Published on January 15th, 2007 | by K20
Surfboard Design Explained
A surfboard could be just about the hardest piece of sport equipment to buy. There are so many variables that influence the way the surfboard will ride and there are so many different shapers and surfboard model, even if we do not get into the custom shaped surfboards. First there is a general shape and length of the board, then you have to decide on what kind of tail do you want, what kind of rails do you want, what kind of fin set-up, what kind of rocker, do you want channel bottom, how thick, how wide etc… it can get confusing. To sort things out – this surfboard buyers guide is for you.
Before you decide on your surfboard design and go surfboard shopping you have to honestly ask yourself a few questions that should be considered when choosing a surfboard:
- Surfers ability Level – how good surfer are you honestly? Surfing is about catching waves, so if you are not confident in your surfing ability or you are not in a good shape get a surfboard designed with more thickness and width, you will surf a lot more and progress faster.
- Size and weight of surfer – this one is quite obvious, bigger and heavier surfer needs bigger and thicker surfboard with more buoyancy.
- Size of waves and type of break that you intend to surf – mellow beach breaks or heavy reefs? And it’s not about the waves that you want to surf…those picture perfect magazine waves, think about what you actually surf 90% of the time.
- Surfers own riding style
No surfboard design will work in all waves, all of the time, for all surfers!
This is why so many different surfboard designs exist and why some surfers have a quiver of surfboards to cover a range of different waves and surf conditions.
Surfboard Design Considerations
This is a list of surfboard design features that influence how the surfboard will ride, each surfboard design feature is later explained in more detail:
- Template (Plan shape/Outline)
- Surfboard Length
- Surfboard Width
- Surfboard Rails
- Surfboard Rocker
- Surfboard Nose Lift
- Surfboard Tail Lift
- Surfboard Bottom Contours
- Surfboard Thickness
- Surfboard Tail Design
- Surfboard Fins
What is a surfboard template? Template is the general shape of the surfboard if you look at it from the top. Generally longer, straighter templates are more conducive to faster surfing and bigger waves. Rounder, curvier templates are slower in a straight line but give a very maneuverable surfboard.
What is Surfboard Length? Surfboard length is the size of the surfboard from nose to tail. Longer surfboards will paddle easier, glide better and make it easier to get around sections. However they are less maneuverable than short surfboards. Beginners normally need a surfboard around 12″-18″ (450mm) longer than they are tall. Experts generally ride surfboards in the 6′ 2″ – 6′ 6″ range in average surf. In large waves e.g. Hawaii, surfboards may be as long as 10′ and 7-8ft surfboards are common. In the last few years there is also a noticeable turn towards shorter thicker surfboards 5’8″ – 6’2″ are ridden by average surfers.
What is surfboard width? Surfboard width is the size of the surfboard across the surfboard, perpendicular to the stringer. It is measured at the widest point. Wider surfboards float better, are more stable and ideal for beginners and for surfing junk waves. 20″ – 22″ is a good width for beginners surfboards. Experts will often ride surfboards around 17″ – 19″ wide and in large waves most surfers benefit from the increase in control that narrower surfboards will give.
Widest Point of a surfboard
Where is the widest point of a surfboard? Position of the widest point of the surfboard is another critical factor. In Guns it may be quite far forward of the surfboards center. This makes them fast and controllable but not very maneuverable. Small wave surfboards usually have their widest points behind center in order to enhance their maneuverability.
Nose Width and Tail width
What is surfboard nose width? Nose width is measured 1 ft back from the tip of the surfboards nose.
What is surfboard tail width? Tail width is measured 1 ft forward from the end of the rail.
More width in the nose and tail (“full outline”) is better for beginners as it gives a more stable surfboard that is easier to catch and ride waves on. Surfboards designed for larger, faster waves tend to have less nose and tail width.
What are surfboard rails? Surfboard rails are the outside edge of the surfboard. Hard edges especially in the tail allow the water to break away (release) from the rail helping speed and maneuverability. However in big and fast waves the opposite is often desirable and rails may be softer to give a better “grip” on the water. The most common rail line features a “tucked under edge” that combines the best properties of both soft and hard rails. The volume (thickness) of the rails is also important. High volume rails are better suited to small, slow waves as they do not sink as much when turning. In bigger waves low volume rails allow better control at higher speeds where sinking the rails when turning is desirable.
What is the surfboard rocker? Surfboard rocker is the bottom curve of the surfboard. Surfboard rocker is arguably the single most important design feature. Generally less rocker makes a surfboard plane faster and is better in small or mushy waves. More rocker allows more control in critical situations and is preferable in steep waves. The effect of bottom shape (side to side) can combine with the rocker to influence a surfboards characteristics in many ways. Generally the longer the surfboard the more rocker it needs to have.
