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Why Do Surfboards Have Fins?

   August 31st, 2020   Posted In: Articles   Tags:

Why Do Surfboards Have Fins?

Hunting surfboard fins online and wondering the right type of fin for your board? Fins are essential components for riding and carving a wave, and the surf fins you choose should suit your riding style. But what is the true reason behind having the surfboard fin? Why do surfboards even need one, two, or three? Aside from other surfing essentials like wetsuits and board leashes, modern surfboard fins are usually detachable with the FCS (Fin Control System) board design that easily screws and locks-in plastic fins to your board.

FCS Fins

Unlike the stationary glassed-in fins on older or custom surfboard models that are not removable, FCS fins are purchased online, or at your local surf shop. Surfboards made today will most likely have grooves installed at the bottom of the board’s tail. They hold inverted holes where an Allen-wrench key can screw in the spiral cylinder screws that lock the fin in place.

Types of Surfboard Fins

Fins range in different sizes and materials. Some are made from materials like fiberglass, plastic, pliable rubber, and even carbon fiber. Fin size determines the amount of drag your board will have. The bigger the fin, the more drag you will have. That’s why longboarders tend to have one large fin. The drag from a large fin is designed for more sluggish, laid back maneuvers, compared to the snappy tricks seen on shortboards with smaller fin systems.

It’s important to have the flow point or sharp-point of your fin facing the tail of your board. If the pointed ends of your fins are pointing at the nose of the surfboard, you’ve installed them backward. You won’t only look like a complete Kook walking down the beach with backward fins in your board, but trying to catch a wave will most likely send you into a nosedive in the scorpion position.

Do Surfboards Need Fins?

So why are surfboard fins even necessary for riding a wave? To take-off and carve down a breaking wave, you need stability. Like a full-size sailboat with a bottom keel or small boat with a rudder, fins provide the rider with stability while the surfer shifts weight and their stance to steer the board.

The center fin on the tail of your board creates a pivot point which helps with desired maneuverability and flow when riding a wave. A single fin or multiple fins also helps with board speed and lift when in motion across the surface.

If you want to ride any wave with reliable stability, a single-center fin is a must on your surfboard. Riders can even eliminate the center fin, and ride a wave with a single fin on each side of the board’s rails. But keep in mind a single fin only on one side of the board, will create drag in one direction, most likely causing an unrideable board.

why do surfboards have fins

Single Fin Surfboards

Longboard style surfboards, various funboards, and paddleboards have one single large fin on the board’s tail. Large fins create more drag than shorter fins do and since the rail length is wider on a longboard, the single fin works ideally because there’s no need for two extra fins for stability. Some soft-top or beginner longboard brands will have a 3-fin setup, but as you gain experience riding more waves, a single fin works just fine for a longboard.

Double-Fin & Tri-Fin Surfboards

Funboard surfboards and shortboards range from single, double, and tri-fin systems. The more technical and speedy a surfer’s style is, will usually require dual-surfboard fins or three for the thruster fin set up. Some fishtail surfboards have amazing carvability down a wave with just two fins. Surfers riding a tri-fin thruster fin set-up will even remove the center fin for less control for quicker cutbacks or bottom turns.

Removing the large fin in the middle does lessen the drag if you wish to simulate a fishtail surfboard shape. The tri-fin system does add more confidence when shredding down larger waves because there is more stability and control with three small fins that make for sharper maneuvers.

Quad-Fin Surfboard System

The quad fin surfboard creates a gap between the pair of side fins near the rails of the board. More advanced for maneuverability than the tri-fin, the quad doubles fluidity with an absent center fin, giving riders enhanced stability with dual fins on each side of the board’s rails. Speedy, and loosely controllable by surfers with a snappy style, the quad fin provides a swiftness to wave riding and catching barrels.

A few board shapes are designed to hold a 5-fin system where there are dual fins on each rail, with a small fin in the middle of the board. This will slow down a surfer’s speed slightly while the quad fin works it’s magic for more lift and stability when riding down a wave’s face.

Can You Go Finless on a Surfboard?

Yes, but it’s tough. Without the stability from a fin or fins, you will notice that the tail of the surfboard will always want to slide out while riding down a wave. Also, you may experience a shaky take-off on a wave without a fin. When you go finless riding down a wave, you have access to different maneuvers such as spins, and lower-level spray and cutback maneuvers because by eliminating drag, there’s no control. It’s almost as if you’re sliding around on the ice. Maintaining a lower base when going finless helps with control, but ultimately you want at least one to two fins in your board if you’re a beginner to intermediate surfer.

If you’re interested in finless surfing, skimboarding is a popular sport where a rider essentially runs across the sand then slides toward a breaking wave fast enough to catch it while standing. Tricks are different on a skimboard, but if the waves aren’t breaking off the reef or sandbar, skimboarding is great for practicing your wave-riding skills along the shore break.

Patrick Thomas is a Coast Guard veteran who grew up surfing and fishing in southwest Florida. Having lived in Puerto Rico and the Outer Banks, NC, he now works as a full-time photographer and author in Austin, TX. More of his work and photography is available at pkthomas.com.

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