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HOME arrow GEAR INSIGHTS arrow Surfboard Fins - Everything a Surfer Needs to Know
Surfboard Fins - Everything a Surfer Needs to Know PDF Print E-mail
By: Robb Bailey   
Wednesday, 10 December 2008
    Surfboards tend to come in several different shapes and sizes. When you walk into a surf store, you will likely see boards ranging from 5 to 12 feet long. In addition, you will find a wide assortment of fins for the surfboard - one, two, three, four, or even five of them in some cases. The fin is an essential component to your board. Without it, you won't be able to catch or turn on a wave as easily. Each fin serves a different function. Long boards must have at least one fin placed directly in the middle of the tail of the board ; short boards should have at least two fins evenly placed at the tail.


    Long boards are fastened with either one or three fins. One fin allows you a bit more maneuverability but less stability on the wave. If your intention is to become a crafty long boarder who can perform tricks, go with one fin. Or, if you would rather have fun and feel steady on your board, then three fins would be more suitable for you. Three fins give you more stability and less maneuverability. Most long boards have a front to back slide, which allows you to move your center fin forward or backward. The farther back your fin is, the looser your turn will be. At surfboard stores that sell a wide variety of center fins, you will find fins of many colors, shapes, and sizes. However, beginning surfers can go with a durable plastic fin before they concern themselves with the huge assortment of fins out on the market. When you are at the point in your career when you can purchase a new fin, consider buying a fin that will give you a decent amount of control. Follow this general rule: The bigger the fin is the more drag there will be, but your turn will also be more accurate and take less effort.


    Short boards tend to have two, three, or four fins , but they can also have five fins. The dual-fin system provides a side-to-side center of balance , which gives short boarders the least amount of balance but the most maneuverability. The tri-fin system is the most common, as it provides good balance and reasonable control. This system is the best way to start your short-boarding career and therefore is recommended for beginning surfers. The quad fin provides a range of motion, allowing for calculated turns and exact maneuvers. Finally, the rare five-fin system is just a way of adding another versatile element to your board's performance levels. Although rare, five-fin setups tend to provide surfers with the loosest maneuvers.


    There are some really progressive experimental fins out there too. Some fins can be as long as 16 inches or have round funnels on them. When you're at the store trying to understand why there are so many different kinds of fins, just remember that the standard fin system for both long and short boards is three. The one in the center is a thicker and longer than the two on the side. If you don't like that system, then, by all means, experiment with the many combinations of fins until you find one that fits your style and maneuvering preferences.


    Most fins can be screwed in and adjusted to the rider's liking, using just a screwdriver or allen wrench. The common tri-fin system for short boarders is made by a company called FCS, or Fin Control System. FCS makes fin setups that are easy to remove and replace, which is great for experimentation or travel. In some cases, surfboards will come with fins that are glassed on, which means you will not be able to move or remove them. Those fins are there to stay! Glassed-on fins provide the best stability, but little versatility. Buy a board with glassed-on fins only if you know the fin system suits you.


    Robb Bailey works for South Coast Surf Shops, San Diego's premiere surfboard distributor and surf apparel dealer for more than 30 years. He has been inducted as a lifetime honorary member of his college surf club, the Cal Poly Surfer's Association, and has traveled the world surfing for the past 11 years. Find out more about Robb at

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