Everything you could possibly want to know about surfboard fins and more! Check out the table of contents below to get started:
Table of Contents:
5 Steps to Buying the Best Surfboard Fin
Choosing the correct surfboard fin is simple when you follow the 5 steps listed below:
1) Identify the type of fins on your surfboard
Look at the existing fins on the surfboard that you are using. There are 3 main fin systems that currently exist: Futures Fins, FCS 1 Fins and FCS 2 Fins.
- Futures Fins are easily identified because the bottom tab goes along the base of the fin and they have multiple holes in this tab.
- FCS 1 Fins can be identified because they have two single tabs that are separated from one another and the tabs are of the same size.
- FCS 2 Fins are similar to FCS 1 fins except front tab on the fin is longer.
Identifying fin systems using the fin boxes on your surfboard
If you don’t have access to the surfboard fins then you can look at the fin boxes for identification:
- Futures Fin Boxes are easy to identify because there is just 1 long hole in the fin box.
- FCS 1 Fin Boxes can either be one a single fin box (with 2 small, separate holes of the same size) or two small plugs with a hole in them each.
- FCS 2 Fin Boxes come as a single fin box that has 2 separate holes but the front hole is larger than the back hole.
2) Choose a fin setup to match the waves you’ll be surfing
Different fin setups work best in differet wave conditions. The 3 fin thruster setup works best in most conditions so is best to go with if you’re unsure. As a general rule:
- Single fins and twin fins work best with small and medium waves.
- Tri fins/thruster fins work best as a generic setup overall.
- Quad fins and Five fins tend to work best with large waves.
3) Match your body weight to the correct fin size
Different fin sizes work best depending upon how heavy you weigh.
Futures: Medium sized Futures fins cover 145 lbs to 195 lbs and Large sized Futures fins will cover 180 lbs and above.
FCS: Medium sized FCS fins cover 140 lbs to 175 lbs, Large size covers 165 lbs to 200 lbs and X-Large cover 190 lbs+.
4) Choose a fin made of the correct materials
If you’re surfing big waves and want hard, fast and sharp turns then you’ll want performance fins.
Normal fiberglass fins are the default choice for most surfboards. Both composite fins and standard fiberglass work well in conditions that have small and medium sized waves.
Longboard fins that have extra height (and also plastic fins) will provide the most flex and work well in waves with smaller conditions and are for surfers that want long arching turns.
5) Pick a surfboard fin using reviews
You can now use all of this information to choose a surfboard fin from one of the reviews in the section below.
Reviews of the Best Surfboard Fins for Sale
Surf Fin Setup
|Both FCS and Futures
|Tri Fin /
|Tri Fin /
|Both FCS and Futures
(Central nubster used with a set of quad fins)
Listed below are other types of fins that are worth mentioning because they are from a unique product category or have a unique attribute.
Paddle boards require extra stability because of their size and so their central fins tend to be fairly large.
Plastic fins are extra safe and very cheap so they’re perfect for beginners that use soft top and foam based surfboards.
Most Popular Fin Systems:
Alternative Fin Systems:
FCS means (Fin Control System) is a brand of surfboard fins which has existed since 1995 when the original FCS system was introduced. The FCS system is the dominant system of surfboard fins that are available. It’s fairly cheap and easy to install.
Keep in mind that the FCS X2 is the name of the latest version of the FCS 1 fin system – so don’t confuse the FCS X2 system with the FCS II system.
You can recognize a FCS fin because it has 2 small tabs that are on the base of the fin. These tabs are slotted into the fin boxes that are installed on the bottom of the board. Once slotted in, the fins are secured in place using surfboard fin screws.
Although rare, there are reports of the FCS 1 system fins pushing through to the core of the surfboard when used heavily by experienced surfers. This can then case cracks on the deck and tail end of the board. Also, because the system uses 2 small fin tabs to connect the fin to the board – the base of the fin is weaker and so the flex is not as good. Fortunately, the FCS 2 fin system (see below) fixed many of these issues.
Compatibility notice: FCS 1 fins WILL work with FCS 2 fin boxes when using a compatibility kit. But an FCS 2 fin WILL NOT fit into a FCS 1 fin box.
FCS 2 Fins
FCS introduced the FCS 2 (or FCS II) fin system which is designed to have a number of improvements.
