With an increasing number of surfboards coming out in the five fin convertible option, the question we often get is: “Which is better… the thruster or the quad?” Board Engine can help you find surfboard recommendations specific to you, but it may give you the option of getting a five fin setup. So, the question still remains: How should I surf it?
Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this question. Simply put, both are great, but it all depends on what you want out of them. This is the main reason why so many boards are offered with the five fin option.
Your fins play a big role in your board’s performance. From our experience, fins account for nearly 40 percent of your board’s performance. Switching out your fins, or your fin configuration, plays a big role in how your board is going to perform.
In order to attain a better understanding the fin’s utility, it’s important to understand a brief history and evolution of the fin. The single fin came about in order to help give big heavy boards some traction and stability. It was refined over time to help produce drive while providing hold. Twin fins, on the other hand, came into play to help loosen up boards, giving maneuverability as well as added drive.
Simon Anderson developed the thruster to give him an advantage over the twin fin design, as he was a bigger, heavier-footed surfer. This may have resulted in a lack of down-the-line speed compared the the twin fin, but it gave him the added element of control while pushing through turns, keeping him from sliding out. Through experimentation Simon was able to find a balance of drive, speed, and control.
The quad fin pretty much blends attributes of the twin fin and the thruster. It adds down-the-line speed without the resistance and drag of the center fin in a thruster, but with more hold and controlled maneuverability than the twin. The trick with quads, though, is the placement of the cluster of fins. If we take the rear fins into consideration, the closer they are together, and the further they are back, the more your board is going to surf similar to a thruster. The farther apart they are – and/or placed higher up near the front fins – the faster down the line they will be—like a twin fin.
So why or when should you consider the quad as an option?
The quad fills that void where the thruster or the twin falls through. Everyone wants that fast but loose feeling while maintaining control. This is precisely when the quad comes into play. They can also be put to use in either heavy, hollow waves, or in small, gutless waves, depending on the cluster placement, of course.
On smaller gutless days, having a quad with the rear fins closer to the rail and slightly further up will really loosen the board up. This allows for quick maneuvers and sliding the tail around with ease. It also gives you that much more speed through the flats, as there is no resistance of a trailing center fin.
For the bigger hollow days, the quads with rears placed back a little and close to the rail will provide extra speed and hold in the face of the wave. You can take higher lines on steeper waves with the extra hold of having two fins on the rail. Plus, you will gain extra speed due to no center fin drag. This comes in handy on those freight train barreling waves where there is not much room to turn. Additionally, quads are a touch quicker out of the gate compared to a thruster. As soon as you take off and get to your feet, quads will provide you instant down-the-line speed instead of having to pump and drive your board.
When and why consider a thruster?
There is a good reason why the thruster fin set up has been, and still remains, the go-to for surfboards over the last 30 years. Simply put, they are predictable and they work. But if quads are so functional, why even consider the thruster anymore?
The thruster is perfect for those super ripple days. Where the quad is great in either small waves, or hollow days that are down the line, the thruster gets you what you want when you have time to perform, instead of trying to glide past sections or make it down the line with speed. Thrusters give you a controlled drag that is useful when you want to surf at a higher level on good quality waves. Think of those shoulder to slightly overhead days that are top to bottom, but with lots of room to move around and get in a lot of turns. This is where your thruster will shine.
Thrusters will still work in both small waves and big waves, but it all comes down to the blend of the fins with the board and what the surfer prefers. Nowadays, you see some big-wave surfers going quad for that extra speed and ability to hold a high line. Some guys, however, prefer the extra stability and control needed that the thruster can give you.
Now, what board should I get?
First, go to our Board Engine to find a board that is right for you. If you can, go with the five fin option. Why not have the opportunity to change out your fin setup to adapt to the conditions? After all, that is what surfing is all about: experimentation. Having extra fin boxes not in use under your board is not going to make a noticeable difference in terms of drag.
Some shapers have designed certain models to work in conjunction with either a thruster or a quad setup, but not both. This is rare, but it does happen. Even still, if they will allow you the option to go with five fins, do it.Take a look at the Hypto Krypto, for example. Hayden Cox designed that board originally to work specifically as a thruster. The shape and bottom contours of the board are supposed to give you enough speed that going quad was not needed. But, by popular demand they recently released the 5 fin Hypto Krypto so surfers could experiment. It wasn’t as simple as just dropping in a couple of extra boxes, though. Hayden really had to think about the fin placement of both designs, taking that into consideration and how they each can be situated while utilizing the same front fin boxes.
So, in a nutshell, if you can get the five fin option, go for it. You are not losing out on anything. Only gaining. You never know until you try.