Surfboard nose lift prevents the nose from pearling (digging in). The more nose lift the less chance there will be of pearling. More nose lift also keeps it clear of the water when performing radical manoeuvres. Thus preventing the surfer from “digging a rail”. Flatter nose lift is often seen in Longboards where nose riding is an important consideration. it prevents the surfboard from stalling as the flatter section planes better.
Surfboard tail lift has recently been taken to extreme limits with high performance surfboards, mainly to counteract the tracking effect of a full concave bottom. Lots of tail lift can make a surfboard slower but allows great maneuverability especially in critical situations.
What are surfboard bottom contours? Bottom contours are the shape of the bottom of the surfboard and influence how water travels under the surfboard. Some common surfboard bottom contours are:
- Belly bottom
- Flat bottom
- Concave bottom
- Vee bottom
- Channel bottom
Belly Bottom design
Belly surfboard bottom design is a convex shaped bottom. Belly bottom is sometimes used, traditionally in the front section of a board, to prevent the surfboard from tracking.
Flat Bottom design
Flat surfboard bottom design is a fast bottom shape but one that can be difficult to control in larger/faster waves. Flat bottom is good for small, mushy waves, where you need lots of speed.
Concave Bottom design
Concave surfboard bottom design helps to prevent water being released under the rails giving the surfboard lift and speed. It is often used in the front section of Longboards to aid noseriding. On short surfboards a concave bottom will need increased rocker to allow the rider to retain good maneuverability.
Vee Bottom design
Vee surfboard bottom gives a flat planing surface on each side of the surfboard that makes the surfboard fast through turns and easy to change direction. Vee surfboard bottom is not as fast when going in a straight line.
Channels Bottom design
Channel bottom design can have up to 8 channels running along the bottom of a surfboard and there are a number of variations. Their basic purpose is similar to a concave bottom i.e. To direct the water from nose to tail giving increased lift and speed. If they are deep, long and have hard edges they may do this too well and make the surfboard prone to tracking.
Surfboard thickness and the distribution of thickness along the surfboard will determine how well a surfboard floats and, to some degree how well it paddles. Most surfboards are thickest in the center with the thickness tapered to produce a thinner nose and tail. Beginners will benefit from having plenty of thickness throughout the board.
There are an enormous number of different tail shapes and designs, some of which perform in very similar ways. The basic surfboard tail designs are:
- Squash and/or Square tail design
- Pintail design
- Swallow Tail design
Squash and/or Square tail design
Squash and/or Square surfboard tail is the most common tail for short surfboards. The width of the squash / square tail enhances maneuverability and is especially suited to small waves and heavier surfers.
Pintail is commonly used on big wave surfboard. Pintail has a small area that allows it to hold in, in critical situations where a wider tail would cause the surfboard to spin out.
Swallow Tail design
Swallow Tail design couples the area and turning abilities of a wide tail design whilst the individual points act in a similar fashion to the pintail design.
Surfboards may have any number of fins, usually 1 or 3, and there are valid design points (and fans) for the different combinations and designs. Without a fin a surfboard would slide sideways and be almost uncontrollable. A fin creates resistance to the water allowing the surfboard to be turned and to travel across the face of the wave without sideslipping.
Surfboard fin combinations:
- Single Fin
- 3 Fins (Thruster)
- 2 & 4 Fins
Single Fin are mainly used on beginners surfboards where control and not performance is the main criteria. Single fins are also used on modern longboards and on some big wave guns. The deeper the fin and the larger its area the more control the rider has. However if the fin is too big it will cause drag and may eventually make the surfboard harder to turn. An optimum size would be 6″ – 10″ deep with a 6″ – 8″ base. Upright fins allow the surfboard to be pivoted around them in a turn whilst raked fins provide better control at higher speeds. Single fins are generally 6″ – 8″ from the tail of the surfboard (to the rear of the base) and are foiled to present excess drag.
3 Fins (Thruster)
3 Fins – Thruster is used in the vast majority of surfboards. Thruster design has been found to perform best for most people, on most surfboard designs, in most surf conditions. The 3 Fin set up gives good maneuverability, holds in well and makes the surfboard feel very stable. Generally the fins are about 4″ deep with a 3″ – 4″ base. The forward fins have their bases angled towards the nose of the surfboard and their tips further apart than their bases. These features enhance the speed and maneuverability of the surfboard and prevent the surfboard tracking. The rear fin is foiled normally but the front fins have flat inside faces to improve drive whilst turning.
2 & 4 Fins
2 & 4 Fins Various surfboard designs feature 2 or 4 fin set ups. Twin fins tend to make the surfboard very loose but difficult to control in certain situations, especially in large waves. 4 Fins were used to combine the best of twin and 3 fins set ups although they have never had a wide following.
These were the main surfboard design point to consider. Now you are on your own.