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Choosing the Right Fin
No matter if you’re flat water paddling or SUP surfing, or a little bit of both, it will pay great dividends to give some serious consideration to what fins you’re using. Most low-end SUP boards come with only a single, generic, cheap plastic long board fin. Upgrading your fins is the easiest way to really transform the performance of your stand up paddle board, and with a couple sets of fins you can suit your board for great flat water paddling one day and SUP surfing another.
Often times lower end SUP boards don’t even have more than one fin box so your options are limited. Most high-end SUP boards, and especially paddle surfing boards, will have flexible fin configurations such as a 5-fin configuration. At the very least, most surfing SUPs should have a 2+1 fin box configuration, which will let you set up your board as a thruster (3 larger, equal size fins), a 2 + 1 (larger long board fin in the middle with smaller side bites on the sides), or just a single long board fin configuration. For flat water paddling, the most important concerns are typically drag and tracking. For surfing, there are a lot more variables and choices to suit the different preferences of SUP surfers.
The single long board fin configuration was the original fin configuration for surfing back in the day. Before this, they actually used boards without any fins, which had little control at all of course. You’d find people dragging a toe for steering. Scary! While you’ll rarely see a single fin configuration on smaller surfboards today, a good number of long boarders use a single fin configuration (which is why its termed a long board fin configuration). A lot of basic SUPs come with a single fin (long board) configuration.
In a single SUP fin configuration, the fin acts as a single, central pivot point. The longer (from front to back) and the deeper the single fin, the more drag but also (in general) the more control you’ll have. If you have a really wide, deep fin, it can start to inhibit turning, which is great for flat water paddling but not so ideal for performance standup paddle surfing. The more upright the fin is the tighter the turning radius you will have when stand up paddle surfing. The more raked the fin (the more angled/arched back), the more control you will have at high speeds.
About SUP Fin Selection
Whether you stand up paddle board on flat water exclusively, or stand up paddle surf exclusively or somewhere between the two, its a good idea to give some thought as to how SUP fins might be able to improve your performance and enjoyment. In flat water SUP paddling, the most important thing paddlers are looking for is better tracking and stability. If you don’t think your SUP fin choice matters, try removing the fins some time and see how miserable the experience becomes. On the other extreme spectrum of the sport in standup paddle surfing, SUP fin choice is perhaps even more important as paddlers are looking to improve speed down the line, the feel and feedback thru your turning arc, rail-to-rail transitions, stability in turbulence, and even SUP nose riding. With removable SUP fins, you can change your set-up for different uses such as flat water paddling one day, SUP surfing the next, and SUP down winding the day after.
The first thing you need to determine is what type of fins will fit in your board. The center fin box on all SUPs is a standard long board fin box. Any long board fin, regardless of the brand will fit in these center boxes. The flanking fin boxes are another story. These will either be Futures SUP Fins boxes or FCS fin boxes, and you have to get the same brand fins as you have boxes so you’re choices are set by how your board was manufactured. Fins are removable, so you can swap out one style of fin for another, so long as you stick with the correct brand on the side fin boxes.
When it comes to SUP surfing, there are dozen’s of arrays of SUP fin configurations to choose from including:
- Long board single fin set-up,
- Classic 2 + 1 SUP fin set-up (also called tri-fin set-up)
- Thruster fin set-up
- Twin fin set-up
- Quad fin set-up
Not all boards allow the flexibility for multiple fin set-up configurations (high-end standup paddle surfing boards typically do), so your choices might be limited in some cases.
The bad news is that many new SUP boards (especially in the lower-end of the market) come with pretty basic low-performance fins just thrown in as an afterthought. Its worthwhile considering an SUP fin upgrade. Often times with one small change, you can dramatically affect the performance of your stand up paddle board.