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Fin Guide: How they work and which is the best for you

June 07, 2024

Fin Guide: How they work and which is the best for you

The fin is the most foundational element of your surfboard. Unless you are riding a finless board, the entire surfboard is shaped to work with the fin; design elements like concave and rocker mean little without a fin, and one couldn't imagine a fish without a twin or quad, or a high performance shortboard with a single fin. 

To the newer to intermediate surfer, choosing fins can seem overwhelming. This guide is geared toward the newer, but dedicated, surfer who wants an overview of fin types, how they work, and where they came from.

The Single Fin 

The single fin is the original fin design which was pioneered by Tom Blake in 1935. Blake engineered this fin by taking the keel from an old speed boat and attaching it to the bottom of his self-made 117 lb wood surfboard... imagine what surfing was like pre-1935, attempting to steer a 12-15 ft board with no fin. Despite the huge differences in design between then and now, the goal of this first fin remains the same, to allow the surfer to control his or her surfboard in such a way that allows the surfer to ride waves with performance. 

Until the 60's, huge single fins, called D fins dominated the surfboard landscape. These fins were extremely stable, but difficult to turn. Consequently, s surfer and shaper name George Greenough, who was unhappy with the lack of performance in the D fin, created a narrower, thinner fin modeled after the tail of a blue fin tuna. These types of single fins are the most common today. 

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Degree 33 - 9-inch single fin with "blue fin tuna-like" characteristics

Today's single fins are designed to offer great amounts of stability and control without sacrificing turning ability. As opposed to other types of fin types, single fins sit further into the water which means there is little chance of the board sliding out if you've paired the right size fin with the right size board, (i.e. 9ft board goes to 9-inch fin, 10 ft board to 10inch fin etc.). As for turning a single fin, they are much less performance oriented. Rather than carving up and down the wave face, you will be pivoting to turn. Then, once you set your line, you can trim or noseride in one direction with lots of control. 

Classic, Stylish Surfing on the Degree 33 Classic Noserider 

The single fin works well with more "classic" shapes, like our Classic Noserider. Smaller single fins are work very well more midlengths. If the aura of surfing's history appeals to you, or if you consider yourself to be a soulful surfer who would rather trim and cruise down the line than rip a wave to shreds, the single fin might be the right fin for you.

Two Plus One

In the longboard revolution in the 90's and early 2000's, performance longboard surfers began opting for the two plus one fin set up rather than a single fin. The goal of the two plus one is to allow for a similar amount of control as a single fin, but with greater turning ability, especially when pushing the surfboard on rail. As seen below, the center fin is a bit smaller, and the side fins, called, "side-bites" are used to grip the water in turns, which creates thrust forward. 

Degree 33 Ambassador Deanna with NexGen Ultimate Longboard, Two Plus One

Some "single-fin only" purists label the side bites as "training wheels" but such a description is a myth. When it comes to riding a longboard with performance, even when the waves get bigger or steeper, the two plus one cannot be beat. Not only can a surfer noseride well on a two plus one, but they can also get to the tail and crank shortboard-like turns. In addition, rather than pivoting your turns, the surfer can carve and drive to a much higher degree on a two plus one. 

The type of board a two plus one should be paired with are performance longboards, like our UltimateUltimate Plus longboards, or midlengths like the 8'2 version of our Easy Rider. So if you are a performance oriented longboard or midlength surfer who wants to pair classic style with a new school approach to wave riding, the two plus one set up might be the best for you. 

Two Plus One Ultimate in action, ridden by Ambassador Liam (one of the best performance longboarders in SD)

The Twin Fin 

Thus far we have touched on stable, longboard fins. Now, we will turn to the direct opposite type of fin: The Twin Fin.

Often in surfing, when one movement begins to take over, another movement rebels and does something completely different. Right around the time when big single fins were coming into their own, another legendary surfer named Bob Simmons invented the twin fin in 1948. His goal in creating the twin fin was to match the feel of one of the oldest types of surfboards called the Alaia - an ancient Hawaiian finless wood board known for incredible speed. The Simmons twin offered the same amount of speed, with a touch more control. With no center stabilizer fin, water can propel quickly through the center of the board with little resistance. Thus, some surfers say the fastest they have ever gone on a surfboard was on a twin fin. 

Although Simmons created the twin, it wasn't until Steve Lis invented the fish shape surfboard right here in San Diego in 1967 that the twin fin gained dominance in surf culture. With it's loose feel, sharp turning radius, and tremendous speed, the fish was a pinnacle of performance surfing in the 70's and early 80's.

Legend Surfer Damien Hobgood Eyeing our Retro Fish (Twin)

Riding a twin fin is a very unique experience - especially if you've been used to riding big stable boards. We've found you either love it or hate it.  You may either find yourself flying down the line of a stretched out wall, never feeling a sensation in surfing so great, or you may find yourself sliding out on bottom turns, over powering the board, and finding it difficult to control. If you are into the challenge, and would like to learn the ins and outs of riding a twin fin, we say go for it. But if you would like a bit more control riding shorter boards, a quad or thruster might be a better fin for you. 

Last, as mentioned above, the best boards for riding a twin fin are a fish. The wide outline, with swallow tail for more control, accentuates all of the best feelings of the twin fin. For a user friendly twin fin fish, check our our Classic Keel Fish paired with our Fiberglass Twin Fin set. In addition to fish surfboard, boards called "Twin Pins" are gaining lots of popularity. The round tail allows for more rail line, which means more hold in the wave face and better drawn out turns. 

Damien Hobgood Stoked to Ride the Retro Fish (Twin)

Note: If you'd like to learn more about how to ride a fish, check out our blog here.

