Do I Need Side Fins, Middle Fins, Or Both On My SUP?

So you’ve decided to get started with the stand up paddleboarding sport, and you’ve ordered your first paddleboard from SurfStar, but what do you do next? It’s time to set up your paddleboard now, and that means choosing which fins to use. Stand up paddleboards, or SUP’s, have the option of using two small fins on the sides, one large middle fin, or both in conjunction. But which of these setups are right for you? Do you need side fins, middle fins, or both on your SUP? Keep reading below to find out.

Why is choosing the right fins important?

With something as simple and with as few parts as a SUP, which fins you use and where you place them can make a huge difference. Certain setups will maximize your speed and control over the board, whereas other setups might be better to keep your board moving in a straight line but might not be quite as fast and controlable.

The right SUP setup for you depends on your goals as a paddleboarder. The right setup for competitive racers or other experienced paddleboarders is not necessarily the best option for SUP beginners.

To decide on the right setup you need to first get to know your fins. The large middle fin provides lots of maneuverability, as it cuts deep into the water and has more control over where the paddleboard goes. The side fins, or thruster fins, are best for giving your board increased stability. Interaction with the water on both sides of your SUP makes it harder to tip over, so in general SUP beginners will want a setup that includes the thruster fins.

Middle fin only

If you’re just cruising on gentle water in roughly a straight line you’ll only need a large, single middle fin for your paddleboard. This should be the go-to setup for most SUP beginners. The middle fin is basically an auto-include for most SUP setups as it provides a lot of control over your direction, and without it you can easily find yourself spinning around in the water. If you paddleboard in shallow water or in lakes you may want to consider getting a sharp or serrated middle fin, so it can easily cut through any kelp or other underwater plants to keep you from getting stuck when paddling.

Place your fin centered right on the finbox to let you keep your board from being too sensitive to slight changes in direction. This should generally be 8-10 inches from the back of your paddleboard for best results. All you need to do is attach the middle fin to the finbox with a nut and screw, and from there you should be able to slide it back and forth to fine-tune your setup for the best possible steering.

Middle and side fins

When using the side fins, you’ll almost always want to use the middle fin as well. The full 3-fin SUP setup with side and middle fins is best for surfing or other activities that involve rapidly changing water or quick turns. This includes touring, or paddleboarding for long distances with changing water conditions. The thruster fins can help you gain more speed and decrease the strain on your body, and the middle fin helps you stay balanced whether you’re paddling through flat water or waves.

When you’re paddling quickly, water runs under your board and the front of your large middle fin cuts through it, diverting it to either side. This can cause a vacuum behind your middle fin, creating drag and slowing you down. Including side fins, however, cuts through the water on the side of the board as well and directs more of it towards the middle fin. This fills the vacuum created by the large middle fin slicing through the water, decreasing drag and helping you move faster. This is why the side fins are called “thruster fins”.

Side fins only

There are a few rare situations in which you might want to use only the side fins for your SUP. Some experienced paddleboarders find that they enjoy the feeling of only the side fins when in flat or gentle water, but this will always be slower than including the middle fin. Really it comes down to preference, if you like using just the side fins then go for it! There’s not necessarily a right or wrong way to do this.

No fins

The last option to set up your SUP is actually no fins! This is a setup best left to the pros, as it gives none of the additional stability offered by the fins. A zero fin SUP setup is used for whitewater paddleboarding, as fins will just catch on rocks and debris and cause the paddleboarder to fly off the board. It takes a lot of balance and experience on a SUP to do this safely, so don’t attempt to go whitewater paddleboarding until you’ve put in a lot of hours surfing or cruising on your paddleboard, and always wear a helmet when riding in whitewater with rocks and other hazards.


The best setup for your SUP is really just the setup that feels right to you. Try out all the different options, your SUP from SurfStar will come with all the fins you need to test different configurations. Keep in mind the recommended fins for your activity of choice, but if something else feels right for you then go for it!

When you’ve chosen which fins you want to include, you’ll want to experiment with fin placement until you find something you like. A middle fin placed further toward the front of your fin box will give you a more sensitive feeling when steering and allow you to make sharper turns, while fins placed a little further back can help stabilize the board. Most paddleboards come with a sliding track in the center that lets you adjust the position of your middle fin with ease.




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