Getting Geeky on Fins and Setups

James
by on
in: Surf Industry, Other, Magazine

We are all about dispelling popular surfing myths and trying to spread knowledge about everything to do with wave riding. In this installment we have laid out all you need to know about surf board fins, their placement, their shape and a bit of history about the different setups. If you want to have a better understanding of the fin that you are using or how changing it for another set can change the way you surf then read on. 

Especially for you, pukker up, here we go.

Fin Set-ups

One Fin - Single Fin: The single fin is the oldest of the fin setups, its origins come into play in the 1930’s and has remained a concrete feature in some types of surfboard design to this day. The single fin itself can be found in any length of surfboard from big longboards which are often referred to as logs down to the more maneuverable neo-retro designs of today's stubbies.

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The benefits of the single fin are enhanced speed through decreased resistance and a smoother flow into transitions from rail to rail. The setup is less user-friendly and would not be recommended for beginners as is relatively unstable. This fin setup would encourage long sweeping arcs and a lot of speed without ‘down-the-line’ drive.

Two Fins - Twin Fins: The twin fin came into existence with a man called Bob Simmons who is more famous for inventing the displacement hull design apon which many modern surfboards including (interestingly) Simon Andersons Thruster setup are now based.

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The need for the two fins came from the discovery that rails on a surfboard need to provide lift. The operation of a fin is the opposite, it provides stability and control. In 1945 Simmons discovered that by moving the fin from the centre of the board and positioning one on each rail he could increase the flow of water under the hull without compromising stability and control.

Today's twin fins are based on the same principal, they generally are found on smaller wider boards like the Mini Simmons (created in 2006 by Joe Baugass) and fishes based on the original Fish design of the 60’s (by Steve Lis). Speed and small wave performance are the name of the game for the twin fin.

Three Fins – Thruster : The Thruster design was the brain child of Simon Anderson and was introduced in the 1980’s by combining the qualities of bothe single and twin fins and creating a revolution in what is now known as performance surfboards or better know in the industry as New boards.

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The Thruster provides many more options in fin placement, toe, cant and foil as there are three fins. The general rule of thumb is that the Thruster produces a more stable platform with increased drive and greater stability which lends itself to increased control but less speed due to the extra drag. The Thruster setup is by far the most popular in existence and while there is a renaissance  movement back the twos and ones of the past it has be recognized that the three finned Thruster is the most practical for any occasion.

Two Fins plus One - Widow Maker 2+1: Dave Parmenter was responsible for developing this fin system in the late 80’s with the idea of breathing life back into the now old Single Fin by adding two small (about half the size) fins on either side of a bigger single. The widow maker setup became very popular in mini-malibus and longboards that had more of a performance edge to them.

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Four fins – Quad : Invented in the 80’s but for unknown reasons did not really catch on until the last 10 years when it has become a steady feature for those in the elite ranks of surfing professionals. As its use was proved and pioneered by the likes of 9 times world champion Kelly Slater so the surfing world gradually accepted this fin setup that had been virtually ignored for decades.

The idea of the quad was to split the twin fin in half and by reducing the size of the rear set of fins and placing them in a narrower stance would provide greater drive then a traditional twin while retaining a lot more stability.

Bonzer Fin Systems : The Bonzer was originally developed by the Campbell brothers as a three fin system featuring one single fin and two supporting smaller keel fins. The fins worked together with a special design on the hull of the board to harness and direct the flow of water passing across the rear of the board. This design was later refined to four smaller keels and a centre fin.

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This remains the most rarely seen fin setup and while the Campbell brothers continue to shape bonzers they remain the least understood by the masses. Stay tuned for an article coming that is all about these mysterious hull/fin setups.

Five fin setups : This is a very recent set up type and was born out of experiments with quad surfboards, the idea being that one board could accommodate both quad and thruster setup with the correct selection of fins. This is fast becoming the most popular setup with shapers of modern shaped surfboards.

Fin Terms and Characteristics

Toe – The toe on a fin is measurement of the angle at which the fins are set, most fins will ‘toe-in’ which means there will be a narrower distance between them at the front than at the rear. The more the ‘toe’, the more the pressure on the outside of the fin which increases control but reduces speed.

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Cant – This is the measurement of the of how upright a fin is. Imagine you are looking down the hull of a surfboard from the nose to the tail. If the fins are angled straight up or at right-angles to the base of the board they can be said to have zero ‘cant’. A fin that has a lesser angle between the rail and the fin is said to have a greater ‘cant’. As with the toe, the greater the ‘cant’ the greater the resistance and the more the flow of water is squeezed over the rail resulting in control over speed.

Foil – Imagine, again that you are looking down the hull of the surfboard from nose to tail. You will notice that your fin is thicker as the base than the tip also that there is a curve on either the inside edge, the outside edge or both. This is refereed to as the foil and plays a big role in how the fin will react. More foil or angle means more response but less speed.