You can recognize the FCS 2 system as it has 2 tabs on the base of the fin AND the front tab of the fin is longer compared with the back tab on the fin. Compared with FCS 1, this provides more strength in securing the fin base to the fin box. This in turn provides better fin flex.
Instead of using two small fin boxes (or fin plugs) for each fin, with FCS 2, one large fin box is used for each fin which provides the fin boxes with extra strength. So the issues of FCS plugs pushing through the core and cracking the deck of the board are no longer present.
Compared with an FCS fin system, a Futures fin is easily recognizable because instead of using 2 tabs at the base of the fin, it just has 1 tab throughout the entire base of the fin with multiple holes throughout the tab. This is then placed in just one long fin box for each fin. Fans of this fin system like the extra long tab with multiple holes as they believe it provides a stronger connection and better flex. The major downside of this fin system is simply that because it is not as widespread as FCS, less boards are compatible – so it can be harder to find replacements and suitable boards/shapers.
Alternative fin systems
In addition to the 3 popular fin systems listed above, alternative fin systems are listed below:
Before the use of the fin box/fin system arrived, surfboard shapers used to glass on their fins whilst the board was being made. Whilst rare to see nowadays, you can still buy boards with glassed in fins.
The main advantages to built-in fins is that there’s less friction underneath the board which improves the performance, provides more flex, is lighter and so can provide a smoother ride.
However, the drawbacks are that it’s more difficult and expensive to produce, the fins cannot be changed, breaks are harder to fix and may damage your board, plus travelling with your board is harder.
Whilst not exactly a glassed-in fin, the FCS Fusion is similar because the fin box that comes with it is pre-glassed.
Whilst there are a number of semi eco-friendly fins currently on the market, one of the latest and greatest to arrive on the scene is the Ecofin. This is a surfboard fin that is made by picking up the plastic waste found in Indonesia and recycling this material into a fin. For example, 100 discarded bottle caps found on the beaches of Bali would go into creating a single fin with this process.
Longboard Fins – FCS Longboard
For people that love to ride single fin surfboards, the extra large fin box on this system accommodates bigger fins and so works well with longboard surfers.
Surf Fin Setups
The single fin surf board is only really used on longboards nowadays and was how the original surfboards were designed. It’s quite rare to find this design on a shortboard.
A single fin gives your surfboard a much smoother ride. Your turns will be slower and more circular so it’s harder to pull off tight and sharp moves – this means you have to go with the flow of the wave more. It makes gaining speed via pumping (moving up and down the wave to generate speed) harder on single fin setups. However, fewer fins on the board means less drag and so a single fin setup does gain a bit of speed when not turning. If you’re surfing barrelling waves then a single fin is at a disadvantage as you don’t have any extra fins on the side of the board for stabilization.
Whilst this fin setup might be slower and harder to pull off fancy tricks, the single fin does offer more elegance and an alternative style of surfing. It’s works well with longboarders on small to medium sized waves.
Twin fin surfing is a setup that is typically used on shortboards. Without the extra third fin that’s usually used on shortboards, you get less drag so your speed improves and it makes the turning of your board much looser, rapid and responsive. However, without the extra third fin, the turns on your surfboard are less stable (and the stabilization also drops on barrelling waves). Because of this, the board is more likely to come out underneath you so you need a good balance to use this board.
The twin fins are normally placed at equal distance to each other on opposite sides to the center of the board. They also tend to be pointed slightly inwards towards the center as well.
The twin fin setup is good for small to medium sized waves up to 6 foot, not so good on bigger waves and ones which have a barrel.
The 3 fins setup (also commonly known as thruster fins) is pretty much the most popular configuration for surfboards. Thruster fins allow a surfer to rapidly turn and cut into a wave. Not only is your maneuverability increased but the 3 fins provide more stability. This makes 3 fins versatile as the board can be surfed in a range of conditions, especially well in large and barrelling waves. With skill and practice, you can use this fin setup to gain air and do vertical surfing.
In the thruster fin setup, the fins are of the same size and placed in a triangular shape with each fin being located at the tip of the triangle. This means you have one back fin in the center of the board and two front fins further forward on the sides. The back fin usually faces directly straight down the center of the board whilst the two front fins are turned slightly inward.
