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The History and Practicality of the “Fifth Fin” and How Dan Mann Has Recently Been Using It as Part of His “Secret Recipe”

Modern shortboards have come stock with five fin boxes for the past decade or so, but choosing between a thruster or quad setup remains a major dilemma for most surfers. Both fin configurations have their pros and cons, and lend themselves toward different types of waves and styles of surfing. Thrusters provide more control in the pocket and facilitate a top-to-bottom approach to maneuvers, but limit speed and down-the-line drive due to the drag created by the middle fin. 


Meanwhile, quads have extra speed and drive and can hold a rail through a carve, but tend to be loose and can spin out when pushed hard off the bottom.

Around 10 years ago, a surfer from Florida named Sean Mattison started using what he called a “Nubster”—a small, low-profile center fin that helped stabilize the quad setup. This five-fin setup was a compromise between the thruster and the quad, as the small center stabilizer didn’t create as much drag (and reduced speed) as a normal center fin, but it still provided a bit of extra control for the notoriously loose quad setup. 

While other surfers had played around with stabilizers for quads before (Pete Mel and Martin Potter called it the “guitar pick,” due to its size and shape), it wasn’t until the greatest competitive surfer on the planet started playing around with one that the world took notice. In 2012, Kelly Slater stuck a Nubster on his quad and proceeded to make the finals of the Quiksilver New York Pro on it. Overnight, Mattison’s Von Sol Surfboards website virtually sold out of Nubster fins. 

Von Sol nubster Surfboards

nubster fin - Courtesy: Von Sol Surfboards


Slater went on to surf the Nubster into the finals in barreling beach break in Portugal, as well as to great success at Snapper Rocks and large(ish) Margaret River the next year, proving that the concept worked in a variety of different conditions. And just like that, the “fifth fin,” as some people called it, was a credible option.

FCS and Futures both began making a stabilizer option, with the spelling ultimately changing from “Nubster” to the “VS Knubster.” At the same time, Ryan Arakawa was busy creating his Vektor fin line, which includes a number of different low-profile center stabilizer fins for twins, quads, and just about any other setup where you might want some extra control in the middle. These Vektor fins were helpful in stabilizing quads in large barrels and also providing extra bite for quads and twins in small, gutless waves, where you might need the extra speed of a quad/twin, but still want to be able to square off the bottom and throw the board vertical.

The Vektor design has a longer base than the Nubster, which tapers to a smaller tip, allowing the fin to release when desired. This gives the surfer extra control through turns, allowing them to hold a rail or blow the tail on command. Interestingly, Vektor fins are also quite adaptable, and can be used as side bites on single fins that have 2+1 boxes (such as performance longboards)—preserving that traditional feel while trimming down the line, but also adding some spice to turns.

Kelly Slater and his five fin Surfboard



Both the Knubster and the Vektor are great options for those looking to stabilize their quads and twin fins, and both have their benefits. We feel that the Vektor is a bit more consistent through turns and on the rail, while the Knubster has its signature feel that many people enjoy. Either way, it is clear that the “fifth fin” concept is legitimate, and this is borne out by the fact that Slater recently added a Guitar Pick model to his Twin + 2 set of Endorfins model. And even more recently, shaper and innovator Dan Mann (who has designed numerous boards with Slater) has been integrating the Guitar Pick with the Endorfins KS1 Quad set, calling it his secret fin recipe.

Regardless of which fifth fin you choose and how you end up using it, it’s obvious that we are no longer limited to the thruster versus quad dilemma. These days, you can have a nub of cake and eat it too—or, in the case of surfboards, enjoy the best of all worlds!

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