Change Your Fin, Change Your Life! (well, not really)

Changing out fins on a surfboard can give a new feel to a board sometimes. Or sometimes, like around here in Cocoa Beach, it’s necessary to switch to a smaller fin so you don’t run aground surfing the microripples in the Summer.
I recently had to switch out a set of thrusters on a board with some new kookproof “Nerf” fins, and it was a real pain. So I decided to gather up some of the tools I found made it easier to get the other fins out, and some tools I’ve used in the past.
For this more recent example, I switched out a single fin on my longboard.

The fin I want to change out

The first tool I use for this job to remove the holding screw is a double ended pocket screwdrivers in my board repair box forever. I got it free at one of those convention/trade show booths, along with a few mugs and pens, so the next time you stay at a hotel, check to see if there’s an engineering convention going on and see if you can score one- along with a huge chocolate chip cookie. These little double ended screwdrivers are great to have since you don’t need a full sized one on the screw, and some screws may have a flat head or a philips head, and this has both. Of course, for thruster, quad, side bites, etc. fin setup, keep a small fin key around, which is essentially a tiny allen wrench for those type of screws.

Pocket double ended screwdriver (even the drivers come out and flip around to smaller size, so it’s like 4 in 1.)

Next, if you have trouble pulling out the fin or getting a grip on it, I use one of those cheap thin plastic textured grippy jar openers. What also works is using the textured rubberized part of a surf vest or wetsuit.

A rubber jar opener disc (in red), and my rubberized front neoprene vest, both can be used for grip
Now, if the fin’s giving you a lot of trouble, I’ll break out my little rubber mallet. This type of mallet can be found in a craft store or craft area, usually by the stuff to make metal jewelry, and it’s less than five bucks.
Mini rubber mallet for jewelry
I like using this type of mallet on fins because it’s not as ferocious as a full rubber mallet, so you’ll be less likely to damage the fin. I’ll lightly give the front edge or back edge gentle taps to release the fin from the box, using the rubber grip disc as a helper.
Using the mallet and the jar opener as a grip to pull the fin out

Once the fin is out, it’s time for the new one to go in. This fin went into the box fairly easily, but the thruster set I had to put in the other day did not (even with lubricant) so I took an additional step and lightly used some 120 grit sandpaper and sanded INSIDE the fin box on the board- not the fin. I did this after looking at how the fin box (what holds the fin to the board) was glassed into the board. Since it was glassed a bit too squeezed-in the middle- I did this option. I know, I know, but I had no other option.
The next step I did for the thruster set and this fin was to use the mini mallet again to tap the fin down LIGHTLY into the box. This is another bonus of the mini mallet- it’s no wider than most fin boxes, so I can tap the fin base into the board on the glassed part reinforced by the box without freaking out.

Using the mallet to lightly tap in the fin, if necessary.

Yes, I’d rather not have to hit my board, even with a tiny rubber mallet, but if the box is glassed in a bit weird, well, I kinda need to get the fin in there somehow. The downside is, with a single fin, this may bounce the nut laying in the fin box around a bit from where you set it, so you may want to use a pipe cleaner to fish it back into place so you can make sure it’s lined up with the screw when you get ready to put the screw back in place. But it works well on thruster or side bites, no problem.
Here’s the new fin installed:

New fin installed
The helper tools I used when changing fins

I think I’ll be less apprehensive about changing out fins in the future. Well, I hope I don’t have to add a power grinder to the tool list. Did I mention I’m not very patient?

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