The tri fin setup works well in pretty much all conditions. The one main drawback with this setup is that on smaller waves the extra drag caused by 3 fins means that you may lose some speed. To make up for this, surfer’s tend to pump their boards (moving up and down the wave to gain speed).
An extra advantage with this setup is that if you have removable fins, you can adjust the number of fins to single fin or twin fin surfing.
Quad Fin Setup
With a quad fin set up, 2 fins are placed on each side of the board and there is no central fin. With no central tail fin, water can glide down the center of the board with less drag so there is an increase in speed for the board (despite there being an increase in the total number of fins causing drag). Initial acceleration is quicker and you don’t have to pump your board as much to gain speed.
The increased number of fins helps with the responsiveness and maneuverability of the board – you can quickly cut and change direction faster (which is also partly due to their being no central fin). This makes turning feel much looser, like that of a twin fin.
Placement of the fins on a quad can affect it’s performance. A quad board will surf more like a 3 fin setup when it’s rear fins are placed closer to the back and closer together – this is a good adjustment for days when the waves are large. Whereas you gain more speed when placing the rear fins of the quad closer to the forward fins. This is a useful for when the waves are small.
Additionally, the quad is especially good in large or hollow waves. Having an extra fin on each side of the board adds extra stability to the side of the board that’s hitting a steep wave.
So what’s the drawback?
The extra speed and power offered in the turns of the board can be hard to control. When choosing this setup, check whether you have the flexibility and reaction speed needed to handle it otherwise the board is likely to fly out from underneath. Generally, a 3 fin setup is more forgiving in comparison to a quad fin setup.
5 Fin Setup
The 5 fin setup isn’t usually surfed with all 5 fins installed. It’s a configuration that’s been created so you can set up your fins as either: single fin, twin fin, tri fin or quad fin. This is the main purpose for buying a 5 fin board.
However, some people have been experimenting with using all 5 fins whilst surfing. To do this, you keep the 4 outer fins as you would on a quad board, but then with the fifth central fin you add a miniature fin. With this miniature tail fin you provide more control without sacrificing speed. There is still much experimentation occurring with the 5 fin setup.
2+1 Fin Setup
With this setup you have one long central fin box and 2 smaller side fins. This long central fin box allows you to place a large center fin into it. Because the center fin box is so long, you can also move the center fin forward or to the back if you choose.
It’s a good compromise for surfer’s that want something which is between a single fin and a tri fin setup. If you’re a longboard surfer and you’re undecided as to the type of fin configuration to go with then this might be for you.
If using removable fins, you can always remove the side fins to return the 2+1 setup back to a single fin setup.
Fins Setups and Wave Sizes
|Surfboard Fins for Different Wave Conditions
|Futures Fin Sizes
|75 lbs – 115 lbs
34 kg – 53 kg
|105 lbs – 155 lbs
48 kg – 70 kg
|145 lbs – 195 lbs
65 kg – 88 kg
|FCS Fin Sizes
|Under 120 lbs
Under 55 kg
|120 lbs – 155 lbs
55 kg – 70 kg
|140 lbs – 175 lbs
65 kg – 80 kg
|165 lbs – 200 lbs
75 kg – 90 kg
What to do if you’re on the edge of two fin size weight classes (e.g. you’re 170 lbs and are looking to buy a FCS fin)? In these situations, if you like hard, sharp turns then choose the weight size that is in the class above. Whereas if you want softer, looser turns then choose the weight class below.
The main types of materials used to create fins are:
- Plastic fins – These are typically used on soft top surfboards because the plastic material makes them very safe and because it is soft and flexible for beginners to use. Getting hit with one of these fins causes minimal damage.
- Fiberglass fins – The standard material from which most surfboard fins are made. Created using fiberglass resin which is laid on top of one another and cut into shape. Depending upon the grades of fiberglass used, this will affect the flexibility of the fin. As a material it has a broad and versatile range of uses and so is the most popular type of surf fin available.
- Composite fins – These are fins that are created using a combination of materials, with fiberglass typically being one of those materials.
- Performance fins – Are normally composite fins that are created for professional surfers and also tend to be more expensive. They usually use a honeycomb, hexagonal shaped internal core which maintains fin strength whilst at the same time making the fin lighter. This is done using a process called Resin Transfer Molding (RTM). Some of these fins also use carbon fiber materials for performance.
