Rudder Choice for Performance

on Mar 17 in Rudders, Sean Rice, Skis, Surfski, Think, Training by

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A few years ago I wrote a blog on rudder selection. At the time we had just done a lot of development on rudder fins, adding new shapes to the range. Being very happy with our final testing results, we released the new shapes and have been blown away by the amount of people looking for various fins for various conditions. I’ll be honest, at the time I paddled exclusively with a 9″ elliptical, the #4, and while I knew using a smaller fin would mean less resistance, I was swayed by the opinion of guys I was paddling with that the rudder choice would make almost no difference to speed or performance when paddling an ocean ski. It was also interesting to see what Team Think paddlers were using on the international scene. Again, the 9″ was the choice for most, but Sean Rice always spoke highly of the for the 7″ fin, insisting it was big enough for the ocean, yet small enough to offer less resistance. So flash forward some time, and I’ve finally taken the time to try and quantify how the different fins work in various conditions, and what I find works best for me.

I paddle an Uno Max Elite at the moment, with my paddling being a mix of flatter Harbour conditions, and bigger conditions through the Heads with a mix of swell and wind chop, with some rebound thrown in for good measure. Once the wind and swell get up for a downwind , I’ll get out for a long one, my favourite course being from Little Bay to Rose Bay. I also think we’ve seen a change in races in recent years, with more of a mix of events. Rather than everything being purely in the ocean, we have a lot more events in more sheltered locations. I believe that now, more than ever, correct rudder selection will help you paddle better, not only on race day, but also in training.



9 Inch 500 x 500

The 9″ fin has been on all my skis for as long as I can remember. Both the Uno and Uno Max perform really well in downwind conditions with this elliptical shape. It’s a shape which requires very little input to have a significant effect on the ski. It also can save you from a broach if you’ve suddenly lost direction. A lot of paddlers talk about how they feel bigger, more elliptical shapes make their skis feel more stable. I’ve never found any difference between the 7″ and 9″ in this regard. It is definitely my fin of choice for big downwind days, and races like Molokai when the conditions are right.






7 Inch 500 x 500

The smaller 7″ has really surprised me in testing. In pure flatwater conditions, there is a very small gain on the larger 9″ fin, which is all down to reduced resistance. What I’ve really enjoyed is trying to get this fin to work for me in downwind conditions. It’s my experience that it almost forces you to surf better, and position your craft in a better spot, as you can’t rely on the bigger fin to save you from poor downwind technique. It’s interesting to hear some of the worlds top downwind exponents talk about how they use their hips to steer their skis from hole to hole, rather than rely on their rudders to get them there. By using the 7″ fin I’ve tried to hone that skill. On Harbour conditions, which can range from small wind chop, to big ferry washes, to more significant NE runs, the 7″ is more than sufficient. Its more raked front edge also sheds weed easily, and unfortunately in the case of a big city Harbour, some rubbish which is often found in the water. It is also a fin which works really well when surfing washes from other skis, particularly big doubles, as we have in lots of races now.






5 Inch 500 x 500

The final fin I’ve been trialing is the 5″ flatwater fin. I mentioned previously that I hadn’t noticed any difference in terms of stability between the 7″ and 9″, but fitting a 5″ I did notice my Uno Max felt a little more twitchy after coming from a 9″. It was only a slight difference and after one session the 5″ felt great in the choppy Harbour conditions. With more and more races in sheltered bays and the like, the 5″ is always in my kit bag ready to fit. While it doesn’t have the same effect as say a 7″, I’ve found it more than able in any of the flatter races this year, even sitting on some big double washes and in messy group washes. Again, with the reduction in resistance, there is a small gain in terms of outright speed, and it’s definitely a fin I would recommend when you don’t need the responsiveness and beefiness of a bigger rudder. With a raked front edge, combined with our weed deflector, catching weed has never happened with this set up. For those doing most of their paddling on flatwater, it really is the ideal fin, not to mention those racing in small conditions.


All of the above mentioned fins are available in our online store. If you’re looking for another piece of the jigsaw in the paddling puzzle, then rudder selection could be just what you’re after. I’ve definitely learned a lot in testing.


Stewart O’Regan

Think Kayak Australia

Mob: 0404 236 638
Skype: stewieor