Choosing your next set of fins
Your surfboard fins are an essential ingredient to wave riding. Fins make the board go straight and enable you to turn. It seems like such a simple concept, but fin science can get rather complicated! There is an ever increasing amount of money spent on fin research, design and marketing and the leading brands such as FCS have developed a huge range in modern fin systems. Meaning not just the pros can develop their setup. However don't let the large range of different setups overwhelm you. This fin guide should help you work out how they work and help you to choose your next set of fins.
Most surfboards today come with the removable, as opposed to glassed-in, type of fin. Most brands do not have cross compatible boxes. Boxes are the devices that hold the fin on the surfboard. This makes it important to choose the system you want, as it affects all your future fin choices for that surfboard. The most used fin system world wide would probably be FCS. Choosing one of the most successful brands like FCS allows more choice in choosing fins because of their large range of products. They cover all elements of design including longboard fins, quad setups, twin, bonzers and the classic tri-fin thrusters. Many smaller brands of fins like the CJB’s on our site and boards like the Take Offs use plugs and fittings as used by FCS; ultimately opening up the market but still allowing the full range of FCS.
What do fins do?
The most important thing you want from your fin is direction, to keep the nose of the board pointing towards the shore or down the line of the wave, rather than spinning round under you. To achieve this shortboard fins works exactly like feather flights on a dart, providing drag to keep the back of the board running slower and particularly to massively increase that drag if the board starts slipping sideways.
The second purpose of the fin is to give you 'drive'. This is the simple business of changing your slip slide down the face straight towards the shore into down the line energy that can put you wherever you want to be on the wave and keeps your board travelling forward. Generated during and out of a turn and in even the most basic situation, as you sit in trim heading straight down the line, water isn't just rushing under your board straight along it's length, it's also flowing up the face of the wave. Allowing this energy and translate it to forward motion is a vital part of the fins role, and obviously a major part of surfing.
As well as keeping the board running straight your fins give something to pivot against on your back foot during a turn. The subtleties of ‘rake’ and ‘cant’ can change this experience, alter the ease with which the board can be moved from rail to rail and alter the speed and projection that can be generated out of a turn. The size of the fins and their setup also alters the moment of release that allows a powerful turn to break the back of the board out and slide it sideways when that's what you want, or keep them locked in when you don't.
Look at your shortboard now and check out the fins. The centre fin in the back should be curved slightly on both sides. This fin is 'symmetrical', now check out one of the outer fins and you'll see one curved side and one almost flat. The third purpose of your shortboard fins is to use these 'asymmetrical' outer fins to create 'lift'. Lift kind of implies something floating the tail of the board up out of the water, it'll make more sense when you realise that these rear fins, curved on one side, are working exactly like an aeroplanes wing. The 'lift' here isn't up in the air, it's pulling the board towards the rail, locking the rail in and ensuring that the faster the board is travelling the stronger the bond. In practise this means your tri-fin thruster should be able to take a higher, more critical line in steeper sections of the wave.
The Fundamental Guidelines from FCS
So what should you look for in a new set of fins. The following basic rules are direct from the guys at FCS: