Do Fins Really Make a Difference?

Daniel General, Equipment

Let's talk about a very underrated piece of SUP equipment...


First, why are they underrated?

Most people paddle with a standard 8'' fin with a regular curved shape that works for both long-distance paddle and SUP surfing.

If you happen to be one of those people - great!

But most paddlers, and especially new paddlers, don't realize that a different fin size, shape, and position in your board can actually affect your paddling and feel on the water.

Since there are plenty of choices when it comes to fins on the market we plan on making this breakdown as simple as possible, concentrating not on certain fin manufacturers, but instead on broad attributes you can use for your next purchase.

Let's start with the type of fin boxes paddleboards have.

Fin Box

A fin box is where the fin slides into the underside of the board.

There are Universal Fin boxes, or US Fin boxes, FCS Fin boxes, and Futures Fin boxes.

Most SUP boards come standard with universal boxes, meaning, after-market fins will work with most boards.

Surfboards and some SUP surfboards come with FCS and Futures fin boxes.

Always be sure to check/ask your SUP provider before purchasing a board that way you know what type of fins your boards take.

This information will come in handy if you want to purchase an aftermarket fin or need to borrow one from a friend.


The average fin measures around 8".

But lengths can vary from 4.5" up to 10"+.

The longer the fin, the deeper it extends into the water, the better the tracking it provides for the paddler.

The shorter the fin, the worse tracking you will have, but the greater the maneuverability.

The correct choice in length will depend on the environment you will be paddling in and the type of paddling you will be doing.



Racing fins typically have more overall surface area.

They are more block-like in construction, as opposed to curved.

In addition, they have a wider base and are usually longer and extend deeper into the water.

They are shaped this way to provide better tracking (the ability to paddle straight for longer periods of time) and stability in the water.

However, with more stability and tracking comes a tougher time turning the board.

The wider base and more surface area mean you will have more drag side to side when executing a pivot turn.

Standard Fin/Surf Style

Most paddleboards come standard with an 8" black plastic fin. And it's an industry standard for a reason.

This shape provides an almost perfect balance between stability, glide, and maneuverability.

These fins are still relatively wide at the base which makes them good but not great for tracking, and the less surface area in the fin itself makes turning a breeze.

Where they might fall short is in long-distance paddling and in choppy water.

Without that extra length, they do not track as well as a race fin and with less surface area they are vulnerable to instability especially when there is a side chop in windy weather.

River Fins

If you plan on paddling rivers you're going to first want to invest in a river fin.

River fins are made of flexible materials and are much smaller in length - coming in around 4.5" as opposed to 8"+.

This is due to the obstacles commonly found in rivers.

You don't want to be peacefully paddling along and suddenly come to a shortstop as you hit a rock or stump.

This will cause you to lurch forward, lose balance, and possibly fall right in!

The flexible materials are important for the same reason - if you hit something the fin will bend instead of break!

Fin Position

One aspect that is often overlooked is fin position.

Placing your fin forward (or more towards the nose) will allow you to turn easier.

A backward position will stiffen up your board allowing you to track straight for a longer period of time but will make it difficult to turn left or right.

Both of these positions can be utilized for your style of paddling but really, if you keep it right at the centerline, in most cases, you'll be good to go!


Even with all this extra information on fins, if you do stick with a standard 8" fin that is good for flatwater and SUP surfing then you will do just fine!

But for those wanting to take their skills to a different environment or activity - make sure you have the correct equipment to match before heading out.

Before you go...

Let us ask you a couple of questions...

Do you struggle with your balance on the water?

Do you often fall in?

Or if you are new to the sport - is it the one thing that is keeping you from going consistently or even at all?

There is help!

The best thing to do, of course, is to keep going. Practice is really the only way to quickly improve.

But for those visual learners out there...

Check out this short video from Robert Stehlik where he covers practical tips that you can use to improve balance...


If you have any questions or comments, or maybe you'd like us to cover a certain topic or answer a question, feel free to contact us today!

Our inbox is always open and we are beyond excited to hear from each and every one of you.

-The Perfect Paddles Team

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