Paddle Board Fins – Your Essential Need To Knows
Somewhat akin to surf boards, fins are a critical component to all paddle boards. Without a fin(s) your board will just spin around in circles. The fins are what enables your board to move forward in a relatively straight line, or “track”. They are there to keep the board from slipping sideways whilst you are paddling.
There are many fin considerations that are worth taking on board when it comes to making the most out of your paddle boarding experience. Below we’ll walk through some of the most important factors that come into play when designing or choosing the right fin for you.
Manoeuvring – the fin selection impacts on how the board moves through the water. As a general rule of thumb, the more stable the board is in the water then the less ability you will have to manoeuvre it. For beginners, stability is likely to be of greater importance than manoeuvrability albeit one can come at the cost of the other.
Stability – in line with the above comment, the greater the stability the board has then the less manoeuvrable it will be. A board is more stable if it has larger or a greater number of fins. This of course will create more drag in the water so will compromise the boards speed. Beginners would typically be better suited with a board that has larger fins as it will enable them to find the right balance. If you’re looking for a more fluid or faster ride, then smaller well positions fins would make for a better choice.
Standing – clearly important given the whole ‘stand-up’ nature of the board. One of the fins key functions is therefore to enable to SUP paddler to stand without the board spinning out of control.
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So now we understand the purposes and need for board fins, lets take a look at the various elements that make up their design. Each of these elements comes into play in terms of your boards performance so should be considered depending on the style of paddling and your overall experience.
Rake – this is the degree of angle which the fin curves away from the base of the fin. Think of the arc on a dolphins fin when it glides or manoeuvres through the water. The rake impacts the ability of the board to cut through the water. The more upright the fin, the more drag that is created and hence the less pivot or manoeuvrable the board will be.
Tip – this is the end that is the furtherest away from the base of your board. The tip can also impact the direction (tracking) and speed of your board.
Height – refers to the distance the fin is from top to bottom. On its own it may not seem overly important but when taken into consideration with both the overall width of the fin at its base, it is important in determining how stable the board will be.
Area – measured by multiplying the height and width of the fin. The larger the overall area the better the board will track. The greater the area the more stability which is however traded off with slower speed and manoeuvrability.
Base – is the section of the fin that is closet to the actual board. It is typically the widest and thicket portion of the fin. It also plays an important factor in determining how the board will track – wider base equals straighter track. As we are seeing, the larger or wider each of these elements are then the greater impact they will (or will not) have on stability, manoeuvrability and speed.
Flex – refers to the thickness or stiffness of the fin. Thicker more robust fins provide for greater stability but are not too easy to turn. More flexible fins make manoeuvring easier as they are more fluid through the water. Flexible fins will also help any debris (weeds / garbage etc.) become free from your board if you are paddling in more congested waters.
Drag – impacts the aerodynamics of your board and in part determines the force that will impact your boards speed. The larger and thicker any of the components that make up the fin are then the more force and greater drag the board will have as it moves through the water. Thinner and smaller by converse will create less drag so more speed and manoeuvrability.
Cant – is the angle of the fin where it attaches to your board (side-to-side angle). The centre fin for instance will have no cant as its main purpose is for stability and track. Smaller side fins may have cant (an angle) which makes for more responsiveness and less drag as they move through the water.
Leading Edge – is the front part of the fin that first comes into contact with the water. It impacts how the board pivots and turns in the water. The angle of the leading edge is referred to as the rake (see above).
Trailing Edge – this is the opposite side of the leading edge so the back of the fin. This edge comes into play as it releases the water which impacts your boards speed – sharper edge for instance equals a quicker and cleaner release of water which creates greater speed.
Weight – to be taken into consideration when combining all of the other factors. The overall size of the fin will impact its weight but the materials that are used in its construction have a greater bearing. Lighter material such as carbon fibre (also the most expensive) will create less weight whereas fibreglass being heavier will both weigh more and create more drag all things being equal.
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So we’ve covered off the various components or elements that make up the fin and how they impact the board and its performance. So how many of them do we need?
Single (Centre Fin) – this is the simplest set-up which provides the best results in terms of tracking or doing flat water paddling. It does of course impact the stability of the board so the paddlers experience does come into play. With no other fins impacting your drag, single fin boards are typically able to achieve greater speeds.
Centre Fin Positioning
Forward – the further forward the fin is the easier it is to turn so its ideal for quick manoeuvring or turning in tight conditions or in rougher waters.
Back – if the fin is at the very back of the fin box the board will track better and will not move as much from side to side. The board will also be more stable although it will require a little more energy through turns.
Centre – offers the best of both worlds so is more balanced. The tracking should be fairly good with neutral stability.
Twin – is where you remove the centre fin altogether and simply rely on the two side fins or ‘side bites’. Without the centre fin the board will move around a lot more and can sometimes be a better option if you are in shallow waters where the centre fin may catch on rocks etc. This configuration is not commonplace for SUPs.
2 + 1 – this is the most common configuration on SUPs – the larger centre fin with two smaller equally sized side bites either side and forward of the centre fin. This is the best configuration for boarders that are not that experienced as it offers a greater level of stability albeit there is an increased level of drag so less speed when compared to the single fin set-up.
4 + 1 – not as common but another configuration worth considering if your an experienced or advanced paddler. The configuration offers a nice balance between speed, manoeuvrability and stability. As the centre fin is typically smaller, there is less drag although with the 4 side fins you still enjoy an increased level of control. It makes for a more difficult ride though so is suited to those looking for a challenging ride in rougher waters or surf conditions.
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So Where To Now?
So we now know what fins are, why we need them and how they’re designed but what does it all mean? Well if you are new to the sport you may think not very much but as you can see, there are a bunch of fin considerations for paddlers of all levels.
If your budget allows for it then perhaps experiment to see what best works for you. Your level of experience and the style of paddling that you are looking to do will be a factor and there are many variables that make up and impact your fin configuration so playing around with any of these will create a different outcome.
If you’re a beginner or simply looking to do weekend flat water paddling, then sticking with the tried and tested standard 3 fin configuration will likely make the most sense. Perhaps play around with the centre fin positioning (and size) to work out what best suits. If you can afford to have a number of fins then you can also adjust the configuration and size to suit different styles of paddling – surf vs. flat water perhaps.
Ultimately the different configurations, materials, sizes and designs all impact your boards performance and your overall boarding experience. There will of course be a mix that best suits your needs and style so as long as your out on the water and enjoying it I’m sure life could get worse.
Hopefully you found the above informative but as always if you would like to leave any comments or feedback then we would be more than happy to get back to you.
Stay safe and get wet….