Stand Up Paddle Board Fin Placement Tips

If you are interested in checking out your fin options for your new SUP, then you will notice that you have some variety to choose from when it comes to SUP fin types. They differ in style, size and shape.

And the placement of fins on your stand up paddle board is the #1 factor for how your board handles out there on the water.

Choosing the best stand up paddle board fin for your board will depend on the water conditions that you normally ride in and what style of paddle boarding you are most interested in doing with the board. To help you out, you can check out the different types of fins for your SUP as well as the placement tips for the best results out of those fin types.

What You Should Know About SUP Fins

One thing that you will notice about paddle board fins is that most SUPs these days have a center fin that is adjustable. The way that the adjustable center fin works is that you loosen the screw in the fin box and then you can slide the fin back and forth in the boards fin box.

This adjustable center fin can be part of a large single fin setup or as part of a 3-fin setup with side fins as well.

The Large Single Fin SUP Setup

When you are on your board, do you want to stick with a straight line while paddling and really reduce any side-to-side instability? If so, a large single fin is a good choice for your SUP. Normally, this type of fin is between 8-10 inches in size. To get this result, just position the large SUP fin towards the tail of the board.

This type of fin is secured to the board by placing in a finbox and then securing it with a nut and screw.  The cool thing about the fin box is that it has has a channel for the fin where you can easily slide back and forth.

With the tail positioning mentioned above, you are all set for touring, racing or flat water paddling because the fin position makes the board track better.

Forward Fin Positioning

For something different, slide that fin forward and position it at the nose of the board. This makes the board easier to turn, which is perfect for whitewater conditions and surfing. This is also great for agility on the board and maneuvering in tight corners (like in a crowded river where others are paddling).

Back Fin Positioning

Alternatively, you can slide the fin all the way in the box to get straighter tracking and reduce the side to side wandering. This means you get more stability, but it also means that you need to exert more effort to make those turns. This type of single-fin placement is ideal for longer paddles, such as group tours, cause you won’t have to switch paddling sides as often.

Center Fin Positioning

Or, you can position that single fin directly in the center of the fin box to get the best of both worlds. Tracking will be pretty good and the stability will be pretty neutral so handling will be decent. This is probably the fin position you’d want if you’re using for SUP for doing yoga.

As you shop, you will notice that some of these large fins feature leading edges that are sharper or serrated, which are designed to cut their way through weeds and kelp. Depending on where you do your paddle boarding, this could be a great feature for you.

The 3-Fin or 2-Fin SUP Setup

Though first designed for surfing on a SUP, the 3-fin setup is also good for tracking on flat water. If you want to try the 3-fin setup, this is called “a thruster.” Normally, this type of fin setup features a 6-8 inch long center fin flanked by two smaller side fins.

You can convert the thruster setup to a 2-fin setup just by removing the center fin. This leaves you with the two side fins, or “side bites.” This setup also works for surfing and tracking on flat water.

Most SUP surfers prefer the 2-fin setup because it lets you be more aggressive with carving while surfing.

Inflatable SUP Fins

With an inflatable stand up paddle board, you often seen a 3-fin or 2-fin setup. Normally, the fins on an inflatable SUP are made of flexible rubber. In some instances, the inflatable stand up paddle board will have detachable semi-rigid fins that you can leave on or remove at any time.

Race SUP Fins

If you do some competitive standup paddleboarding, then you might want to look into adding some racing SUP fins to your board. Race fins come in several different styles, so you will need to decide which one will work best for you.

You can go with a shape similar to the traditional surfboard flex fin, or you could opt for a board fin with a more rigid shape. Each has its advantages and disadvantages.

The more rigid and stiff race fins are good if you have a longer board and you want something to help the SUP track easier in a rolling swell or large wind waves. The not so great thing about this style is that if you hit a rock or log with the fin, then you will definitely lose your footing and hit the water face-first.

The more flexible race fins do not offer the downwind performance benefits of the stiff ones, but you do not have to worry about face-planting if you hit a log or rock.

Stand Up Paddle Board Fin Glossary

As you start looking more into your SUP fin options, you may come across some terminology that you’re not familiar with. So, let us clear up some of that confusion by explaining some of the more common terms you’ll encounter.