Twin Fin (cont.) - Twin Plus Trailer 

As a bonus fin option, branching off of the twin fin is the twin plus trailer. A trailer fin is a small rear fin that is about half the size of the front fins. The benefit of a trailer fin is twofold: first, the trailer provides less of a chance of sliding out on steeper waves or in bigger turns, and second, the trailer fin provides a pivot point so that you can turn more vertically than a twin. 

An idea board for this set up is our Rocket Fish, which blends the best fish and performance characteristics. If you are more performance oriented, or if you simply want a fishy feel, while being able to control the board and pivot, this is a great option for you. 

Thruster 

The thruster revolutionized surfing in so many ways that entire books could be written on its impact. All of the most radical surfing that can be done on a surfboard, in some of the most critical waves on the planet, are thanks to Simon Anderson who invented the thruster at Bells Beach in 1981. Simon created the very first thruster by shaving off the swallow tail of a twin fin, then added a center fin box. The results were magical as the thruster allows for amazing speed and control. 

Degree 33 Thruster Poacher for Performance on a Midlength

In order to understand the appeal of a thruster, think back to the context of its origins. The only options for surfing were two extremes: either a stiff single fin, or a loose, hard to control twin fin. If you are performance oriented, imaging only surfing a twin fin for the next 10 years. Think of the ways in which you would be limited in surfing steep, hollow waves and not being able to push as hard as you want in your turns. Then, imagine hopping on a thruster and feeling in control of your surfboard. It would be a breath of fresh air and would instantly increase your performance. This is the effect that the thruster has had, and continues to have on thousands of surfers. 

The reason for this level of performance is the outside fins allow for hold when the surfboard is on rail, then the rear center fin, which is the same size as the front two fins in a thruster, creates precision in your surfboard. The rider can make subtle adjustments and the board will respond with you. 

As one could imagine, the thruster is best suited for boards that are meant for high performance surfing. For advanced surfers, check out our All Terrain Vehicle and our Rocket Fish. If you are on the more intermediate side, the Poacher is a great mid-length option for you to feel the sensation of a thruster in a more user friendly package. 

Degree 33 Ambassador Kieran Anderson Great Turn on Thruster RocketFish.

If control, performance, and a touch of radicalness seem appealing to you, the thruster is a great option for you! 

Quad

Blending the best elements of the twin fin and the thruster is the quad, or four-fin set up. The origins of the quad are a bit shaky, but a kneeboarder in the 70's named Peter Ware claims to have designed the first quad. After its conception, the quad did not gain huge popularity due to a broadly "thruster only" mindset in the 80's and 90's. However, the quad gained attention in 1989 a surfer named Glen Winton dominated the Pipeline Masters surf contest riding a quad, and, most famously, in 1992 when Tom Curren (legendary surfer) rode his first wave at 12ft JBay riding a quad fin. This wave continues to amaze people, and this is due to both Tom Curren's smooth style, along with the quad surfboard he was riding that made his turns look extremely powerful and smooth. 

Degree 33 Easy Rider Set Up as Quad 

A quad surfboard has two fins on each side toward the rail of the surfboard. Like a twin fin, there is no center fin, but unlike a twin fin, there is an addition of two smaller rear fins which act as stabilizer fins. These stabilizer fins add lots of control and give the quad loads of drive and speed. The quad is, therefore, the most drivey fin one could ride, which makes it ideal for strong, carving maneuvers, big hollow barrels, and gaining speed in tiny waves. 

Riding a quad is also very unique. There are some surfers who are quad fanatics don't ride anything else and see them as the most performance oriented fin for powerful surfing. A key tip for riding quads is to always keep the board on rail. When on rail, there are two fins in the water which make it ideal for barrels, cutbacks, bottom turns, pumping for speed, etc. However, once the board flattens out, a quad can slide out, which is why other surfers might not like it as much. 

The type of boards that can be ridden as a quad are extremely diverse. Smaller wave boards, like our Cloud, Bullet, and Rocket Fish are amazing with a quad for speed generation; quad fishes and midlengths, like our Easy Rider and Retro Fish, are well-suited as quads because they give loose turning and speed with more control than a twin fin, and even longboards, big wave surfboards, and step up tube riding boards are fantastic as a quad because of their drive and hold on rail. 

Store Manager Jake putting the Quad Easy Rider on Rail 

Quad (cont.) Quad plus nubster 

The quad plus nubster, or five fin set up, is the same a a quad, with the addition of a tiny fin in the rear called the nubster. This fin was invented and perfected by Sean Mattison, and quickly became a favorite fin set up for 11x world champion surfer Kelly Slater. These fins are not as well-known, but we've found this to be an awesome fin set up for boards like our Rocket Fish. (the Rocket fish offers 5 fin boxes which means you can add tons of different fin options for different feels.)

Like the Twin plus trailer, the quad plus nubster gives a bit more control than the quad and creates more of a pivot point for thruster like turns. As opposed to the thruster, however, the quad and nubster set up is arguably faster and has better drive. 

Conclusion 

As you can see, fins play a huge role in what kind of surfer you might be. Here at Degree 33, we don't believe there is one fin set up that is better than the rest, your preferred fin set up is personal to you. Furthermore, while they are some who swear by one fin over another, we believe the most well-rounded surfer should experience the rich history of surfing and try it all! This is why we have a huge selection of surfboards and fin types for every kind of surfer. Click the here to check out all of our fins! 

If you have any more questions about fins, or anything surf related, give us a call at (800) 920-2363, or email us at surf@degree33.com. We'd also love to assist you in talking about your next board! 




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