Are SUP race fins important?
SUP race fins may be small but they have a significant influence on board performance and handling, which directly affects race results and fun at all levels in standup paddling. We caught up with multiple world champion, iconic standup paddler and Black Project ambassador Connor Baxter to get his insight into standup paddleboard fins for paddling in a range of conditions.
“I come from a windsurfing background where fins always played a huge role. I’d literally take a double-bag of fins everywhere I traveled, it was that important to have options to fit any condition.
I remember coming into standup when people were saying – A fin is a fin, it doesn’t make a difference. That just isn’t true. Standup paddlers may not go as fast as windsurfers, but with all the situations that paddlers get into, the fin actually makes a massive difference. Whether you’re going downwind, in the flats, doing a lot of surfing or sprinting—whatever—the fin has a big influence not only on speed but tracking, comfort, turning and other areas that add to your capability. Luckily my bag of fins is a little smaller these days, but there are still a few that I carry everywhere I go.
As conditions change, the ability to adapt and fine tune the performance of your board is really important. Rather than buying two or even three boards for different conditions you can use fins of different sizes and styles and achieve a similar result. It’s really important to have more than one type of fin in your quiver.
You want to be able to switch up your SUP fin because what works in the flats—maybe a long, thick foiled, stable fin—isn’t going to give you the release and surfing ability that comes from the more raked, longboard-style fin that you want in the open ocean. In the sea the destination doesn’t matter—you’re going left, right and back left, surfing and utilizing bumps—so you want a fin that gives you the stability and tracking ability but also surfs and maneuvers well. At home in Maui I’m either training on flatwater in the Kahului harbor or downwind from Maliko Gulch. On my normal Starboard Allstar 12’6” training board I usually switch between the TIGER (in the harbor) and the SONIC (downwind or surf) depending on where I’m paddling. Those are the two Black Project models I’ve really been loving lately.
I use the SONIC most for downwind and surf race stuff. It has a lot more of that ‘shark fin’ feel, it loosens up to maneuver between bumps and planes really well downwind, and with its foil it gets great speed but still changes direction quickly. Downwind, especially without a rudder, the most important thing other than speed is the ability to change direction fast without sacrificing too much stability. The Sonic does that best in my opinion. I also really like the Sonic for technical racing where there is surf or some bumps.
The MALIKO is ideal for ocean conditions, blending the characteristics of the smaller Sonic and the Ray to offer good tracking while enhancing the surfing and downwind characteristics of your board. With a 45° rake this fin will easily shed weed, kelp and trash.
When I’m paddling any distance on flat water, like I was this morning in Kahului Harbor, I swap in the TIGER every time. The Tiger gives you great tracking and awesome stability. Unless you’re Kai Lenny and can balance on anything, for most flatwater paddlers it’s better to have a longer fin like the Tiger that sits deeper for a more stable feel. That also keeps your board in a straight tracking line so instead of paddling three or four times on either side you can get eight strokes or more in before switching. Tracking is especially important in long distance races, but even for a paddler who’s just cruising it makes things a lot easier. The slightly more upright shape of the Tiger works great for quick buoy turns.
For big distances or ugly conditions I really like the RAY model. The Ray gives you hands down the best stability, tracking and glide. It changes directions a little slower, which is important when you’re new to racing on narrow race boards. It’s more stable but still provides good rail-to-rail turning that you can control from the center of the board. Thanks to its increased tracking compared to the smaller Tiger and Sonic fins this is great in side winds and choppy water.
Fins have a lot more to do with standup paddling performance than you might think. The more I work with Black Project, testing out all their different technologies and trying out new ideas, the more it becomes clear that fins matter. A good SUP fin can make some difference in top speed, but where it really makes a difference is in performance. It moves through the water easier, allows you to track better and lets you worry a lot less about steering so you can stay focussed on just paddling.”
More SUP Fin resources