With so many fins and surfboards to choose from, a common question many surfers have is which fin setup is best? How does a single fin compare to three fins? How does a thruster compare to a quad?
Since many surfboards have fin systems that allow you to choose between a single vs. thruster or 2+1 and a thruster vs. quad setup on the same board, you’re going to be forced to choose what to ride.
Ultimately, fin setup selection boils down to your personal surfing style and the waves you’re surfing.
This has been stated before, but the best advice is really to experiment and try different fin setups on different days to get an understanding of what works best for you in different types of surf.
Single Fin vs. Thruster (2+1)
On a lot of longboards, you’ll often see a center fin box with two removable side bites on the rail.
When ridden altogether, the center fin is typically ridden smaller than a single fin would be on the same board. The two setups come with their own strengths and weaknesses, and switching between the two can make it feel like you’re surfing a totally different board.
A single fin setup is going to allow you to go faster down the line (less drag) and perform smoother, sweeping carves up and down the face of the wave. Fin choice and placement in the box will also give you the ability to play with the looseness vs. stability of your board. Any quick movements will require working the tail and pivoting.
A 2+1 or thruster setup on your longboard will give your board a looser feel and allow for tighter maneuvers. Speed can be generated by pumping rail to rail and working your surfboard. Speed in a straight line will be slower with a 2+1 setup given the drag created by the extra fins. Experimenting with the positioning of your center fin in a 2+1 setup allows you to alter the looseness and control even more.
If you’re going for gliding, smooth, connecting turns and noseriding, a single fin setup is probably the right choice for you.
If you’re looking for a more active surfing style with tighter turns and pumping, a 2+1 may be your best bet.
Check out our recommendations for the best single fins.
Thruster vs. Quad Fins
With many modern surfboards offering a 5-fin setup, many surfers question whether they should be riding their 5-fin board as a quad (4 fins) or as a thruster (3 fins).
Again, the ultimate choice is totally dependent on the style your going for and the waves you’ve got, but each fin setup does still have its own strengths and weaknesses.
A quad setup is often a good choice in most types of surf – from overhead and fast to tiny and slow. Quads are fast with great hold, but still feel extremely responsive and loose. They are great for getting past fast sections and wide, connecting turns.
Quad setups excel with big rail-to-rail carves on an open face, but are also great for speeding through slow sections.
The extra fins on each rail allow for powerful hold through and drive out of turns. However, they can have a tendency to slide out when you dig into a turn too hard – depending on what you’re trying to do, that could be a good thing or a bad thing.
Thrusters are naturally slower than quads, and require rail-to-rail pumping to generate speed through sections. With a smaller turning radius, thrusters excel is vertical, snappy, and quick maneuver surfing. They can be a great choice when you have some fast sections to work with.
You may also consider thrusters to be a bit more predictable than quads – in other words, it’s easier to make the board go where you want it to.
If you’re looking for speed and responsiveness, a quad set up is your friend.
Check out the best quad fins here.
If you’re looking to snap, pump, and pivot, try a thruster.
Check out the best thruster fins here.