The thruster surfboard best describes a fin setup rather than a particular board, but it has definitely become synonymous with high performance shortboards and competitive surfing over the last few decades.
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What is a thruster surfboard?
A thruster is a surfboard with a cluster of 3 fins. One fin in the center, and two fins on the sides.
The thruster is designed to combine the stability of a single fin with the speed and maneuverability of a twin.
Within the thruster design you’ll find variations in terms of fin cluster spacing, side fin toe and cant, and fin sizes.
A pretty common thruster setup includes a symmetrically foiled center fin and two flat foiled side fins – all roughly the same size. The side fins are angled in slightly and canted out.
The thruster is a good choice in a variety of conditions on a variety of boards.
Though its main drawback is drag when surfing in a straight line. Thrusters perform best when surfing rail to rail and turning. That’s when you’ll feel the “thrust” of the set up as you exit your turns.
Thrusters also facilitate tight, snappy, and vertical surfing maneuvers above the lip.
How many fins does a thruster have?
A thruster surfboard or fin set up has 3 fins.
Thruster fin set ups typically feature fins of roughly equal size, with the center, trailing fin being a bit smaller.
The center fin is typically foiled 50/50 or equal on each side.
The side fins usually have a flat foil, but you can find them in a variety of foil shapes.
The side fins will also typically be toed-in at bigger angle towards the center than you’d see on a quad or a twin.
When to run thruster fins?
Remember, you’ve really got to experiment.
Thrusters are a fin set up that will typically give you some more control over your surfboard.
They excel in vertical surf and high performance maneuvers.
They’re naturally a bit slower in a straight line, and require you to pump up the wave from rail to rail to generate speed into and out of your maneuvers.
Thrusters have a smaller turning radius than other setups and can be great for quick, snappy and off the lip turns.
It’s a great set up when you’ve got some fast, vertical sections to work with.
If you’re a larger surfer or surfing a board with a bigger tail or surfing in bigger waves, you may want to try to bigger fin.
If you’re a smaller surfer, surfing a board with a narrow tail, or want a looser feel, try some smaller fins.
So go ahead, go… thrust.
History of the Thruster Surfboard
Simon Anderson, Australian pro surfer and master shaper, developed and popularized the thruster in the 1980’s.
Anderson wanted to combine the looseness of a twin fin, which was primarily being used in smaller surf, and the hold of a single, which was typically used in bigger waves.
After an initially disappointing contest debut at Burleigh Heads just a few weeks earlier, Anderson had an impressive win at big Bells on his thruster design in April 1981.
The thruster design caught the attention of many and caught on. And it has remained as one of the most popular setups still surfed at all levels today.