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There are many surfing fin designs available for modern surf boards. What are the criteria for selecting:

  1. Tri-fin
  2. Bi-fin
  3. Mono-fin
  4. No fins

And why would I want to have larger or smaller surfing fins in any of these categories?

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2 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Let's start with the easy one first:

  • No fins - this really only works with a long board, as the board's length gives it the stability a fin would normally give you. You aren't going to be able to tackle short, steep waves like this.

  • 1 fin - gives lift when surfing, as the water in the face of the wave is rising. Otherwise you slip down the face of the wave.

  • 2 fins - less drag, and easier turns

  • 3 fins - a combination of 1 and 2, giving good lift, but also control when carving sharply

Bigger fins are more difficult to turn, so using more smaller fins tends to work better on short fast boards on steep waves, or when you want to carve a lot.

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I'm sure there is lots of useful info out there but I recently watched this short film on Korduroy tv on fin design that I found very informative. The film discusses the notion that changing your fin setup can significantly change the way your board performs e.g. a fin that is more vertical with more surface area than one that is swept-back will pivot more than the swept-back fin which push the board down the line.

A thruster (3-fin setup) will anchor the tail down so that you feel the drive more than other fin setups. It also allows the surfer to work the fins from side-to-side to generate speed ('speed-pumps'). Quad fin will allow the surfer to get the board on the rail very easily whereas a five-fin setup can enhance the drive of the board. The example in the film shows a five-fin setup where the fifth fin (the one in the middle close to the tail) is a keel fin i.e. a very small one.

The following quote from Tom Curren in issue 92 of The Surfer's Path gives a good overview of twin fins vs single fins.

"...the performances (of twin fins) ... there was no comparison with single fins. For more performance surfing, twin fins were definitely a lot faster. The problem is that they just didn't work as good backside, and that was always the problem."

For some great examples of single fin surfing check out any videos you can find of Terry Fitzgerald or more recently his sons Joel and Kye here.

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Links sometimes die and videos disappear. Paraphrase some of the main points from the film and you'll probably get more up-votes. –  MaskedPlant Sep 6 '12 at 15:13
    
Good point @MaskedPlant. I've edited the answer to include more info. –  ssbrewster Sep 6 '12 at 19:04
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