“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 or kiters, 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.”
Connor Baxter @conbax – SUP World Champion
A larger fin with more surface area, longer depth, wider cord and thicker foil will help stabilize narrow and tippy SUP raceboards and reduce side-to-side roll. This is an extremely important aspect of performance because you’re not fast if you’re falling off.
It is also worth noting that paddleboards are fastest when they are riding flat and not tipping from side-to-side. Intermediate paddlers and those in choppy water or on new-to-them (narrower) boards will want a fin with more stability.
Tracking refers to how straight the board travels as you paddle on one side only. The more strokes you paddle on one side, the more the board starts to veer off course. Increased surface area and efficient foils will help you with tracking. A smaller fin with a more efficient foil will track better than a bigger fin with a less efficient foil.
It is important to balance your tracking with your paddling aims. Intermediate paddlers will want a fin which tracks straighter, whereas professional athletes tend to utilize a higher cadence and use a fin with less tracking characteristics. For example, World Champion Connor Baxter paddles with a high cadence and aims to take 10 strokes per side during normal racing and up to 25 strokes per side for the 200m sprint discipline. Some boards have increased tracking built into their design and therefore can utilize a smaller fin.
A common misconception is that smaller, thinner fins are faster. Average speed and peak speeds are different concepts and overall board speed is a factor involving a number of variables. The speed potential (this is a function of foil, area and shape) of a fin is only one part of the average speed equation.
If you can balance on your narrow race board and efficiently paddle in a straight line, then a smaller fin will offer more potential but be careful about going too small too quickly. For most paddlers, a fin which helps them track straighter and remain stable will be faster.
The glide refers to how far the board travels between strokes and how well the board maintains speed. An efficient larger fin like the RAY will help enhance the glide between paddle strokes. This is especially important for longer distances and lower cadence paddling.
Where many races are won and lost, the fin can help you shave off a few vital seconds arounds the buoys. Upright fins with a narrower cord will help the board pivot fast and in control compared to bigger, swept back fins with a wider cord which resists turning. The foil can have some influence, for example our TIGER fin is designed to have tracking when at speed but release at low speed which makes pivoting easier.