[splitpost intro='true']

Surfboards have had fins since they didn’t. They had one, then two, then three, then much more recently four. Although still mainly three, as well as one, two, sometimes five, and of course, none. Confused?

"Finless is taking the fucking fins out of a board and spinning around aimlessly." - Derek Hynd

Derek Hynd, Chile, FFFFor FFFFuck's sake. Photo: O'Brien

[part title='0 / NONE']

Surfboards without fins are essentially a compromise between function and fun. You lose the directional stability fins offer (function!), but gain glide in the form of reduced drag (fun!).

But, like, really?

Fins were put on surfboards by Tom Blake in 1935, apparently, one per board. That allowed for stuff like bottom turns, and later, top turns. Lately, it’s not just alaias that offer the open-minded surfer a fin free surfing experience, Derek Hynd has been gliding various points for several seasons now, while asymmetrical ‘Rabbit’s Foot’ type designs are also gaining (ahem) traction.

“I’ve been at war with a lot of people of late over the difference between finless and FFFF. (Far Field Free Friction). Finless is taking the fucking fins out of a board and spinning around aimlessly. What I’m doing is the product of 7 years of edge development. There’s a massive difference." says Derek Hynd, surfing visionary/weirdo.

In terms of novelty, who are we to disagree? But in terms of making life hard on yourself, well, make your own mind up.

Since: Ancient Hawaiians

Who? Fins free surfing is probably for experienced surfers.

If your fave turn is the Tommy Carroll ‘92 Pipemasters snap, fins free probably ain’t for you Where? Better suited to points rather than sectiony beachies or death bombies.

Why? Bored of your own ungainly off the lips? Want more glide? Fins free could be the answer.

[part title='1 / ONE']

Single is a word that means good or bad depending on context and audience.

‘You’re single? I’m single too...’ vs. ‘I’m still single.’

Same for surfboards. They polarise opinion, although certain things are considered acceptable, even by the most conservative modern sceptics. Like, when Mick Fanning ripped his hamstring from the bone, for example, his first comback surfs were at V-Land on a clean single, laying down some beautiful carving speed lines, and everyone was fine with that. Single + pointbreak during formative grom years (a la Curren) is still considered the most wholesome style development for the young apprentice.

But whether or not you feel like embracing the single lifestyle full on, growing your hair, never taking a leash to the beach, eating bean sprouts, and risk getting hated on as a hipster, everyone pretty much agrees that a single fin is an essential addition to your quiver. It’ll help smooth your style out, cut out the wiggles, and give you that sense of flow, joe. You might find a glossy finish and heavier glass on your single gives that bit of added weight, but in a good way. Lacking the drive you’re probably used to on a thruster, a little bit of momentum through mass mightn’t be a bad idea. If you got a box that adjusts, getting the fin forward makes it loose as a goose, while slinging it back will give it a bit more stick. just watch out, if you find yourself doing the Donovan soul arch every single fucking turn, it’s probably time to bust out the quad with four TC Redlines in...

Since: Tom Blake, 1935

Who? From low ranking shred scholar to grandmasters...You don’t have to be a hair farmer, but it seems to help.

Where? Pretty versatile really, from tubes to micro walls to whatevs. Better in steamy glass.

Why? If your surfing doesn’t seem to suit the single, then you’re exactly the sort of person that should get one, and make it.

Also: Leash with singlefin? Hmmm. Some believe they shouldn’t even have the plug.

[part title='2 / TWO']



Dan Malloy, two’s company. Photos: Burkard.

The twin fin came and went in the blink of a late 70’S early 80’S reddened eye.

MR’s twin’s helped him win four consecutive world titles, chiefly by allowing him to widen his tail, and thus gain speed and looseness, with control, and thus get that bit radder. Then twins pretty much went out of fashion about as fast as they came in, mainly down to the performance leap facilitated by Simon Anderson’s 3 finned thruster.

Considered good for slopey soft beachbreaks (or “never" according to C Bradley), twins have been popular in some form since the fish revival of the late 90’s, and more two finned surf craft have proliferated via the more recent ‘Mini Simmons’ renaissance. In fact they’ve kinda been back ‘in’/ acceptable longer than were first time around.