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Rake: The rake of a fin is perhaps the most defining characteristic and maybe the most important to consider especially when choosing new replaceable fin sets or singles. The rake of a fin can be determined by how far the tip of the fin reaches back in relation to the base. To give you an idea of how to measure the rake, imagine there is a line from the rear base of the fin to the tip, then imagine there is another line from the rear base traveling to the tail of the board. The angle where these two lines intersect is the rake. The less the angle, the more the rake which means a tighter turning radius but less stability.

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Flex: The Flex of a fin is extremely important and with out getting two in depth we could say that a stiff fin is a better for beginners. The lack of flex makes it hard to make sharp turs as the fin reaches maximum flex quickly but provides a lot more stability. More flex means that the fin will continue to increase it flex all the way through the turn allowing the surfer to make more adjustments, more flex however makes the board harder to control.

Length & Height

Essentially this is what makes up the size of your fin, there are two characteristics or measurements that will give you a better idea of how the fin size will effect your boards behavour.

The Length is the length of the side of the fin that meets your surfboard. The larger or longer your depth ,the more drive and larger turning arc it will give you. The converse is also true so if you want to respond quickly in whip in and out of turns with greater release then a smaller width on your fin would be advisable.

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The Height of your fin is the measurement from your board to the highest point on the fin. This measures how much you fin will stick into the water and determines how well you will hold or drip the wave. Bigger fins have greater hold while smaller fins have less hold and more slide.

Fin Systems

FCS : This stands for Fin Control System and is one brand of removable fin. The FCS system is probably the widest used system today. FCS make fins and fin plugs, the design is that of double pronged plastic or fiber glass tabs that fit snugly into the FCS plugs that are glassed into your board. The fins are then secured with two screws, one in each tab. FCS fins are only for use with FCS plugs.

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Two years ago FCS released a new system called FCS 2.0 which works with a ‘snap in – snap out’ system which eliminates the need for screws and tabs. The idea is to both increase the speed at which fins could be changed and contact of the length of the fin giving a better flex pattern. FCS 2.0 are also backwards engineered and the plugs from 2.0 can be used with the earlier ‘tabbed’ fins.

Futures: This brand of fins are the second most popular and again only make fins for their box style which is one consistent tab that fits in its own custom box. It is secured with one scew in the front of the box.

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Lockbox : Not as big as the aforementioned systems but some professionals such as Taylor Knox think this is the best. They claim to have a new system called Micro Lockbox which is the lightest fin and plug. The system itself is a single tab and screw into a custom fin plug. The securing screw is fastened from the inside edge.

Glassed In : The original fin system that is part of your board and some say is still the best from some aspects. The fins is made by your shaper and are actually fibreglassed into your surfboard. This system has the advantage of having the most amount of flex and feel and should return grater performance. The drawback is that you can not experiment and change fins, also it is not convenient for traveling as fins may be snapped off.

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Slider: Most commonly found on Longboards, Minimals and any single fin surfboard that does not have a glassed on fin. This fin and box can be used on it’s own as a single fin or combined with two or four smaller fin boxes futures, fcs or lockbox to great a 2+1 (widow-maker) or 4+1 setup. The Single fin slider box has a securing slider at front or rear and a screw in the opposing end. The fin can be slid and secured at any an all desired points along the box. Altering the position of the fin will change the riding characteristics profusely. The further forward the fin the looser the board will fell, it will respond quicker in turns but be less stable while the converse is true. 

SB: That about concludes our geek out on fins, as always there is more that we can say anyone whats us to geek out more heavily on an particular aspect, shoot us a comment through social media or email us through the website.

It's a great big world out threre with some many things to discover about your surfing and your boards so don't get stuck surfing the same fins, change it up and see what happens.

DISCLAIMER: If it makes you board surf shit then don't come running to me.

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The FCS system, in this case set up with a five fin option.

The FCS system, in this case set up with a five fin option.

This means you a choice of how to set you board up.

The slider in which a fin sits. It can be moved back towards the tail for more 'hold' or further forward for greater maneuverability.

The slider in which a fin sits. It can be moved back towards the tail for more 'hold' or further forward for greater maneuverability.

A very pretty glassed on single 'D Fin'

A very pretty glassed on single 'D Fin'

A Simmons hull surfboard with twinfin setup.

A Simmons hull surfboard with twinfin setup.

The Widowmaker setup sometimes refered to as 2+1

The Widowmaker setup sometimes refered to as 2+1

The all to rare Lockbox fin system seen here as a Thruster.

The all to rare Lockbox fin system seen here as a Thruster.

Simon Anderson and the all too famous Thruster setup.

Simon Anderson and the all too famous Thruster setup.

Malcolm Campbell is the genius that has been making Bonzer fined surfboards since 1970.

Malcolm Campbell is the genius that has been making Bonzer fined surfboards since 1970.

The lines show you how much toe is on the fins and finplugs.

The lines show you how much toe is on the fins and finplugs.

Helping you understand the ways we talk about fins.

Helping you understand the ways we talk about fins.

The FCS 2.0 fin system, no scews, just clip and go.

The FCS 2.0 fin system, no scews, just clip and go.

The Futures fin system is growing in fan base.

The Futures fin system is growing in fan base.

A Classic Single Fin Slider.

A Classic Single Fin Slider.

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