Tested: FCS’s New H4 Fin Set Is Scary Good.

18 Mar 2020 11 Share

COASTALWATCH | NICK CARROLL | REVIEWS

The Space Fighter Smart-Fin

H-fins have been a thing for FCS since they upped the ante some years ago — when they realised the system itself wasn’t enough, and fin design was going to take centre stage.

The last one, the H3, was a chopped-down version of a conventional fin with most of the curves taken out. The hard triangular lines caught the eye, but never quite caught the attention of the surfers who might have made it a hit.

The H4 is another thing. At first look you’d think you’d got hold of the wings off some sorta hi-tech mini Space Fighter. The fins are a deep grey verging on black, with a super-fine grooved finish that shimmers slightly in a certain light, like a vinyl record surface. Moulding is super precise, with fine edges and no spare flesh anywhere.

As with other H-series products, the fin design is distinctive. The side fin has a conventional leading edge template and a less conventional trailing edge, which cuts short and up at the tip, hatchet-style. The foil follows the trailing edge, creating a slight ridge on the outer surface of the fin where it tapers into the hatchet. The inside face is dead flat, and all the edges are sharp and tight. Like I said, very precise.

The rear fin begins conventionally enough at the base, with a curve in both leading and trailing edges, but just a couple of cms up, the whole fin tilts back and the template lines straighten, tapering into a football-ey tip.

I know you can see all this in the graphics, but you won’t quite be able to pick that ridge running back to the hatchet, nor maybe absorb the hard precision of it all. The fin materials are also highly precise and “built”, with a shell of unidirectional carbon tape containing an injected composite core, which produces an extremely quick-flex, tight fin that’s also very light.

I was high on them pretty much immediately.

FCS offered up a large set but they didn’t look quite right on the boards I wanted to ride, so I went back to mediums.

The boards I used: a 6’9” Jim Banks custom pintail, a 6’1” Eye Symmetry Leaf model, and a 5’91/2” Webber Creature. All wildly different craft, with one thing in common, I’d battled to find a magic fin set for any of ‘em. Different reasons: the Banksy wanted to be a quad and I wanted it to be a thruster, the narrow-tailed Leaf’s fin set is an inch further forward than most thrusters, and the Creature’s reaction time is a bit quick for most fin sets.

Conditions varied from 6-8’ reef/beachies (Bansky), 3-6’ beachies (the Leaf) and 3-5’ beachies and sand point surf (Creature).

Here’s what I got:

An “invisible” feel. This I always identify with a good fin set — when you can’t feel the fin set dragging, when you only feel the fins in turning pressure when they’re fully engaged. When you’re not pressuring them, they’re not there.

Very fast reactions. No resistance to the start of a turn, no hang-ups in a turn’s mid-section or finish. Recoveries clean and simple. All that stuff happened with great speed and snap and with no delay. This I felt was also good, I hate fin delay. I really felt this most when riding the Creature, which is made to turn at speed, and turn quick, without hesitation. The H4s let it do its thing and added a tiny zingy feel here and there, as the materials released the flex.

Not even a lil bit of slide. This was especially obvious in the Leaf, whose forward fin set-up had often caught me out. Having a forward set on a shorter board is a kind of battle. Pressure on the tail area behind the back fin can lead to slide, and had done so a few times, despite me sticking in bigger back fins and all that jazz. Nothing quite seemed to fit, but the H4s just clicked with the board, bringing out its inner fast-twitchiness and somehow defeating that tendency to slide. This might just be a fluke via the back fin being tilted back from the base more than your average, but whatever. It worked.

Consistency across all these boards. With the Leaf and Creature especially, the H4’s best quality seemed to be getting out of the way and allowing the board’s own better qualities to come forward. The fin set didn’t quite fit the Banksy as well as the other two, the board felt a bit too chunky for the set, but it didn’t wig out at all.

A slight high pitched whistle at speed. I got this once or twice, both on the Banksy (on a solid 8’ wave going fast into the wave base) and on the Webber (a savage lil board that sometimes gains speed from almost nowhere, like a Tesla). I think the whistle was coming from the frontside side fin in each case. It wasn’t a hum, there was no vibration as such, more a whine or hiss, like a big knife swung hard through air. Maybe the acute front edge and zero-give inside flat was responsible.

A week and a half of persistent use led to some slight scuffing on the fin surfaces, but it rubbed off quickly and the fins were back to their scary Space Jet finish. No other wear and tear.

After ten days of testing, I talked with FCS’s head of design, Mike Durante, and was only half surprised to hear their intention pretty much exactly matched the fin’s feel. “With the H4, we wanted to make a smart-fin,” Mike told me. “One that would help any board be fast and free. It also had to be something our top riders would want to use. The H2 and H3 fins, the pros never quite got into them.”

FCS fin designer Nick Notara worked closely with Mick Fanning, and tried a whole range of what sounds like wacky ideas — variable flexy bits, odd shapes, flaps, the lot — before coming back to a degree of simplicity and a high end materials combo. The side fins were designed to get the value of a strong base, typical of a vertical fin outline, with the sensitivity and control of a swept-back fin, which is where the hatchet tip comes in. The back fin was kept simpler as a go-to control point.

Mike is not a hypester, but he was pretty proud of the fin and its manufacturing, in particular the “Swiss Made” tag on the set. He told me the machining and moulding was so finely honed, each set matched every other set perfectly, in a way that’s hard to pull even in the good manufacturing climate that’s now common in fin-world: “I haven’t seen that level of precision.”

The price tag on the set is $229.95 (rrp), which puts it way out on the high end of the fin market. It feels like a trend in core surf goods, maybe a bit like the Quik Highline Pro 1mm suit we reviewed here a while back — pick a product and shoot for the moon. You’ll make your own call on it. I reckon it’s worth the money.

Overall: This is a very high quality fin set. Better than any of the previous H-series fins, that’s for sure. They suit high performance craft and power surfing at speed, everything happens cleaner and quicker, but they won’t give you many excuses, and they’re not a “feel” fin, so if you like that sense of control that comes with fin drag, these may take some getting used to. They expect confidence from you, the rider.

But if their Space Jet look makes them seem weird/radical, they don’t feel that way. They’re just really, really good. They’ll reward your confidence.

QUICK TAKES



  • Precise, almost sci-fi super-fin that’ll own the high end of the market

  • Moves from board to board easily, adjusts better to different boards than most fin sets

  • Fast reactions, “invisible” feel, really suited to speed and power surfing

  • Very slick manufacturing and materials. Swiss made! Carbon shell!

  • Looks a bit wild, but acts like your friend

  • Not cheap

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