Thruster vs Quad Fin Set Up: Which To Choose & When To Switch?

Thruster vs Quad Fin Set Up: Which To Choose & When To Switch?

We made this video about thruster and quad fins, which to choose and when, check this out

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You may have noticed, when looking your surfboard lovingly up and down, that it’s got five fin boxes, even though you’ve probably never seen or heard of anyone actually surfing with five fins. 

So then, what gives?

This 5 box configuration has actually been fairly standard for the last decade or more on production shortboards, giving surfers the option to surf the board according to their preferred fin set up, as well as switch between set ups according to conditions.

The two side boxes furthest forward are used for both thruster (three fin) and quad (four fin) set ups, while the rear centre fin is used to complete the thruster set up, or removed and replaced by putting a pair of (smaller) fins in the side boxes at the back, for a quad.

There are many great combo sets of fins available on Akewatu, that contain everything you need to switch between thruster and quad, such as the XX from FCS II, or the XX set from Futures. There are many other great fin brands all making combo set ups, ideal for travelling surfers or anyone wishing to get maximum versatility from their board in a variety of conditions. Have a look using our handy guide on how to choose your fins and get the right set for you.  

So now you’ve got the technology to surf different fin set ups, the obvious question arises: which fin set up to choose?


A go to for most surfers in most conditions ever since the 1980’s, thrusters give reliable performance under almost any condition. Big waves to small, powerful or weak, the thruster offers all the grip and drive without compromising on manoeuvrability. As you transition from one rail to the other as you surf, the thruster’s centre fin remains engaged, meaning you can join up the dots in your line, drawing smooth arcs up and down as you pump for speed and manoeuvre. With the centre fin directly underneath your back foot, the overall balance and reliable feel of a thruster means it delivers the most natural surfing feel, making the fin set up both highly effective while remaining inconspicuous. Ideally, when you’re surfing, you want to flow naturally around the wave, without really thinking about your fins.   


By contrast, quads are often used for specific wave conditions, really coming to the fore for both certain small wave designs, as well as in bigger more powerful surf. By offering more fin area, quads are known for having more grip on the wave face, giving extra drive in tubes, and on powerful wave faces. As a small wave design, often with wider, keel-type fin shapes, quad set ups offer loads of speed generation by providing instant drive from take off on soft small waves, and by not having the drag of a centre fin, thus mimicking the speedy feel of a twin. However, when it comes to switching between thruster and quad set ups on a regular shortboard, it’s usually for the for the quad’s advantages on bigger days, rather than as small wave configuration, which tends to be associated with a much wider, shorter surfboard. If you are used to a thruster set up, you’ll probably notice straight away the different feeling the quad gives; slightly less manoeuvrable in tight spaces, a touch harder to get from one rail to the other, but offer more hold, speed and drive.

So why switch?

While bigger waves traditionally require bigger surfboards, chiefly for generating thre greater paddle speed needed to catch bigger waves, in recent years, a trend towards riding much shorter boards in bigger, hollower waves is in part due to the ability to ride the same shortboard designs a quad. While stepping up a couple of inches of board on bigger days is an option, assuming you have a step up in your quiver, switching out a thruster set up for a quad can give that bit of extra hold that a step up might afford, while surfing the same regular shortboard. Whether it’s that pumping day at your local beachie, or the day of days while away on an annual Indo trip, having the ability to easily switch to a quad can give you the best of both worlds; the familiarity of your regular board, only modified to handle that bit more juice.

In summary, a combo fin set (or separate thruster/quad fin sets) can be a great asset for anyone wanting to extend the range of conditions their board can be surfed in. Alternatively, you might simply just want to mix things up, try out a brand new feel to a familiar board. Switching fin configurations is literally a few seconds work, but can unlock a lifetime of enhanced wave riding opportunities. 

Go surf ??

Article rédigé par David.
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Pauline Ado, Jorgann Couzinet, Justine Dupont… autant de grands noms du surf français qui ont rejoint le Crew Akewatu pour mettre en ligne leur planche d’occasion. Qu’il s’agisse de boards ayant 2 sessions au compteur ou encore des pépites qui ont vu leurs champions gagnés des titres : c’est par ici que ça se passe.
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