With so many different shapes, sizes and designs of surfboard finsavailable, it can be hard to know which ones will suit your surfboard and your surfing best. This article explains the fundamentals of surfboard fin form and function, and how to choose the very best set of fins for you.
Absolutely. Making up around 50% of the wetted surface of your board once you’re up and riding, your fins help govern the performance, maneuverability and stability of your board. Back in the days fins were glassed into surfboards, meaning if you wanted to ride different fins, you’d have to ride a different board. These days, you can swap and change your fins any time you like according to personal preferences and ocean conditions. But in order to maximise that freedom of choice and versatility, you’ll need to know a bit about the fins themselves.
For shortboards, there are three main types of fin box that the vast majority of surfboards will have. Futures, a one tab system with a single grub screw; FCS two tab with two screws, and FCSII, two tabs with no requirement for screwing, they pop in and out by hand.
Many major surfboard models come with a choice of Futures or FCS, giving you the option depending on the fins you already own or system you prefer. Obviously, before browsing any range of fins, you’ll want to establish the right fin system to match the boxes in your board(s)
Much like how your surfboard’s dimensions relate to your own weight (readhow to choose your surfboard), so too do surfboard fins. Larger, heavier surfers will require a bigger fin, lighter surfers smaller fins. Following the fin size’s weight range will help you establish the fins you need. If you’re somewhere on the cusp of two sizes, then it also depends on your surfing ability and approach; powerful surfers tend to favour bigger fins, while surfers lighter on their feet or more front footed, would opt towards a smaller template.
Generally speaking surfboard fin shape is governed by the amount of ‘rake’ the fin has, also known as how ‘swept back’ the fin is. In simple terms, this is about the leading curved edge at the front of the fin, and whether it’s steeper and relatively upright, or whether it’s much more angled back (raked). Whether an upright or a swept back fin design works best for you is again related to the type of waves you surf, as well as well your own style of surfing.
An upright fin – for example the FCSII Reactor or Futures WCT Techflex is generally more reactive to tighter turns, offering more of a pivot than a lever, and releasing from a turn earlier. So if you’re surfing waves like bowly beachbreaks or shorebreaks, being able to perform tight radius turns is something you’ll want your fins to be able to do with ease.
By contrast, at the opposite end a swept back fin has less of a pivot feel, but holds a turn much longer. So if you’re surfing a wide open face wave, like a pointbreak, a swept back fin will help hold your turn for longer, allowing you to make smooth, clean transitions on the wave. A good example of a swept back design is the FCSII Mick Fanning or the Futures AM2. Similarly, surfers who favour surfing on a rail will find swept back fin facilitating that approach.
While you can opt for either end of the spectrum, for most surfers a good fin design will have elements of both, offering the best of both worlds.
The different materials and construction types in surfboard fins governs their flex patterns, which in turn has a big effect on the way they perform. Aside from the size and shape of the fin, the amount of flex the surfer can ‘load up’ into their fins during a turn governs how much speed and drive that turn can be performed with.
Again, exactly how stiff your fins should be depends on how big/powerful a surfer you are, as well the type of surf you’re riding. Lighter surfers and smaller waves tend to favour some flex, giving a bit more life to the way the board rides. By contrast, heavier and/or more powerful surfers might opt for stiffness. If a fin is too flexible (like a surfschool foam board fin that’s rubbery), it’ll actually wash off the energy of the turn, causing the surfer to lose speed and drive, while if a fin is too stiff, the effect can be like having too big a fin; the board itself feels stiffer and more reluctant to manoeuver. Surfers riding bigger more powerful surf tend to favour stiffer fins to give them drive and grip to match the the power of the wave.
Materials like carbon can be added to stiffen up certain parts of the fin, while the foam core construction in most performance fins offers all important lightness, with a familiar flex pattern.
Futures have come up with a Ride Number to help simplify things, combining all the characteristics of their fins into a number. Ride Numbers go from 10 – 1 with bigger numbers 10-7 Speed Generating (more upright, more flex) 7-4 Balanced, and 3-1 Speed Control (more raked, less flex). If you’re surfing the kind of everyday beachbreak surf that prevails across most surf spots, most of the time, you might tend toward the higher numbers, if you’re headed on a tube mission to deepest Indo, a lower number will control that reefbreak power.
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