Choosing your board

1 or 3 fins on my paddle board, what is the difference?

Oct 26, 2022

1 or 3 fins on my paddle board, what is the difference?

We get this question a lot in our store or on our online chat: But how do I decide how many fins I need for my paddleboard?

As a general rule, the number of fins you need depends on where and how you are going to practice the sport. 


What are paddle board fins for?

It's simple, the fin of your board allows you to steer. Here's how. An object in the water creates drag on all sides. But, by making that object very thin (like the shape of a fin), drag is created only on the left and right sides, not on the front.

It is this drag on either side that slows down any movement that would like to go only to the left or only to the right and by default gives more stability forward. This is also why fins are always placed at the back of a board (or boat)
The number of fins you use therefore depends on how much left and right movement you want.

What is the ideal number of fins needed for water cruising, All-Around type, and why?

As a beginner paddleboarder you will focus mainly on balance and standing. Then you move on to practicing pivot turns. The best style of paddleboard is called all-around.

These boards are usually equipped with a single large center fin or with the option of 2 removable side fins, which is ideal for practicing paddling and turning on reasonably calm water. A board with 1 fin will be easier to turn than a board with 2, 3 or 4 fins.

Ideal number of paddle board fins for touring, type Touring, and why?

The touring type (pointed nose) is more focused on distance and speed than maneuverability, which is why the large center fin is still used, but also two smaller side fins. This gives the board more stability and, believe it or not, makes it faster. But it is harder to turn with 3 fins than with one, because the side drag is higher.

Why is a paddleboard with more fins better than one? Water flows along the bottom of the board and as it passes through the front of the fin, a vacuum is formed at the back of the fin, causing a small vortex of water that creates drag.

With multiple fins, this still happens with the center fin, but the side fins direct more water toward the center of the board, filling the void behind the center fin. This eliminates or greatly reduces the vortex that creates drag, and without that drag, you get more speed.


How does the number of fins create a change?

As we said before, you can have up to four fins on your board at a time. But how does the number of fins create such a big change?

We'll go over the benefits each number can give you so you can decide how many fins you'll really need when you get out on your board again.

Keep in mind that your board comes with fins that you can remove and swap. By taking advantage of this feature, you can completely change the way your board turns and gains speed. The smaller the fins, the more you'll be able to take tight turns and gain speed. Larger fins allow the user to have a better grip on the waves you are riding.

Quebec SUP 1 or 3 fins inflatable paddle board
  • Zero-Aileron

It is not uncommon for many riders to say that this is the purest form of paddling. It is often called "Free-Fin" and uses the paddle to steer the board without a fin. In our experience, it is often necessary to change the paddle from side to side to try to stay in a straight line.

  • Aileron

The configuration with one fin is considered a classic. The "single fin" configuration is always with a larger center fin. It gives you the best of both stability and flexibility for pivoting and turning. The downside is that it is not as stable as a 3 fin setup or as flexible as a 0 fin setup.

  • Two Fins

This style appeared after paddle boards started to get shorter. It is not very common, but worth mentioning. It's used more for rougher waters, like surfing, where you need more flexibility to kick the board, while still maintaining some stability.

  • Three Fins

A group of three fins is often called "Thrusters" and this name is a telltale sign of how fast you are capable of going. Many professionals prefer the three fins to the four, because the "Thrusters" give you better handling (turning) than the four. There are two small fins placed opposite each other in the center, with the larger one placed at the back for better handling. They are also called 2+1 for the number of fins they have.

  • Four Fins
You are an advanced surfer if you are happy with the 4 fin configuration. 4 fins is much more difficult to control than other fin configurations. This is because the fourth fin can help a user gain a bigger edge that will allow them to hold a higher line under the crest of a wave. These boards are used a lot by professionals, as they like the ability to cover more areas with a bigger board.


The side fins in more detail:

Side fins are important for keeping your board under control on different bodies of water. This means the board you take to the lake can be the same board you take to the ocean waves. They are designed to increase the maneuverability of the board and prevent it from shifting from left to right when you get on your board.

They are often called "Side-Bites" because they are much smaller than typical fins. When you look at them, you will notice that one of them is round while the other appears to be flat. It's this configuration with the opposing fins that makes the board glide like an airplane wing on the water.

When the water hits the rounded fin, it has to travel a greater distance to reach the rear fin than the water around the flat fin. The forward angle of the fins goes hand in hand to give the user considerable speed.


Do I need a center fin if I have a side fin?

This is where the type of water really matters. You will usually want a center fin for your board even if you have two side fins. Why? Because the center (larger) fin was designed for calmer water. You won't get the tide to bring you waves, and the (smaller) side fins won't help you develop much momentum.


 The reason why you need a fin for your board.

Although we have mentioned that paddleboarding without fins is possible and encouraged by some users, it will not be easy to get around without them. Finless boards are best suited to areas where the water is much calmer. Lakes and rivers are prime areas for users who do not want to be disturbed by waves.