How to Decide How Many Fins You Need On A Paddleboard

Adjusting your paddleboard can be the best way to make your session, and it can be the easiest way to break it also. In time you will find your own personal preference of how many fins you prefer. But as you will see in this article, it really depends on what kind of paddle boarding you are doing.

How do I decide how many fins I need for my paddleboard? Generally where and how you will be paddleboarding will determine the number of fins you need. For example:

Paddle Boarding StyleLarge Center FinSide Fin
Cruising 10
Touring12
Whitewater00
Surfing 12 or 4

I bet you’re thinking “I never thought it was this complicated” well it isn’t really. Once you understand why we use fins it becomes almost logical how many fins you will need. Read on to find out.

What are Paddle Board Fins purpose?

It’s simple, the fin gives you tracking. Let me try and explain how. An object in the water will create drag on every side. But, by making this object very thin (like the shape of a fin), drag is only creating on the left and the right-hand sides and no longer on the front.

This means it won’t move one way easily but it will the other. It is this left and right drag that slows down any left or right movement and so by default gives more stability going forward. This is also why fins are always put at the back of a Board (or boat)

So depending on the amount of left and right movement you desire can be achieved by the number of fins you use.

The Ideal Number of Fins needed when SUP Cruising and Why?

As a beginner to Stand up paddleboarding, your main focus will be on balance and standing up. Even once you acheive this will be to practice in a small area and then move onto pivot turns. The best cruising about paddleboard style is called an all-rounder Board.

For this purpose, these boards mostly come with only 1 large centre fin, and this is great for practising paddling and turning on reasonably calm waters. A 1 fin board will be easier to turn than a 2,3 or 4 fin setup.

Ideal Number of Paddle Board Fins needed when Touring and Why?

Touring is more about the distance and speed than manoeuvrability and so the large center fin is still used, but also 2 smaller side fins. This gives the board more stability and beleive it or not does make it faster. But turning with 3 fins is harder than with only 1, as more side to side drag is present.

Why are SUP more fins better than 1? The water runs along the bottom of the board and when cuts through the front of the fin, a vacuum is formed ar the back of the fin, this causes a small vortex of water that in-hand creates drag.

With multiple fins, this still happens with the centre fin, but the side fins direct more water to the center of the board thereby filling the vacuum at the rear of the center fin. This inhand removes or greatly reduces the vortex that created the drag and without the drag, more speed is achieved.

This is the Ideal Number of Fins needed when Whitewater SUP, and Why?

Now we are going into the pro side of the sport, serious balance skills are needed when paddleboarding down a fast-flowing stream with cross currents, eddies and exposed rocks often in shallow water. (A helmet is a must if you want to do this, no matter at what skill level you are.)

How many Fins needed here. None, zero. This is because the fin will just get in the way more times than it would accomplish stability. More often than not, The fin will catch onto rocks or the shallow bottom of the stream.

What is the Ideal Number of Fins Needed when SUP Surfing?

This could be anything from 3, 4 or even 5 in some rare cases. The main thing you want here is stability but with flexibility and manoeuvrability.

Here’s a great little video by SUPBoarder explaining Fins setups

How The Number Of Fins Create a Change

As previously stated, you can hold up to four fins on your board at a time. But how does the number of fins create a drastic change? We’ll go over the benefits that each number can give you so you can decide how many you really need when you go out on your board again.

Keep in mind that your board is going to come with fins that you can swap out. Taking advantage of this could completely redesign how your board turns and gains speed. The smaller the fins are, the better your ability to make tight turns and gain drive. Larger fins give the user the ability to gain a better hold on the waves you’re surfing.

Zero-Fins

This isn’t uncommon. Many paddleboarders claim this is the purest form of paddling. It is often referred to as “Free-Fin” and uses the paddle to steer the board without a fin. In my experience, this makes for a lot of changing paddle from side to side in an attempt to keep going straight.

One-Fin

The one fin setup is considered to be a classic. The one fin setup is always a larger centre fin. It gives you the best of both stability and flexibility to pivot turn. The downside is it also not as stable as a 3 or 4 fin setup or as flexible as a 0 fin setup.

Two-Fin

This style started after the paddle-boards began to grow shorter. It isn’t a very common occurrence, but worth a mention. This is used more for rougher waters, maybe SUP surfing, where you need more flexibility to kick the board around, while still retaining some stability.

