The function of fins is to help stabilize you on the SUP from a left and right wobble. This allows better tracking going forward in a straight line. It is best to only use the larger fin for Stand up paddleboarding on calm water as the side fins will just cause drag and slow you down.
It can be confusing to understand why paddleboards need fins, when some have only one fin and others could have up to have 4. I remember, my first paddleboard came with 3 fins, and it took me a while to understood where I may want to use all 3 instead of just one.
What do Paddle Board Fins really Do?
This is a good question, and also gives us an excellent opportunity to answer what the different fin steups do too. Some paddleboards just have one slot for 1 centre fin. But you can get paddleboards with 3 or even 5 slots. Here are these setups and what are they good for.
+1 Single fin Set up
This is one only big, fin and is the best setup when on calmer waters. A single central fin gives you the best combination of stability and speed.
Having the fin more forward in the fin slot gives you better steering ability, and pushing the fin to the back of the slot is better when touring and on the straights.
2+1 (x2 Thruster Fins +1 center fin)
This is a good newbie Fin setup as it is more stable than just the 1 central fin, but now has added stability and is added on choppier waters. These side fines come at a cost, this being more friction and so a miner lost in motion.
This 4 fin setup is really moving more towards the surfing style of stand up paddleboarding. Its still SUP but this time favoring speed and stability. This quad fin setup gives a freer movement on the paddleboard great for riding with waves
Do paddle boards need fins?
The short answer is yes, though you could technically stand up on a board without fins. Moving in a straight line would be a challenging task. That’s why it’s essential to understand what fins do and how they do it.
Put simply, fins prevent the tail of the board from sliding side to side as your paddle stroke puts pressure in a diagonal direction to the direction you want your board to go. The way this works is the fin sides create resistance to the push caused by force created by the paddling, allowing the board to track and remain stable while travelling, even in choppy water and swell.
This is only a general description of the function of fins, the main reason why you want fins on your paddleboard, but they come in many different shapes and sizes, which begs the following question:
Why are there differently shaped paddleboard fins?
At first glance, you may think that the existence of different types of fins is more of an aesthetic choice, but there is a lot more to consider when choosing the right one for your board.
We already established that fins allow your board to track and remain stable, but they also allow for more or less speed, manoeuvrability, and even cutting or untangling seagrass, depending on their shape, size, and weight.
Let talk now about the different elements that make up the overall design of a fine and determines its best use.
The base of the fin is where it connects with the board. It is the fullest part of the fin, and its job is to stabilize the board and help with tracking.
The tip, meaning the other end of the fin, affects tracking and speed, depending on how far it is from the base.
The front of the fin is known as the leading edge. It’s the part that hits the water first and its angle is named rake or sweep. It changes how the board turns.
On the back of the fin, we find the trailing edge, which helps to release more or less water, and affects the speed.
These are the parts you will find on every fin, but they’re not all the same. Different features change how a fin behaves under your board. These 3 elements are:
The flex, which is the stiffness of the fin and affects the handling. A stiffer fin will give you more stability but will make it harder to turn, whereas a more flexible one will be more responsive.
The cant. This is the angle of the fin in relation to the bottom of the board. This relates to speed and manoeuvrability. A fin with no cant sticks straight up and allows you to go faster, while canted fins lean toward the outer rails of the board and make it easier to take turns.
The area, of the fin, which affects the drag, which is created by friction and slows your board down. The bigger the area, the more drag it creates.
The types of SUP fins are just different combinations of all these characteristics to customize your experience on the board according to your needs and style.
Having to choose the right fin for you might seem daunting at first, but most SUPs have removable fins, which means you can try different setups to find the one that’s right for you.
What’s the best SUP fin for a newbie?
If you’re new to paddleboarding you may want to go for stability more than speed, since you’ll be learning how to maintain your balance on the board and not really racing at first.
Consider a longer, straighter fin with a large surface area that creates more drag, which will help you in your practice by counteracting the decreased stability of a moving SUP.
Then again, maybe you’re a fast learner or a daredevil that likes to try everything from the get-go. If that’s the case feel free to experiment with different shapes, materials, and sizes.
Of course, you may also want to consider price as the primary condition for choosing, since the odds are you’ll end up trying more than one setup before you find that perfect fit. And even then there will be situations for which different fins work better than others.
There are many brands with lots of options from which you can choose. The thing is that you allow yourself to experiment and find the fin that feels the most comfortable for you.
Whatever your choice remember that there’s always a tradeoff between speed and stability.
What’s the best SUP Fin / Fins for Speed?
In general, to go fast you will want to reduce the surface area of your fin since this will create less drag than bigger fins.
A smaller fin with no cant will allow for higher speeds but will reduce your stability, so this is not usually recommended for people who are learning the ropes of paddleboarding.
Fins with a highly raked leading edge and most of their surface area packed near to the board are best at minimizing drag and increasing speed.
This type of fin also allows for better tracking in flat water, which means turning around will not be as accessible or responsive as with other fins, but a more experienced paddler with a refined stroke technique can compensate and capitalize the added speed.
What’s the best SUP fin for stability?
If what you’re looking for is a fin that helps to keep your board stable, you’ll be looking for one with a broad base and long leading edge.
The added surface area of the fin will reduce the sliding of the board sideways and make it more predictable in most water conditions.
However, as the bigger fins don’t cut through the water as quickly as smaller ones do, the board can feel sluggish. Although that may not be a concern if you’re focused on going in a straight line.
The best fin will be a long, wide one with a large rake to make the board more stable while moving. Sure, it will not be as responsive as a smaller fin but it will require less focus on the paddler’s technique to remain on the board.
Regardless of what you’re aiming for, remember the fin should work for you and you need to find the one that best suits your needs. Think that a smaller fin may not be a good fit for a paddler with a firm stroke because it wouldn’t put up enough resistance and would allow the board to slide sideways.
On the other hand, a larger fin may not be best for a more timid paddler who would have trouble turning and manoeuvring because their stroke is not strong enough.
You also need to consider the conditions of the water, which may change drastically from one day to the next, even if you’re paddling in the same area.
That’s why you may want to own multiple fins for different situations or go for one type of fin that works well enough in a couple of scenarios without being really optimal.
Whatever your choice, the goal is for you to enjoy yourself, so feel free to experiment as much as you need.
Paddle Boarding, 1 or 4 fins? Which is best?
A single center fin is best if you’re on n flat water, but if you want to more surf, having only the 4 side fins is best to grip the waves. The best option for choppy water would be to have the 2+1 system. One middle fin with 2 side fins. Check out our full post on deciding on the correct number of fins.
Best Paddle Board Fin for Yoga?
The best fin for paddle board yoga would be a big fin that gives you the most stability possible, one with a large surface area, long base, and long leading edge. Read our post at that link.
Best Fin for Paddle Board Fishing?
The best fin for fishing paddle boards would also be a big fin that gives you the most stability possible, one with the largest surface area possible, and a long base. We cover on fishing at the referenced link.
Can You Paddle Board without a Fin?
Technically yes, but without the controlled direction that the friction of a fin gives you, it would be an unpleasant and pointless task. Each paddle stroke will have to incorporate steering in it to a much higher degree.
The number and size of paddle board fins greatly affect the handling and stability of the board. You want to match the fins to your specific use to maximize paddle board performance. The good news is that many boards allow different sized and numbers of fins. So learn about the best setup for each of you uses, and modify as needed before you head out for the day. Be safe and have fun.