Overall, twins are loose, free and fast as fuck. They are generally considered a weakness backside, where the physical demands of the backside bottom turn often result in spinning out. Exhibits a) b) and c) by Dan Malloy show much variety that can be had off two fins, although it is perhaps important to note all of this variety is forehand.

First seen: Bob Simmons 1947 / MR 1976

Who? Probably not as wholesome a development tool as the single, better for a change of feeling once you already have the basics down. If you are a regularfoot and live at G-Land, or are a goofy and live at J-Bay, probably not you.

Where? Softer, slopey waves, up to 4-5ft, anywhere you want to go fast and have fun, probably forehand.

Why? You know those kinda soft 2ft days when you don’t want to ‘low performance’ wiggle, but can’t be arsed to hump the log up the beach? That’s why.

[part title='3 / THREE']

Frederico Morais revels in the diversity of three fin enabled lines. Photos: Carlos Pinto

Depsite everything, three is still number one. The solution. Despite the recent proliferation of quads in more powerful surf, a myriad of other retrospective options, the three is still the go-to fin set-up for most surfers, on most boards in most conditions.


Sometime in the second week of October, 1980, Simon Anderson added a third fin to a twin, and changed the surfing world with a bit of fibreglass. Wanting more drive and hold than his twin fin could offer in over head surf, the well built then-lad from Narrabeen took a quiver of these thrusters as he called them to Hawaii, then went on the win macking Bells on them the following Easter. The surf world, on this occasion, caught on like lit petrol, although, perhaps not quite as quickly as popular lore has it. The 1982 year-end world ranking read 1. MR (2 fins) 2. Cheyne (1 fin) 3. Tommy Carroll (3 fins) 4. Glen Winton (4 fins). Diversity, anyone?

Thrusters combine a bit of everything; drive, stability manoeuvrability, they kind of go where you’ll think they will, they tend to join the dots better than other set-ups. Singles have looser less reliable arcs, twins can feel like cornering on bald tyres and while quads can tend to project you out onto the shoulder and not allow for as progressive banking turns.

Since: Simon Anderson, 1980

Who? Everyone.

Why? Still the best all round performance set-up going.

When? 1ft to 40ft, onshore/offshore, etc.

Why not? Hard to think of an argument against thrusters, other than having a board that isn’t a thruster makes a nice change from the familiarity of three.

[part title='4 / FOUR']

Have a peep at what most of the ASP Top 34 are riding in events any time the surf is 6ft plus and hollow, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that quads are now the established norm.

With the extra hold, bite and speed, four fins set ups allow for higher lines, powered up pumps and general performance in heaving pits. But while that’s a relatively recent phenomenon, some cats have been beating the quad drum for decades. Take Bruce McKee, an Australian based in Europe for a good part of the 90’s and naughties, who’s project Quattro has now eventually gone from oddball to acceptable. But they’ve been around for as long as thrusters. There’s quite a famous SurferMag cover of Larry Bertleman doing an FS air on a quad... from 1984.

With McKee more or less in a minority of one banging on about quads for years and years, it wasn’t until Nathan Fletcher and Stretch’s refined epoxy four fins came on the scene about 8 years ago and that minds opened up. Suddenly, shorter four fins, possibly in day glo were de rigeur on the North Shore. With claims of high lines, extra speed and grip, one season a brand new saying emerged from recent convertees, upon watching someone go down in an impossible closeout,

“He would’ve made that if he was on a quad."

Quads were Marmite, love em or hate em, nobody was indifferent.

But. Quad critics reckon they don’t turn, tend to want to do extended straight lines rather than tightening arcs, and are stiffer than the established thruster. “I’ve had a few quads lately just because everyone else is riding them, personally I think they are fast but a bit of a nightmare to turn unless you are 11 times World champion" reckons jay Bottle. Despite the difference in opinion, one thing’s for sure, with so many manufacturers putting 5 boxes in most shortboards, these days you’d be hard pressed to find an Average joe that’s never tried one.

Since: Glen Winton/Bruce McKee 1981

Who: Everybody. Sultans of slop to tube tyrants.

Why: Speed plus grip, rad high lines backside.

When: Generally preferred for super small waves or pumping barrels. Not so much when it’s head high perfect for turns.