

Fin Size: Larger fins hold in the water better as there is more friction. Smaller fins will offer more speed but feel looser.

Fin Flex: Flexible fins are ideal for fast turns but are difficult to control, while stiffer fins will respond quickly to your movements but do not allow much give.

Fin Base/Length: The longer the base of your fin is (the part that touches the board), the more drive you will feel when coming out of a turn.

Shorter bases provide more success with quick movements but experience less drive.

Fin Rake/Sweep: The rake or sweep of the fin refers to how far the fin’s tilt is towards the tail of the board.

Larger rakes help with longer, smooth turns, while a shorter rake makes the board ideal for mast movements.

Foil: The foil is the curve and width of the outer shape of the fins. The thinnest part of the foil would be at the tip of the fin and the thickest near the base.

Flat inside foil provides more balance and control while a concave inside will create less drag.

Fin Depth: The length from the base of the fin to the tip is referred to as the fin’s depth. The greater the depth of a fin the more stable it will become, however, it will become harder to turn.

Short fins make quick movements easier by sacrificing stability.

Different Types of Fins

Now that you know about fin position and the options that a different number of fins provide, it would be helpful to understand the different types of fins available.

In short, there are two main types of fins, those that are fixed, and fins that can be removed.

Glassed-In Fins

Glassed-in fins are exactly what the name would suggest. These fins are secured to your surfboard with fiberglass and resin. They are made as a part of the surfboard as a whole and cannot easily be removed.

Glassed-in fins provide a smooth ride and reduce the chance of you losing a fin, but make any damages to the fins difficult to repair.

Removable Fins

Unlike glassed-on fins, removable fins are attached to your surfboard via plug boxes. Each fin is secured by small screws into each box with a fin key.

Removable fins are helpful if you enjoy changing up your fin positions, want to experiment with a different number of fins, or want to switch out your fins for ones with a different rake, flex, or depth.

The downside of removable fins is that they have a chance of coming loose and being lost.

Another point to take note of is that not all removable fins fit into the same fin boxes.

It is important not to force fins into the incorrect boxes as they will not secure properly and will likely fall out or damage the box.

Futures Fins (Single Tab Fin Box)

Single tab fin boxes connect to the entire length of the base of the fin. This makes a strong and secure bond that is lightweight.

Futures fins are attached with a fin key and small specialized screws.

Fcs and Fcs 2 (Duel Tab Fin Box)

Fin Control System (FCS) has become the most popular system to attach fins to a surfboard since its debut in the 1990s.

FCS fins, unlike single tab fins, attach to the fin box with two plugs instead of the one.

FCS 2 boxes and fins do not require screws or a fin key, and can simply be pushed into place.

Although this is convenient, it does add the risk of breaking off the plugs from your fins if they are removed and replaced often.

Which Fin Placement Is Best for Beginners?

As a beginner surfer, you want your surfboard to be as stable as possible. Using a loose setup designed for speed and agility will make standing on your board a difficult task if you are new to the sport.

As a beginner, you should consider using a thruster or a 2+1 setup (for extra stability) with the fins placed near the tail of the board and spaced further apart.

Setting your fins to zero toe and a small cant angle will provide the best stability without losing too much control.

Which Fin Placement Is Best for Speed?

If speed is what you are looking for then you should consider either a quad fin setup or a thruster.

Quad fins will give you less drag, but a thruster will keep you steady at high speeds, thus potentially providing the opportunity to go faster.

For maximum speed, your fins should be set with zero toe and cant, but this will minimize agility.

Fins should be placed further apart and near the back of the board to allow for maximum water to travel through them and increase stability for high speeds.

Which Fin Placement Is Best for Agility?

If you are searching for a fin setup that allows for the quickest, sharpest, and most responsive turns, then twin fins are what you will be wanting to use.

Although they will feel unstable, a twin fin set up with fins closer to the nose of the board and clumped together will provide the best turning opportunities.

Increasing the fin toe will increase how loose the board feels while increasing the cant will give you extra drive when you make sharp turns.

Conclusion

Most new surfers greatly underestimate how much of an impact their fin set up has on the way their surfboard performs.

Choosing the best fin set up for your goals or the conditions you will be surfing is important if you want to maximize the day’s fun.

That being said, if you are new to surfing it is best to use a balanced thruster setup as this will allow you to surf a greater variety of breaks in different conditions.

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