Essentially a surfboard fin is a hydrofoil that is mounted underneath a surfboard near its tail. The purpose of having a surfboard fin is to enable surfers to steer their surfboards. Surf fins are placed in an almost perpendicular angle to the bottom of the board and are designed to help surfers steer their surfboards. This is achieved by providing lateral lift opposed to the oncoming water as the surfer rides along the face of a wave.
Most fins have a curved appearance but come in a variety of different sizes, shapes and flexibility types. There are two main types of surfboard fins that you will come across in the surf world today. These are glass on surfboard fins and removable surfboard fins.
Glass On Surfboard Fins
Glass on surfboard fins are permanently fixed to the board with fiberglass and resin and are the kinds of surf fins commonly found on retro twin boards and some thrusters. These fins are the preferred choice of some top surfers because this type enhances their surfing by making the surfboard and fins feel more integrated.
There are many benefits of glass on fins. One of them is the greater strength that they offer. Since these are laminated on to the board, the entire base of the fin is securely attached to the surfboard as well as the body and tip providing more structural strength. Glass on fins also have a better flex and drive pattern as compared to removable fins.
However glass on fins have a few disadvantages. The first disadvantage is that they are highly susceptible to damage and if they break they are hard to repair. These surf fins also take up a lot of space while traveling as opposed to a board with removable fins further increasing the risk of damage. Generally surfboards with glass on fins are not easy to take on a surf trip for this reason, especially if more than one surfboard is being packed together in a surfboard bag. Travelling with surfboards with these fins can therefore be very inconvenient and requires additional padding to avoid damage. A performance limitation to this type of surf fins is the fact that you cannot change them in the situation where the wave conditions require a different set up.
Removable Surfboard Fins
The other type of surfboard fins is the removable surf fins. These fins have been around since 1954, however it was not until the early 1990′s that new removable fins emerged following the popularity of the thruster surfboard design. Some of the early removable surf fins were FCS, Future, Lok Box, Red X and O’Fish’l with the most popular being FCS. The development of the Fin Control System (FCS) allowed for greater versatility in terms of the design and placement of fins.
Removable surfboard fins are easy to use and to travel with as they are equipped with a tiny tool known as a key that allows you to unscrew and remove them from your surfboard. These fins also have an additional edge over glass on fins because they can be manufactured with computers into precisely molded shapes from a wide variety of material. It is also possible to find very light removable fins based on the materials they are made from including ultra light epoxy and carbon composite. The best thing about removable surfboard fins is that if you hit them against the reef or sand while surfing they will simply snap out of the bottom of the board without damaging your surfboard.
Like glass on fins, removable surf fins have their fair share of cons. Firstly they are vulnerable to falling out or snapping off at the base if the surfer fails to ensure they are securely attached to the plug or box. The FCS fins have been known to be a victim to this. In addition, since there is no universal system, finding a replacement surfboard fin that will work with the base connection of your surfboard can be an issue if you snap one while on a remote surf trip. With most removable systems, screws are used to hold the fins in place. These screws can rust or strip over time and replacement is extremely difficult, often require a complete replacement of the plug or box. Future surf fins are also know to provide less strength where the fin box is attached to the base of the surfboard resulting in cracking or fail over time.
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