- Solid Wood fins – Normally used for their aesthetic looks. A wood surf fin is particularly popular with owner’s of wooden surfboards that like to maintain the look across the surfboard and into the fins. They usually have a thin layer of fiberglass on the outside of the fin and commonly the wood that gets used in this process is either plywood or bamboo.
Fin materials: Sorted by company
FCS fin materials & types
Images and information source available here
- Maximum flex made from urethane that is extra safe
- Very delayed response
- Aimed at beginner’s using softboards
- Precision moulded marine grade polymer (50% fiberglass)
- Quite fast response
- Aimed at intermediate to pro level surfers
- Made using fiberglass resin (55% fiberglass) with hex core
- Fast response
- Used by advanced to pro surfers
- Created with fiberglass resin (60%) with a hex core
- Very fast response
- Aimed at professional surfers that like fast and powerful surfing
- Designed with woven fiberglass (65%)
- Super fast response
- Aimed at professionals surfers under extreme wave situations and conditions
Futures fin materials & types
Futures created it’s own “ride number” system that you can use to determine which fin series and material that will suit you best.
Futures fins assigned with ride numbers 10-7 are faster and give you more speed, fins numbered 7-4 give you a balance of both speed and control, whereas ride numbers from 4-1 gives you more predictable control.
|Futures Ride Number
Images and information source available here
The Anatomy of a Surfboard Fin
Base or Length
The base of the fin is the part of the fin that touches the outside of the surfboard (just after the fin tab). The length of the fin base can affect your drive/acceleration: smaller bases means less drive so turns are sharper and shorter. A longer fin base means more drive so turns are longer.
Height or Depth
This is how far the fin goes into the water and it is measured from the base of the fin.
As you increase the height of the fin you get more stability/hold during turns on your board whereas a decreased height allows for turns that slide and release more easily.
Sweep or Rake
This is how far your fin is angled back. When there is more sweep on a fin you get longer turns which is good for larger waves. This is good for longboard/single fin riders. Less sweep means shorter, tighter turns which is better for smaller waves.
Foil is the shape of the fin if you were to look down at the fins from the tail of the surfboard. Generally, a foil is shaped so it’s thin at the base, thick in the middle and then gradually thin at the top again.
The shape of the foil changes how the water flows over the fin and so affects lift, drag, speed and control on the board.
There are a variety of different foil types, each of which is placed in different locations and affect performance in different ways.
Middle or 50/50 foils
These are fins that are symmetrical and provide equal stability and control. They’re usually used in single fins or the central fins of a thruster fin setup. Occasionally you might see them set up on the back fins of a quad setup or used on twin fin setup.
These fins are usually used on the side of boards such as twin, thruster and quad fin setups. The inner side of the fin is flat whereas the outside of the fin has a curve. Flat foils allow for fast direction changes and provide an equal amount of hold and drive.
Inside foils have curve shapes on both sides of the foil, plus the top end of the fin also tilts inwards. This helps to keep the speed whilst turning and creates lift whilst decreasing the drag on the fin. Normally used on the outside fins of thrusters.
80/20 or 70/30 foils
Shaped so that one side is much more curved than the other (e.g. 80% curved on one side and 20% curved on the other). This increases the responsiveness of turns whilst providing stability. Normally used as the rear fins on quad setups.
This measures how much the fin bends and more flex provides longer, gentler turns. Less flex makes the fin more rigid and so turns are sharper, shorter and more cutting. You want the base of your fin to be rigid whilst the top end of the fin is flexible.
The cant on a fin is how much the fin tilts away from the center of the board and is found on fins located on the sides.
A fin with no cant (remains perpendicular to the surfboard base) will have more acceleration in a straight line but will have less responsiveness during turns. A fin with more cant (has more angle) will have less acceleration but more responsiveness during turns.
Total fin area
This relates to the fin size (see above) as larger/heavier weighted surfers require a bigger fin total fin area/size.
Toe or Splay
The toe or splay is the angle at which the fins are placed on the side of the board. Fins are angled inwards, towards the center of the board. Increasing this angle increases the response of the board but creates more drag and reduces speed. As a default, rail fins are usually angled to the front nose of the board.
