Fins have evolved tremendously since the early 1900s, when Hawaiian surfers simply dragged their back foot to turn. Fast-forward to the modern era and today's surfer is left with almost too many choices when it comes to picking fins and fin systems. Below, I've broken down the different fin setups that are at your disposal today. And in the same fashion that I broke down different boards in my previous post, I'm a firm believer that experimenting with your equipment isn't only fun, but it'll make you a better surfer. In the end, it's all about finding the equipment that works best for you and allows you to have the most fun. I've seen huge guys that love small plastic fins and tiny guys who love stiff carbon-fiber quad-set ups. You'll never know what's right for you unless you try something new.
THRUSTER: It’s been the standard fin setup since Simon Anderson first introduced it to the surfing masses in the early 1980s. It's revolutionized performance surfing and is by far and away the easiest model to learn on. It's a very user-friendly set up, very responsive, and it's what everything else is measured against. If you've been riding a thruster your whole life, you'll instantly feel the difference if you ride anything else. The only variables are finding your very own magic tri-fin set up, which takes time and experimentation.
QUAD: Nathan Fletcher, Danny Fuller, and a few other pros started really pushing the envelope in surfing around 10 years ago on four fins. They were sticking impossible drops and gaining astronomical amounts of speed on these setups. This caught the world's eye and, lo and behold, they're now a part of every top pro's and avid surfer's quiver. The beauty of the four fin lies in its ability to hold the face/curve of the wave without sliding. Essentially it allows you to drop in later, while still being able to project yourself down the line and clear sections. For me, someone with smaller arms and limited paddling power, this has proven to be a game changer. As far as the types of wave you'd want to ride a quad in, I think they work best in down-the-line setups. They allow you more drive and can make the difference between being swallowed by the foam ball or coming out of the barrel of your life. On the flipside, the drawback is that they're not as loose. However, you can still draw some great and unique lines. Long story short, a quad should be a staple in your quiver.
SINGLE AND TWIN: On a personal note, I used to think these setups were relatively worthless and were for either gurus or surfers overly concerned with making a style statement. However, I've really opened up my mind to single fins/twins lately. They force you to slow down your movements and put you in rhythm with the ocean. Additionally, riding a single fin or a twin-fin can improve your all-around surfing ability by forcing you to focus more on moving with the wave itself. Plus, riding one for a while is a great way to help you iron out the kinks in your style. —JMJ
Read more about modern hydrodynamic technology. Y’now, fins.