Surfboard Fin Fun: Height, Base, and Rake

So, as an average surfer who wants to maximize my fun, I wanted to share what I’ve learned over the years about what to look for in a fin. I don’t want to get knee deep into what some big time Pro who surfs perfect point breaks says. I’ve seen those mucky details debated out on lots of forums, and really, I’ve found there are really only a few things for the recreational surfer to consider when looking for a fun surfboard fin, at least from my non-Pro surfer viewpoint.

  • Height (sometimes called Depth)
  • Base
  • Rake
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Choosing a fin shouldn’t be rocket science

Anything past that and the changes will probably not be readily noticeable to an average surfer like me. Sure, Mr. Kelly Slater will be able to tell you how a different cant on his two outer thrusters changed his aerial game at the Huntington Pro long ago. Goody for him, but I’ll never be Kelly. Da truth hurts. Here’s a good link to more in-depth info. Knock yourself out.

Festivus for the rest of us, then….

Height (Depth)

This is essentially how tall the fin is, measured from the bottom of the fin exposed when your fin is in your surfboard (flush) to the point that will be furthest into the water. Do not include the section of fin that goes into the fin box in your measurement.

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7” fin (left) and 9.5” fin (right)

Most longboard fins run from 7″ to 10″ in general. Often, more fin height is recommended as your board size increases, but more height can also create more drag when paddling into waves, especially the weak mushy variety we have here in Florida. In addition, your weight also becomes a consideration- the less you weigh, the less fin you may wish to have in the water. Conversely, if you are large and in charge, you may desire a bigger fin to make effective turns.

I’m a small person (under 5’5″), so I usually ride 7″-9″ single fins on my 9″+ surfboards and SUPs these days. I don’t surf waves over 3′-4′ on my longboards, so these are sufficient.

Base

This is the span of the fin measured across the bottom just above the surface of the surfboard when the fin is mounted in the board.

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Narrower base (left) and wider base (right)

If a fin has a wide base, you can expect to take your time on turns. If a base is skinny, it’ll help you turn quicker, but the trade off may be speed going down the line. In longboarding, once you get the board “locked in” on the wave, going down the line, the force of the breaking wave will be pushing against the back of the board and the broad side of the fin. With a wide base fin, there’s more area to push, increasing board speed- not so much with a skinny base. That doesn’t help much when you’re trying to get to the nose of the board for a hot second (when I do it, there’s NEVER a witness around, boo).

Rake

This is the sweep of the fin’s base to the tip of the fin.

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More rake (left) and less rake (right)

Rake is probably the most debated of these basic features, and where a lot of innovation has happened. The early surfboard fins resembled true boat rudders- straight up and down, or hardly any rake. This stabilized the boards quite well. But later on, George Greenough was the innovator of the heavily raked fin of the 1970’s, that opened the door to carving and cutback styles that we see today.

Essentially, minimal rake gives extra stability when cross stepping, nose riding, or hot dogging (doing tricks). Heavier rake increases turning ability as well as increases speed from turns, since the fin tends to become more flexible with more rake, creating a whip motion off the fin out of turns as it flexes back into place. This also requires a wave that that has enough push to make a turn that would accomplish that.

Mmm yeah, when I read that again too, this is what I thought…..

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Oh, that Alan!

***

Take just these three characteristics, vary them, and now you have endless combinations to play with. However, some fin shapes (templates) seem to have a fan club, and are prevalent in many surf shops. And my little collection.

In the next post, I’ll share some details about some of my current fins and the types, and the boards I usually ride them with. There are also ones I had to let go from my collection like Princess Elsa and her issues. Yikes.

If you’re wanting an opinion about the best fins for Tahitian barrels, you’re in da wrong place.

But if you can appreciate this surf maneuver as much as I do (surfer or not) you’re in da CraftySurf Zone….

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This is the type of surfing I want to achieve, yo

4 thoughts on “Surfboard Fin Fun: Height, Base, and Rake

    1. Oh no!! You just HAD to bring up side bites!!! 😂 Side bites are great when you have peeling waves with push (like Cali waves!), but I’ve dropped them for Florida longboarding. I find they are overkill for most conditions we have here.
      They have allowed longboards to turn and cutback more like shorter boards, though. The progressive longboarding I’ve watched is amazing, especially on breaks in Central America.

      Liked by 1 person

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