If you have a set of 3 fins and they’re individually further apart from one another, then you’ll have longer turns whereas closer together fins will create shorter turns. Also, if the entire fin set is placed closer to the back of the board then you will have longer turns whereas fins sets placed further forward will have tighter more rapid turns.
Longboard fin placement: The use of single fins on longboards encourages the surfboard to go in a straight line, whereas outside fins increase responsiveness and make turns more likely. If you like to walk to the front of the board and hang ten/nose ride then move the single fin towards the back of the board for extra stability. Similarly, on 2+1 fin longboards you would also move the center fin forward for tighter turns or move the center fin back for longer turns.
Other parts of the fin
This is the part of the fin that connects into the fin box on the surfboard – so the tab is inserted inside the surfboard. The easiest way to identify which fin system you are using is by looking at the design of the fin tab.remov
Futures fin tabs go across the entire base of the fin and are easily identified because they have a number of different shaped holes across them.
FCS 1 fin tabs have two separate tabs that are of the same size as one another. You can convert FCS 1 fins to work with FCS 2 fin boxes or plugs by using a fin compatibility kit (as seen below).
FCS 2 fin tabs also have two separate tabs but with this design, the front tab is longer than the back tab. FCS 2 fins only work with FCS 2 fin boxes and won’t fit FCS 1 fin boxes/plugs.
To see more details on which fin system to choose click here.
Surfboard Fin Boxes (or plugs)
The fin box or fin plug is the hole into which the fin is inserted. Each fin system comes with it’s own fin plug that is compatible with different fin tabs. Generally, a fin box gets installed into the surfboard whilst it is being shaped.
Accessories for Surfboard Fins
Surfboard Fin Screws
You can buy replacements for both FCS fin screws and Futures fin screws. Just make sure you identify the correct screw because typically surf screws from different systems are not compatible with one another (although you can buy specialized screws which are). Futures fin screws tend to be longer and FCS fin screws tend to be shorter. Surf fin screws are normally made from stainless steel which doesn’t rust. It’s always handy to have a few spare screws laying around in case you lose one.
Surf Fin Keys
A surf fin key is used to tighten the fin screws into the fin box. Normally a surf fin key is designed to only work with one fin system but you can buy surfboard fin keys that will work with both FCS and Futures systems.
Removal and Installation
Fin removal and installation is fairly straightforward as you’ll see below:
How to Remove Surfboard Fins
Removing surfboard fins is particularly important when you are travelling (especially when going on an airline) as it will prevent your fins and boards from becoming damaged. Doing so is pretty simple:
- Find a compatible surf key.
- Loosen the screws on the fin box.
- Pull straight upwards and not at an angle so the fin doesn’t get damaged.
How to Install Surfboard fins
- Make sure you have matched the right fins to the correct fin boxes and systems (Futures vs FCS). Also, side fins normally have a curve on the outside foil and center fins normally are symmetrical.
- Slot the correct fin into the right fin box.
- Use the fin key to screw the fins into their boxes.
New Surfboard Fin Designs
The technology for surfboard fins is constantly under development and there are a number of interesting trends that are currently occurring:
Data Tracking Fins
The Smart Fin comes with a number of sensors that pick up data about the ocean such as the temperature, pH levels, salinity and GPS location. This data can then be used by ocean scientists allowing them to do research and monitor the environment.
Biomimicry involves looking at animals such as sharks and dolphins and seeing how their fins have evolved in nature and then taking these designs and copying them back into the creation of surfboard fins. For example, copying the bumps seen on the fins of humpback whales and recreating these bumps into the designs of surfboard fins to see what effect they have on performance.
3D Printed Fins
The latest manufacturing process that is still evolving. It allows 3D printed fins to be developed very quickly and so changes can be made rapidly. For example, after a design has been finished on a computer 3D modelling program, it can then printed by the 3D printer in a couple of hours and is ready for surfing. See more info in the video below:
Used Surfboard Fins
If you’re on a budget and you need some cheap surf fins then you might consider buying secondhand. However, when looking for used surfboard fins then there’s a number of things you need to check. First, inspect the overall fin for dents, cracks or damage that may not be visible upon first glance. Pay close attention to the fin tabs because these are areas that commonly get cracked. Also, make sure you’re buying the correct fin shape and foil and it is from a compatible system. A good place to start when your search for used surfboard fins for sale would be on Ebay, Craigslist or Gumtree.