Surf Science: Adjustable Fin Setups

Adjustable Fin Setups
If you’re still scared of going quad, there’s a solution.

Words: Casey Koteen
Photo: Taras

If you’ve read an article on surfboards in the last year, chances are it had something to do with the ubiquitous trend toward quad fin setups. You’ve seen Slater riding them, and perhaps you saw C.J. Hobgood win the Body Glove WQS at Lowers on one (if not, check out the Currents on it earlier in this month’s issue). It seems like everyone and their mother-in-law is talking up how great they are. But maybe you’re still not convinced and you’re scared to make the jump—or just think it’s all hype. Well, you can stop wondering now, because there’s a clever solution that’s gaining traction. More and more people are putting five fin slots in their boards. The idea is that instead of only having three or four fin plugs for a single fin orientation, like a quad or a thruster, you get the option to interchange between both of those fin configurations on one board.

“About 80 percent of the boxes I’ve sold in the last year have been four and five box configurations, with the five boxes increasing rapidly” says Larry Allison of ProBox Fin Systems, who’s coined his adjustable fin system the Versa-Plane.

Perhaps the biggest advantage of having multiple fin setups at your fingertips is that it creates the ability to adjust for different wave conditions. “A thruster pivots around the back fin—square, snappy turns are what they do best,” says Tyler Callaway of FCS. “A quad setup doesn’t pivot as well, but without the middle fin it’s easier to generate speed, especially on flatter waves, and it transfers speed through transitions better. Having either of those separate performance options available in one board just by swapping out the fins adds a lot of adaptability for different conditions.”

So if you show up to the beach with your board and it’s hollow and fast, plug in three fins for a thruster. If it’s mushy and mellow, go quad. Of course, these are basic suggestions; you might find you love the speed of the quad setup when it’s bowling or the snappiness of a thruster when it’s mushy. So you just have to experiment and find out where each setup works best for you.

Some might wonder, “Shouldn’t a quad be wider and thicker than my normal shortboard?” That’s been conventional wisdom, but it’s being challenged. The adjustable fin setups are showing that the same board outline for both quad and thruster setups are able to work well. And while getting a board originally made for five plugs is ideal, you can also have an existing board “retro fitted.” It may take a bit of research, but your local glasser or ding-repair expert should be able to make it happen.

Another thing to consider when going this route is that there are a handful of fin companies that have their own recommendations for setups for each configuration (like adjusting the cant, which is the vertical angle of the fin, or what size and type of fins work best). The best thing to do is to check their Web sites for more detailed information on each brand’s offerings and recommendations. “It’s like a Swiss Army knife surfboard which not only allows you to change the fin setups, but also completely changes the board into a true multi-task surfboard. It can be a tri, quad, twin, twinzer, and so on,” says Allison.

It’s all still in flux with shapers and surfers continually making new strides, and at the end of the day experimenting with your board and getting to know it better will only improve your surfing. So get out there and give a quad a shot … or a thruster.

Originally published in August, 2007 Issue of Transworld SURF.

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