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How and Why do Quad Fin Surfboards Work?

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How and Why do Quad Fin Surfboards Work?
frustrated artist/Flickr/CC BY-2.0
Quad fin surfboards were all the rage in the 80’s. Invented and innovated by professional surfer and shaper, Glenn Winton, quad fin boards were heralded as a whole new avenue for surf progression. Winton (Mr. X) ripped all over the globe on four fins at a level that almost won him a world title. His enigmatic and sometimes puzzling approach to surfing may have shrouded his indelible mark on the surfing history books and on the modern quad fin design.

Twin Fins versus Three versus Four?

During the 80’s, twinners (two fins), thrusters (three), and quads (four) were vying for dominance. Twin fins were fast, but they spun out when pushed, while quad fin surfboards during that era held in the pocket. Regardless, quads could not hold up to the pressure of the thruster’s effectiveness. There was no denying the thruster’s hold and drive. Thrusters became the fin set up of choice, and four fins fell by the wayside.

During that time, the basic short, fat, flat, and thick board template popular among surfers along with a global movement towards more powerful surfing didn’t always work with the quad fin designs. Some surfers who learned to perform on quad fins were unable to transition to the strength and commitment needed to make three fins operate in the progressive surfing paradigm.

The Quad Fin's Road to Rebirth

As the nineties ticked away, shapers experimented with 5-fin bonzer designs. Tom Curren went on to spark renewed interest in alternatives to the thruster by riding single fins, fish, twinners, and quads in insane surf around the globe. Add leaps in overall foil and rocker progression in the modern template and the collapse of Clark Foam, leading a retrospective leap back to riding oddities like finless Alai’a boards and such and the stage was set for the quad fin surfboard’s rebirth.

Do Quads Really Work?

The argument is made that Kelly Slater rips on a quad, so they must work. However, that does not hold water since Slater has ripped on every surfboard development in the last 20 years. For me, I base my assessment on my own test. Jumping back on a quad fin after surfing thrusters almost exclusively for the past decade was fun and energetic. I found the board fast and responsive and able to turn in interesting ways, more of a tight swivel rather than a long carve with almost no transitional loss of speed between maneuvers. The difference in turning radius from a thruster is due to the placement of the fins farther up on the bottom of the board. Because of this, it took a number of waves to get a good bead on how to ride the quad until I realized that my back foot should be placed directly over and between the four fins. Also, the board worked better when remaining flat on the wave, instead of going fully on rail. That may change as I ride it more often.

I have ridden twin fins in both small and big waves over the years and found them blazing fast and sweet in the pocket but crazy in terms of carving and control. Some say that quad fins are faster than twin fins, but I disagree. I find twinners faster but also much less predictable and controllable. Both quad and twin fin surfboards work because they lack the drag of the thruster’s third fin (almost like that of a boat’s keel). Quad fins allow the surfer to utilize the two side fins as an extension of the rail, very streamline and flowing.

In summary, quad fin surfboards are faster and more responsive than thrusters and offer different turning possibilities. Quad fin surfboards are infinitely more controllable than twin fin set ups. They work in both big and small surf and boast versatility when coupled with multiple fin set ups. Many new surfboards come with five fin slots so surfers can opt for twin, quad, or thruster combinations.

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