Paddle board fin setups can make a huge difference in the feel and performance of a board, so understanding the ins and outs of each fin layout can be an important part of choosing a SUP to buy.



The 2 + 1 Fin setup has a long history in surfboard design and is prevalent in various incarnations on SUP boards. The idea is to have a large center fin which enhances speed and tracking and two smaller side fins to keep the tail more stable in maneuvers where lateral pressure is applied at the tail.

The 2 + 1 fin setup can be advantageous for performance oriented SUP boards if implemented properly. It is also prevalent on a vast number of low cost mass marketed boards, but the implementation is considerably different.

The center fin is removable and made of molded plastic and the side fins are permanents and very short – usually no more than 2” in height. While the layout may look familiar from surfing, the reason this setup exists on so many SUP boards has more to do with commercial expediency, as the boards can be rolled up very tightly when the center fin is removed and the short 2” side fins do not affect the compactness of the rolled board.

Drawbacks of the mass market 2 + 1 fin setup are that the center fin is usually not contoured for best performance, the attachment system is not universal, making replacement of lost or broken fins difficult and costly, and the side fins are not tall enough to provide an real lateral stability.

Even this basic analysis doesn’t address the issue of component quality which is generally sub par and prone to breaking.


While the 2 + 1 setup was not initially in widespread use on performance oriented SUP boards, it has recently appeared on higher end boards, but with components developed with performance in mind. A performance oriented 2 + 1 setup will have a foiled (aerodynamically contoured) center fin and side fins that are also foiled and long enough to provide lateral movement control, in the range of 3 – 4 inches of height.

Removable foiled side fins are generally found in only the most expensive boards, but provide the highest performance and most configurable setup for performance paddling.

Some features to look for in a 2 + 1 setup include a center fin box that is compatible with US standard longboard fins which attach with a thumb screw and threaded metal plate, and also the newer tool-less FCS Connect snap-in fins.

Another feature to look for is flexible fins, which reduce the potential for breaking the fin box when paddling in demanding conditions or shallow, rocky waters.



The Tri-Fin or “Thruster” setup uses three fins of equal height and has some very real advantages:

– By dividing the fin surface area over three equal sized fins instead of a long center fin, the total height of the fin system is greatly reduced, which is a huge advantage when paddling in shallow water or places where rocks or other underwater obstacles are present. Places with interesting plant life and wildlife tend to have shallow water, so having a fin system that lets you explore these areas opens up a lot of interesting paddling opportunities.

– The fins are short enough that they do not need to be removable, so they can be permanently attached to the board. The permanent fin system is much more practical and carefree for most paddlers, as it avoids hassles such as attaching and removing fins, replacing broken fins, losing or forgetting to pack a fin or fin mounting hardware.

– Some quality inflatable boards use high performing foiled unbreakable fins such as our Sky Lake series – with just the right amount of flex, so you can own a high performing board and never worry about breaking or losing a fin. Boards with three permanent unbreakable fins have become extremely popular with instructors and SUP rental agencies for these reasons but the overall quality of the board should be considered, not just the fin type.



If shallow water and underwater obstacles are not present in the places you will do most of your paddling, and you will not be doing advanced maneuvers in moving water, a single long center fin can be the simplest and best solution.

A single fin with 8 inches or more of height provides ample tracking and stability and is often the fastest setup for a board shaped for racing or touring.

When choosing a board with a single center fin, it is highly recommended to pick one with a fin box that is compatible with both US Standard and FCS Connect longboard fins. This will open up the option to choose from literally hundreds of compatible fins in different shapes, sizes, and materials that are available from various surfboard or SUP vendors.