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Quiver Question: Thruster vs. Quad Fin Set-Ups

By May 16, 2017 No Comments

Today we’re answering @fitzroybeachchick’s burning Quiver Question… She writes,

“I’m curious about quad versus thruster?  Currently riding a 5’10” quad fish (which I love!) and generally don’t surf anything more than just over head height.  Trying to do more vertical turns and not sure if it’s my lack of ability or the board holding me back? Wondering if I should try a thruster set-up?”

For those who don’t know, a thruster is a surfboard with 3 fins and a quad is a surfboard with 5 fins.  This question is a really good one because I am always wondering whether it’s my lack of ability holding me back or my equipment, and although it usually is the former, I still blame my board.  I am sure many surfers have faced a similar dilemma, so, let’s get to the question.

Thruster vs. Quad?

These days with so many 5-fin set-ups being installed into modern surfboards, the question “what’s better a quad or a thruster?” is asked often.  Everyone is looking for the right combination of speed and maneuverability to surf each wave they encounter. The truth is every surfer and wave is different which is why 5-fin set-ups are so cool.  This allows the surfer to experiment with his or her fins and get the feel they desire.  

As a bit of history, the thruster (3-fin surfboard) was invented by Simon Anderson to give his heavy-back footed style an advantage over all those surfers riding twin fins.  He got more control out his thruster and thus was able to complete more critical maneuvers.  The quad was based on the old twin style, but we the modern addition of two trailer fins to give the board greater control and hold. 


Use a QUAD when you want to FLY like this guy who is about to get clipped by the lip of this barrelling wave.

Use a Quad When You Want to Fly:

The question to ask yourself when deciding between a quad and a thruster is “do I have a need for speed?”  This need can arise from wanting to make sections in very small conditions or wanting to fly down the line in hollow waves.

The placement of the trailer fins in relation to the other fins and the rail also plays a role in the performance of your quad. You’ll find that smaller wave boards with a quad set-up will have the fins closer to the rail and closer to each other creating the feeling of a fast, loose twin fin.  On a bigger wave board with a quad fin set-up, the rear fins will be place back further from the front fins and still close to the rail.  

Quads are for:

  • Small days because they:
    • Make flat sections
    • Get enough speed to ride the wave
  • Hollow days because they:
    • Are faster out of the gate than thrusters
    • Have two fins on each side which hold better for steep take offs
    • Fly down the line in barrelling conditions where there isn’t much room to turn

Use a THRUSTER when you want CONTROL to do top-to-bottom turns on an open face like this one!

Use to Thruster When You Want Control:

The drag of the center fin gives you extra control and maneuverability in waves where you have time to perform.  Generally speaking, thrusters go great in good conditions with top to bottom sections and lots of time and room to do turns.  A thruster gives you control to snap, quickly change directions and smash the lip.

We even consulted Coach Austin Ware, former WCT Surfer and Resident Northern Beaches Surf Coach who confirmed our research in saying:

“3 fins give you pivot point so it is easier to roll the board from rail to rail than a quad set-up.  The quad set-up will add a little more drive and allow for longer turns.  Whereas the 3 fins allow for tighter turns and easier pivot to go vertical.”


So to answer @fitzroybeachchick’s question, it’s time to try a thruster!

Since thrusters offer the kind of control and maneuverability she needs to get vertical, it may be time to switch that quad to a tri.  Most likely, your fish is great for catching waves, making sections and having a good time in smaller conditions.  But, when it turns on and you’ve got some nice 3-6 foot waves that you want to tear apart top to bottom, choose the thruster!


Send Surf Stoked Moms your Quiver Questions here and your question could be featured on the blog plus I’ll send you a rad Surf Stoked Hat!!!  

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