Three-Fin

A group of three fins are often known as “Thrusters” and the name is a tell-tale sign of the speed you are able to gain. Many professionals prefer three fins over four, citing the “Thrusters” give you better manoeuvrability than four. There are two smaller fins placed right across each other in the center with the larger fin being placed in the back for a better drive. These are also referred to as 2+1 for the number of fins they have

Four-Fin

You’re a pro-SUP Surfer if you’re happy with the 4 fin setup. 4 fins is way harder to control than other fin setups. This is because the fourth fin can help a user gain a fair amount of drive that will enable them to hold a higher line under the crest of a wave. These are heavily used by professionals since they love the ability to cover more areas with a larger board.

What are Side-Fins?

Side-Fins are important for keeping control of your board in various bodies of water. This means that the board you hit the lake with can be the same one that you take out with you for a ride on the ocean waves. It’s designed to help increase the board’s maneuverability and keep it from feeling loose when you ride it.

They are often referred to as “Side-Bites” seeing how they are much smaller than the typical fin. When you look at them, you will notice that one of them is round while the other seems to be flat. It’s this very setup with the opposing fins that make the board glide like a plane wing smoothly over the waters.

Whenever water hits the rounded fin, it is forced to go a longer distance to reach the back fin than the water around the flat fin does. The forward angle of the fins go hand in hand to give the user a considerable amount of speed.

While turning on the wave, the user will often apply pressure to the inside of the rail that helps the drag slow the board down on that one side. The opposite angle will help with maintaining the speed of the turn.

Do I Need A Middle-Fin if I Have a Side-Fin?

This is where the area that the body of water is in really counts. You would typically want a middle-fin for your board even if you have two side-fins. Why? Because the (larger) Middle-Fin was made for calmer waters. You won’t have the tide bringing in the waves, and the (smaller) side-fins won’t help you develop very much drive on their own.

If you’re surfing, then place that middle fin anywhere between one and two feet away from the front fin if you are using a 2+1. The middle fin will be heavy enough to give you the proper hold while the side-fins help you cut through the water.

The Reason You Need a Fin For Your Board

While we mentioned that paddle-boarding without a fin can be possible, and is encouraged by some users, it won’t be easy to get anywhere without one.

I once hired a paddleboard from a watersports company in a watersports centre in Horsham, that had no centre fin. This was frankly a waste of money as I spent an hour on a beautiful lake paddling in tight circles. In this case, I was the luckier one as my friend was given a windsurfing board without the sail. (rant over)

But my point here is that it is the fin that allows you to stay in a straight-line that is known as a “track”. This means that with every paddle that you make, your board will wiggle around frantically. Especially If you don’t have a centre fin (Thankyou Southwater WaterSports)

Boards without fins are better off in areas with much calmer water. Think areas like lakes and rivers as go-to spots for users that don’t want the waves to mess them up.

How to Install The Fins

Thankfully, you don’t have to worry about buying any tools to put fins on your board. They are easily snapped on, and you can even change the fin placement to experiment with ways to get a better drive. There’s no fuss about it, and all you need is your board and fins.

  • Prepare Your Fin: Make sure that your fin isn’t pushed all the way to the front or pushed to the back. You want a very tight and secure fit to make sure that your fins stay on during tight turns.
  • Secure It: Take your fin and make sure that the knob side is placed in first.
  • Wiggle The Fin: You want to make sure that the knob side is placed snug inside its holder. Give it a few wiggles to make sure that is properly in place.
  • Listen For The Snap: You’ll know when your fin isn’t going anywhere if you hear a loud snap. You may worry that you broke your fin, but it’s only the board making sure it stays in place.

Make sure to consistently change out and swap the fins for the best ride your board can offer!


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Carlo Raffa

Carlo Raffa is a blogger, stand-up paddleboard enthusiast, water lover and local to Brighton city in the South of England. Paddle boarding is my escape and this is only the starting point. Being a larger guy at 260lbs I am finding it very good exercise as well, especially for building core muscles. This is something that believe it or not cycling 16 miles a day at 6 miles per hour doesn't seem to be doing. Paddle Boarding allows me to just grab my board and walk right through the busy bar filled beachfront between the two piers in Brighton and head straight out of shore. It's not long before the shouting and cheering of our buzzing beach fade into just the lapping waves and the people to just small dots of the Brighton shoreline.

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