What Is A Paddle Board Rudder? Is A Rudder Needed?

If you’re a beginner getting into paddle boarding, you’ve probably heard of the standard accessories you need for your board, like rudders and fins, and you’re wondering what exactly they do?

Paddle boards are typically fitted with fins, not a rudder and the fins play a crucial role in directing your paddleboard and being able to move forwards. Paddle boards don’t use rudders like boats or some kayaks do.

Paddle board fins, sometimes confused as rudders, allow you to have control of your paddle board’s direction and keep in a straight line. They are typically mounted to the rear end of the board.

Some people confuse rudders with fins since they are used similarly on kayaks. However, SUPs don’t need rudders as the direction and turning is easily controlled by the paddle.

Fins are incredibly important when paddle boarding and allow you to easily paddle through rougher waters or faster moving water. Trying to paddleboard without a fin is incredibly difficult and it’s nearly impossible to move forward in a straight line.

Fins are essential for a stand-up paddle board. Most boards are fitted with either three fins or a single larger fin that act as a rudder or skeg for the board. The paddle board rudders/fins change according to the kinds of waters you will be paddling on.

Do Paddle Boards Need Rudders?

Paddle boards do not need rudders, but they do need fins. 

Fins are needed on a paddle board since they keep the board straight when paddling, allowing you to move forward with speed (also known as tracking) without your board constantly turning around.

Without a fin, you will likely be going in circles. Sure, you can stand up on the board and potentially move in a straight line, but at a very slow speed and with great difficulty.

With fins on your paddle board you can still turn the board by altering the strokes you do with you paddle, so a rudder is not needed for turning.

In fact, rudders are used in kayaks not so much for turning but rather to counteract the turning affect a side wind has on the direction your kayak is traveling. They aren’t actively used to turn the kayak, that is still done with the paddles.

Strong side winds cause a kayak to tilt into the wind and make it difficult for you to travel in a straight line. Rudders help to counteract this turning and keep you going straight over long distances, making paddling easier.

Paddle boards are much lower to the water, have a wider surface area and a cross wind doesn’t have the same turning effect on a paddle board as it does on a kayak. Therefore, a rudder isn’t needed.

Do Paddle Board Rudders Exist?

Paddle board rudders do not exist. Rudders are typically found on kayaks instead. 

The main accessory you need on your paddle for better control and tracking is your fins and the paddle itself.

You can use the paddle itself as a rudder by placing it in front of the board as you are tracking forward to force the board to turn in the direction you want.

You can see this displayed in the video below:

What Exactly Does A Paddle Board Rudder/Fin Do?

Paddleboard rudders (which we now know are mistakenly known as paddle fins) attach to the tail end of your board, and their purpose is to keep your paddle board traveling in the direction you desire.

They stop your board turning around completely everytime you do a stroke and instead focus the energy of your stroke and help your board move in a forwards direction.

When catching waves the fins of the paddle dig into the wave allowing you to turn and stop the board from sliding out under your feet.

What Are The Different Types Of Paddle Board Fins?

There are different fin types for your paddle board according to the type of board as well as the kind of waters you will be paddling on. 

The bigger the fin on your paddle board, the more forward control you have, but you sacrifice maneuverability the larger you get. Larger fins can also get stuck in shallow waters.

There are 2 main types of stand up paddle board fins that are commonly used:

  • Surfing fins – These are the most common types of fins and help your board turn quickly. They are wide at the base and perfect for beginner paddling but may struggle on rougher waters or over longer distances.
  • Touring fins – Touring fins are wider, longer and have a different shape. These are best for maintaining a straight line and stability in choppy waters.

Which Ocean Paddle Craft Uses Rudders Instead Of Fins?

Paddle boards use fins for track and the paddle to turn, but other paddle crafts like kayaks sometimes use rudders or skegs. 

A few ocean paddle crafts, like skim boards, do not require fins or rudders since they are used in shallow waters.

Rudders on kayaks are uncommon. Rudders are found mostly on touring kayaks and their main purpose is to counteract the turning effect of cross winds, not to actually steer the kayak. Standard kayaks can be turned quickly enough with the paddles only. 

If you often kayak in rough and windy conditions, a rudder might be handy for extra control.

Most rudders can be controlled via pedals and put away when not used.

As you can see, the main difference between kayak rudders and fins is that rudders are for pivoting kayaks. While fins on the other hand  prevent your SUP from spinning (see our guide for wearing life jackets when paddling here).