Just like the size, shape, and material of your surfboard’s fins will affect how it surfs, so too will the placement and configuration of its fins.
It’s worth reiterating that your fins are the part of your board that are in contact with the water more so than anything else.
Since fin placement and configuration is not something you can really change unless you’re in the process of shaping a board, it’s something you’ll want to consider when buying a board or selecting one to surf out of your quiver.
The following information is meant to serve as some general starting points or rules of thumbs regarding fin placement. It is by no means intended as the ultimate source of truth.
Just like with board and fins, the best advice is to surf different equipment in different conditions and figure out what works best for you.
If you are shaping a board yourself, fin placement should be planned according to the design and dimensions of the board from the start.
Generally, you can expect different fin placement to have the following effects on a board:
- A fin cluster that’s more spread out with create a larger turning radius.
- A fin cluster that’s closer together will have a shorter turning radius and will pivot quickly.
- Fins closer to the nose will feel looser.
- Fins closer to the tail with create more hold and stability.
- Fins that have a greater toe angle will feel looser and be easy to turn quickly, but will also be slower in a straight line.
- Fins with more cant will also be easy to turn, but will have less drive.
Fin Placement Affects Turning and Speed
Surfboard fin placement boils down to angles and measurements – relative to the lines of the board and the fins themselves.
Generally speaking, the more “extreme” a surfboard’s fin placement, the less versatile that board will be in all types of conditions.
You’ll likely find that a board with fins designed for speed and drive in big surf outperforms a board with a more balanced set up, while that same balanced board is going to be a lot better in mushy, small surf than the big gun.
Fin Placement for Drive
A fin cluster that’s more spread out and placed closer to the back of the board results in a longer turning radius and more hold.
Fin placement like this is often used for boards designed for big, fast waves and barrels.
Fin Placement for Quick Turns
A fin cluster that’s closer together and further up the board will results in a looser feel with a shorter turning radius.
This type of configuration is ideal for quick turns and pivots in medium-sized surf.
Balanced Fin Placement
A more balanced fin placement strikes a middle ground between drive and pivot.
A balanced fin placement is often a good choice for your go-to board in a variety of conditions.
Common Fin Placement Measurements: A Starting Point
Below are some common measurements of fin placements. If you’re making your own board, you could use these as starting points and adjust as needed.
On shorter boards with a tri-fin or thruster set up, you’ll often see the fins placed as follows:
- Center/rear fin: ~3” to 3 ½” from the back edge of the board.
- Front/side fins: ~11” to 11 ½” from the back edge of the board.
On longer boards with a single center fin or 2+1 set up, you’ll often find the center fin box placed about 5” to 5 ¾” from the tails.
Sidebites are then place about 15-16” off the tail.
On twin fins, you’ll likely find the fins placed anywhere from 6 ½” to 10 ½” off the tail.
On quads, the fins are often placed as follows:
- Rear fins are often 6-7” from the tail edge.
- Front fins are often 11-12” from the rail edge.
Set ups that include rail fins (2+1, thrusters, quads, twins) often have the side fins set about 1 ¼” from the rail.
Again, all these measurements depend on the intent of the board’s shape, the size of the board, and the overall placement of the cluster.
Not only will you find that different fin placements and configurations will perform better in different surf conditions, but you’ll also find different fin placements work better with different fins (smaller vs. larger, higher vs. lower sweep, flexy vs. stiff).
Fin Toe & Cant
One characteristic of a surf fin that’s decided when the board is being shaped is its toe angle.
Fin toe refers to the angle the fin points towards the center of the board.
The more toe-in a fin has, the looser the board will feel through turns while adding more drag. More forward facing fins will produce less drag down the line and can build more speed.
Fin Set Ups
The effects of fin placement will vary depending on the type of board and fin set-up you’re riding as well.
Fin placement comes into play for every type of fin set-up from singles and 2+1 to quads and 5-fins.
As you try more boards and different fin configurations, you’ll begin to notice the strengths and weaknesses of each set up.
The fun is in experimentation and finding out what works best for the waves you like to surf and your style of surfing.