my old quad fin surfboard

How to Surf a Quad Fin Surfboard: Everything

Surfing fins can make a dramatic difference to how you surf and experience the wave and there’s lots of different fins to choose from. 

Quad fins, or four fins on a surfboard, have become popular again in the last decade, after a long time of falling out of fashion since they were first introduced in the 1980s. 

So, since quad fins are really fun on a surfboard, let’s look at how to surf them.

The first thing to say is that you want to stand a little bit further forward on your back foot and be aware that the quad fins don’t pivot in the same way as you would on a thruster. 

So don’t try to push the turns as hard, but expect lots of speed, as I’ll explain in more detail below. So that’s our brief explanation of how to surf with quad fins

Let’s get into a bit more of the detail with these and have a look at all the things to consider if you want to ride a quad fin setup with your board.

my old quad fin surfboard
One of my old quad fin surfboards, here with the 5-fin options to switch between this and a thruster – recommended!

Quad Fin Surfboards (4 Fins) Are Faster Than Thrusters (3 Fins)

The first thing I noticed when riding a quad fin board was just how much faster it was than my thruster. The best analogy I can give you is like rolling down a hill in a car that is stick shift and taking it out of gear, when you lose that engine braking and it’s just full steam ahead with nothing to slow you down. 

Compare this to a thruster or three-fin set up, you’ve always got that middle fin that adds that drag and just slows you down a bit, whereas a quad is just full steam ahead. It pushes you faster ahead and there’s less drag through the middle rear and you really notice it. 

It takes a bit of getting used to though, as it feels like you’re almost going to fall off the back of your board the first couple of times you surf a quad fin and the first waves you ride, but it’s so much fun. And it’s just a real boost of speed.

Quad Fin Surfboards Are Hard to Control

With the extra speed, it does make them a little bit hard to control because you’re going so fast. This means that you can’t always slow down to do the same kind of turns. 

Yes, you can definitely do turns, but they will be different to those on a thruster with the three fin and the pivot at the back. 

Quad fins are more drawn out and you can’t do as sharp and tight turns but because of the speed, you can do other things that more than make up for this difference.

Slide into Your Takeoffs on a Quad Fin Surfboard

The biggest thing I found was when I tried to take off on my quad fin surfboard, it just didn’t have that same grab on the way face as I was taking off, compared to when I was on a thruster

What I found I had to get used to was that if I wanted to do a tight takeoff, and I was surfing in Bali, very strong, powerful waves, I had to let it slide out a little bit at the back and then all of a sudden it would grip.

And getting used to that drift was very strange and it took a period of adjustment, but I did enjoy it once I got to set up. 

The alternative takeoff you can do with a quad fin is just to go straight to the bottom of the wave and wait, and do a long drawn out bottom turn

But again, this would be different to how you do it on a thruster. It’s just something about the way it takes that longer time to respond and it can’t be as tight

So, I always prefer to try and slide on takeoff a little bit, let that tail drift out and get used to it that way, but there’s no denying it is very different to a thruster set up.

Quad fins are great for barreling waves; they excel in fast, barreling surf because the extra speed makes it a lot easier to come out of the barrel. In fact, there’s clips of Kelly Slater on YouTube talking about how he prefers quad fins in barreling waves for this reason

The added boost of speed from a quad fin surfboard can help surfers come through and make barrels that they wouldn’t otherwise make. When a surfer goes into the barrel, so riding inside the hollow part of a breaking wave, speed is a crucial factor in making it out or exiting from the barrel.

Barrel riding, or tube riding, is also a really difficult thing to do at the best of times.

As mentioned above the extra speed also comes with issues of control, but in a barrel situation, you’ll go much more straight down the line and pump to get out of it rather than trying to do carves and turns as you would on the open face and would be better on a thruster.

Quad Fin Surfboards Have More Control But Less Speed than Twin Fins

The major difference between a twin fin set up with two fins and a quad fin setup with four is that a twin fin setup will go even faster but have less control gain because of the reduced points of pivot whereas a quad fin has a bit more control.

Now, twin fins only work with a really specific type of surfboard, usually with a very deep swallow tail, whereas quad fins have a more diverse range of uses and can work with squash tails, rounded tails and more. 

Twin fins are more of a retro style whereas quads are adaptable to many more of the modern shapes of surfboards.

Twin fins are also much taller and they grip the wave in a different way.

If you want an example of this, have a look at Mark Richards in the film “Free Ride”, and you can find clips of that on YouTube, and see how he surfs

He swoops and he does these long arcing turns, whereas a quad fin makes for more responsive turns but is just a little bit slower.

Quad Fin Surfboard Setup

Quad fin surfboard works by having the four fins out to the side and nothing in the middle. This allows for more water to flow through the middle, to go at faster speeds, but also doesn’t have that pivot point in the middle for that grip through turns.

Without the drag of the center fin the surfboard travels faster through the water but again, the pivot point makes it feel a little bit more free wheel than a thruster, which goes admittedly slower but in a more controlled way.

stewart fartknocker5 quads 3
My former Stewart Fartknocker Quad Fin Board – was a lot of fun for a little board!

Play it Safe and Buy a Board with 5 Fin Options

If you’ve not used the quad surfboard before, my strong advice is to look for a surfboard that has five fin options. This means you can then go between a quad and a thruster with ease and the only thing you need to buy is a five fin setup, which you can get as a complete single set. 

This is because some people don’t like surfing with quads and it really depends on the type of board. I found some boards work really well with quads and others just don’t go so well.

In general, quads are a lot of fun if you just want to go fast and not try to do turns or even in barelly waves, but thrusters are much better if you want to go out and try and learn to carve, cut back, do bottom turns, and other things like that.

Getting the Right Quad Fins for You

Depending on which fin system you have in your board, usually either FCS or Futures fins, you should probably get a five fin single pack of surf fins either way. 

Because this will then mean you can use these for all your surfing needs and it’s cheaper than buying a quad fin and a thruster set up separately

Quad fin surfing takes a lot of trial and error so don’t get frustrated if you don’t get it right the first time. It took me a couple of years to figure out what I liked and what I didn’t

Remember that it’s all one big journey and an experimental bit of fun. So, read up on the quad fins, think about the board you’ve got, and just go trial and error

Quad fins behave differently on different boards in different conditions. So you just need to have a go see what works, reflect, and then try again and keep going with it and you’ll have a lot of fun

scimitar quad fins 4
My Futures Scimitar Quad Fins, with lots of curve but they only work on a specific type of board.

Get a 5-Fin Thruster/Quad Fin Set

The best option for most people is to get a 5-fin thruster/quad set, as offered by many surfboard fin brands. Otherwise, it’s quite hard to get the right quad fins and I know because I’ve agonized over them for hours and hours and still got the wrong ones a few times.

What I would say is look for the quad fins that match the type of board you want to ride

Quad fins can work well in a grovely type board but they usually have more of the short and stubby variety for that. 

Otherwise, you can get quad fins that curve outwards, but you don’t want these on a short, grovely board. These would be on a bigger board. And you can get all kinds of different quad fins, but usually the best advice is to follow what is given on the manufacturer’s website.

I like the Futures quad fins because I ride Futures more often than not, but FCS fins are another great brand that have a huge range of these. 

So, in short, for short stumpy surf boards go for short stumpy quad fins but for longer surfboards, go for longer quad fins. That should help you to make the right distinction between the quad fins you need.

Stay with it and happy quad surfing.

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