Your surfboard fin selection is dictated by the fin setup on your board. Understanding how common fin setups and surfboard combinations perform can help you select fins that are right for your board and the type of surfing you want to do. Boards with setups from single fin boxes to 5-fin set ups are going to give you vastly different options.
The most common fin setups are described below.
Finless boards were the original surfboard, and finless setups have made a comeback in the form of all wood alaias and foam boards for blackball spots.
While fins create lift that allows for control and speed through turns, they also create drag, which dampens speed down the line.
A finless board eliminates drag created by fin and are extremely fast down the line in clean, glassy conditions.
A common type of finless board is the modern alaia.
Single Fin Setups
A single fin surfboard has 1 fin. A single fin was the first iteration of a surfboard with a fin set up, which allowed for more turning control and stability down the line.
Single fin setups can be found on a variety of board types from classic logs to big wave guns.
A single fin surfboard allows for a good amount of experimentation with the fin in terms of shape and positioning in the fin box. A fin position more forward offers a looser feel, while a fin positioned towards the back creates better stability.
Single fins boards are best enjoyed by surfing with the wave. It’s difficult to generate speed or do snappy maneuvers on a single fin, but when ridden in the pocket and trimming down the line you can get moving and perform clean, arching carves.
Twin fin surfboards have 2 fins along each rail. Twin fin setups are often found on fish shapes and planing hulls.
Twin fins are fast and highly maneuverable, but can slide out in too hard of a turn.
They perform great in crummy conditions, but are also really fun on waves with big, slow faces. When the surf gets steep and fast, twin fins can be harder to control.
2+1 Fin Setups
2+1 fin setups are found on different types of longboards and offer more turning control and stability when used together, and lots of customization overall.
For 2+1 set ups with removable fins, your fin combinations and thus the feel you can get from your board are endless. You can ride it as a single fin, or mix up the fin combination to achieve the ride you want.
When using all fins, you’ll typically use a smaller center fin than you would with a single fin surfboard of the same size.
Thrusters are the most common fin setup that you’ll find on nearly every type of surfboard. Thrusters or tri fin set ups include 3 fins – a center fin and two rail fins that are typically toed-in (slightly angled towards the nose).
Thrusters are good for generating speed and performing quick maneuvers, turns, snaps, and above the lip surfing (aerials).
Depending on the surfer’s ability, a thruster can be a good choice in pretty much all surf conditions – from small and mushy to overhead and barreling. However, the center fin does create drag in a straight line and requires more rail to rail and quick surfing that beginners may not be ready for.
Quad Fin Setups
Quad fin setups include 4 fins, two on each rail, and are often found on fish, eggs, hybrids, and a variety of shortboards.
Quads are fast, maneuverable, and stable. Quads generate speed naturally and are extremely fast down the line, but offer a loose, responsive feel at the same time.
Quads setups can be good in a range of conditions, but it can be easy to “over-surf them.” Bottom turns can sometimes slide out and it can be difficult to snap off the lip at first, but once you get the hang of your quad, the speed and control it offers is extremely versatile.
You’ll also have the option to experiment with different fin combinations for your quad. A 4 fin setup with bigger fins (more surface area) will be great for hold and speed, while smaller fins may be able to give you a snappier, looser feel that will perform off the lip.