  • Cant: This term is used to refer to the angle of the fin as it related to the bottom of the board. For example, a fin that is straight up, or at a 90-degree angle from the board’s bottom, has zero cant. A fin with no cant is better for speed than a fin with cant. If you want a fin that is ultra responsive to turns, then you need canted fins that angle toward the board’s outer rails.
  • Drag: This term refers to a decrease in speed that slows you down. Friction is what causes drag, and the larger your fin then the bigger the drag (and speed decrease) that you experience on the board.
  • Flex: This term refers to how stiff the fin is, which has a direct effect on how the board handles in the water. If the fin doesn’t have good flex in the water, then it is a stiffer fin. Stiffer fins do have good stability, but the lack of flex means that turning it difficult in the water. Fins that aren’t as stiff and have good flex are easier to maneuver in the water, but they do sacrifice a little stability for the rider.

More SUP Fin Placement Tips

If you need a little help to visualize how to go about installing a fin in your SUP, check out the video below.

Video: Installing the center fin and side fins on your stand up paddleboard.

If you are using a single fin on your board, know that optimal placement really varies by board and rider. For paddle boarders who are new to using a fin, the most common thing to do is to place that single fin in the center of the box.

Now, get on the board for a few sessions and see how that fin placement feels. Every so often adjust the fin placement by a quarter to half inch to see how your performance in the water changes. As you do this, you will easily get a feel for the best fin placement for your riding needs.

Also keep in mind that adding the side bites to a single fin, which converts it to a 3-fin setup, gives you improved performance and control. For this type of SUP fin configuration the best place to start out your fin placement is with the leading edge of the center fin aligned with the trailing tips of the side bites, and move the center fin in 1/4″ increments until you find the sweet spot.

Know that the best stand up paddle boards come configured with a removable fin configuration that gives you the flexibility to install paddle board fins specific to your use, which can change from day to day. And if you’re still looking for the best SUP for your needs, check out our guide to choosing a stand up paddle board for beginners.

How To Install Fins On Your SUP

If you’ve just gotten your stand up paddle board and your fins, then you might be wondering what the heck you do now. Don’t worry, we’ll walk you through the basics of getting those fins installed on your SUP.

Here’s what you need for SUP fin installation:

  • Fin
  • Screw
  • Screwdriver
  • Square Washer

Now that you have everything that you need, let’s get that fin (or fins) on the board so you can hit the water.

Steps to installing fins on your paddle board:

  1. Flip your board over so that you’ve got the bottom of it facing upward. You should see the fin box clearly visible on the bottom of the SUP.
  2. Insert the square washer into the track in the fin box.
  3. Slide the fin base into the track and get it in your desired location. There is a little metal peg piece on that fin base that should slide right into that washer so that you can securely attach it by lining up the two holes. (Note: if it’s a tight fit, then you can use a rubber mallet.)
  4. Use the screw to attach the washer and the fin once you have those two holes lined up. You should be using your hand for this part.
  5. Once it feels tight, then grab your screwdriver and give it just a couple more turns – be careful to not over-tighten it, but make sure it is securely attached to the board.

Pau Hana has a pretty good video on this subject, if you want to see the fin attachment in action.


top image credit

Shawna Newman

Shawna currently lives in Las Vegas where she gets in lots of great hiking at Red Rock Canyon and Valley of Fire State Park. When she has time, she visits National Parks in a quest to visit each one in the U.S. Shawna’s favorite outdoors activity is hiking and her favorite National Park (so far) is Badlands National Park in South Dakota.

2 thoughts on “Stand Up Paddle Board Fin Placement Tips”

  1. I would like to ask if all iSUP – inflatable stand up paddles – have fins. And, if they dont have fins, from where can i order such equipment?

    Reply
    • You’ll have to read the specs for the iSUP you’re interested in to determine the number of fins that you get as it can vary by manufacturer. Most water sports retailers and outdoor outfitters (including places like Amazon.com) offer fins for purchase. So, if you’re interested in something like racing fins, you can search out those specifically.

      Reply

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