Surfboard Fin Setups: Understanding the effects to your surfing

There are literally endless possibilities to a surfboard setup, you have your board, how it flows and rides, your tail pad, your leg rope and then your fin setup, But more than just working out which fins to buy, but which system to use. 

We briefly went over the various systems in our guide to finding the perfect fin, but we wanted to dive into depth. 

Fins are extremely variant, they come in various flexibilities, materials, patterns, rakes, heights and then you have your setup. 

Fin setup options

Your system is important, it is the device that gives you and your board the stability, control, and direction. They're what gives you your speed and allow you to cut through the water.

There are four popular fin systems, they're what we're going to look at in this article, diving right into their strengths, weaknesses and the surf conditions they're specifically engineered for.


Single Fin Setup

Single Fin Setup

Now, these are traditionally found on longboards, but it's not unseen on shortboards. The single fin system is seen as outdated by some as newer analysis comes out it's evident that there are certainly better options, but they do certainly serve their purpose.

Single fins can be found in both a glass-on setup, and a box setup modern boards will come with a box, and older classics will come typically with a glass-on fin, which is a fin fibreglassed to the board. 

Designed as a longer, wider fin they're designed to carve through a wave and provide moderate control.

Ideal Conditions: Small to small-medium waves, or larger fatter waves.


The advantage of a single fin system is definitely the speed they produce, fewer fins create less drag, they offer a more laid back ride with a smooth, slow turning performance, the larger size also prevents spinning out in tubes, and nose riding.


They can feel unstable, balance and control are more reliant on the rider than the support from the board, typically a harder fin system to ride when you're used to other systems.

Checkout our single fins

Twin Fins or Dual Fin Setups

Twin fin setup

Becoming popular in the late 1970s and early 1980s the twin fin became popular when Mark Richards used a twin-fin setup on his fish, winning four consecutive World Champion Ships getting himself in the Australian Hall of Fame.

At this time the world discovered the advantages of the twin fin system offering extra maneuverability and speed giving Mark a huge competitive edge which ultimately helped him win back-to-back-to-back-to-back championships. 

The twin-fin system is still used on modern boards and is a setup used by board manufactures today.

Ideal Conditions: Small to Small-Medium Surf


Offering greater maneuverability and speed than a single fin, with more stability and control in turns. 


A looser feel than other setups making it harder on bigger waves where the tail may slide.

Checkout our twin fins

Thruster Fin Setup

thruster setup

The most widely used and popular setup is the thruster or three fin setup, whether you're a beginner or professional this is more than likely a setup you will try, if not fall in love with.

A thruster setup uses three equal sized fins with the two outer fins being more forward, and the center fin is more to the rear of the board. In his tell-all book "Thrust" he goes into depth of his surfing career, and his thought his process behind the iconic thruster setup.

Australia surfer Simon Anderson came up with the idea after getting frustrated at the "hold" in big waves, deciding to add the central fin in 1980.

The middle fin offers far greater stability and maneuverability than a twin or single fin setup, analysis and studies have shown this is definitely the best setup for high-performance surfing.

Ideal Conditions: The ultimate setup for all conditions, super fun in large waves and playful and predictable in tubes and smaller surf.


Very high maneuverability and stability. This is a great fin setup for high-performance tricks.


It slows you down. The back fin creates more drag at the end of the surfboard.

Checkout our thruster fins

2+1 Fin Setup

2+1 Fin Setup

Using a traditional thruster setup but with a slight difference, a 2+1 fin setup has a larger center fin, where a thruster setup has three equal sized fins, a 2+1 has two smaller rail fins or otherwise known as "sidebites", and larger central fin. 

The sidebites offer greater lift, control, and stability to the board when it's on the rail, typically a 2+1 won't be used for a shortboard or fish, but for longboards giving you a better option than a single fin.

Ideal Conditions: Small to medium size waves on the clear or choppy surf.


Giving you more stability, control and lift for longboards, making small to medium size waves easier to surf and control.


There is far more drag than a standard thruster or single fin setup

Checkout our 2+1 fins

Quad Fin Setup

Quad Fin setup

Offering some characteristics of both the twin and the thruster setups the quad fin setup is great for smaller to medium size surf. 

The quad setup is great for generating speed, making it perfect in small waves, the quad fins also allow for quick, sharp turns, very similar to a twin but with the added control.

Not typically ideal for a beginner, but perfect for the advanced rider giving the added speed of not having a center fin and greater hold in higher lines.

Ideal Conditions: Better in the clean surf, and small/medium waves


Faster than most other setups which are the benefit of not having the drag of a center fin, great for tubes and powerful waves. Offering great maneuverability than twin fins.


Harder to adjust to and not ideal for beginners meaning you need to adjust from your existing setup to something that involves a learning curve. 

Checkout our quad fins


Surfboard Fin Setups: Understanding The Effects To Your Surfing

Photo Credit: JS Industries

Personally, I recommend getting your board with a 5 fin box, this allows for you to run single, twin, thruster or quad. A 5 fin setup isn't designed to have all 5 fins in but allowing you to pick and choose your ideal setup. 

If you're running a longboard, a 2+1 maybe the best option for you, but this is certainly a trial and error experience.

If you're new to surfing and not sure what to get, buy a 5 fin box, and install a thruster array. This is the perfect setup for beginners and being the most common, it gives you everything you will need.


  • Great info thanks – just getting the kids set up on different boards and fin placement.

    Really helpful.

    Thanks AC

  • Also can you use the larger MR twin fin in a 5 fin set up

    John Ferreira
  • Which slots would you use to make a twin fin out of a 5 slot set up?

    John Ferreira

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