Buying the right surfboard that will perform best for you can be an art. The aim of this post is to arm you with the information you need to make an informed decision when purchasing your next surfboard.
Types of Surfboards
The standard surfboard (5ft to 7ft), with a pointed nose, the shortboard allows for maximum maneuverability. Regularly used by professionals in surfing contests.
Retro / Egg
Modern hybrid board inspired by the first (old school) shortboard creations. The boards are normally thicker, flatter and wider than a shortboard, typically with a rounded nose and tail. This gives extra floatation, awesome fun for smaller waves.
Created for small wave fun although generally not as fat (wide, thick) as the Retro / Egg surfboards. Fish surfboards still maintain the maneuverability. in the small waves. Note, any type of board can have a fish tail, but isn’t referred to as a Fish unless it has the other features of a Fish.
Big wave (paddle in) board (7ft to 12ft). Thin, long, needle-like template with single or thruster fin set up. Basically a longer version of the shortboard, which makes it easier for a surfer to gain momentum required to paddle into the big waves.
Malibu / Longboard
Aka (Mal), is the long board with a rounded nose. Back in the days, Mals were the only option for surfers before the surfboard revolution. Despite the revolution, Mals are as popular as ever. Riding a mal is a different style of surfing which is responsible for famous surfing terms such as “Hang Ten” and “walking the plank”.
For the most extreme waves which are too large to paddle into. Tow surfing is when the surfer is towed into the wave typically behind a jet ski. Unlike the Guns which are designed as longer boards to allow the surfers to paddle into the big waves, Tow boards can be as short as shortboards, with footstaps to keep the surfer attached to the board.
The dimensions of a surfboard (generally measured in inches):
Typically surfboards are measured in inches. The length is measured from the nose to the tail. Choosing the length of the surfboard is dependant on your size (weight, height), board type and waves conditions you wish to use the board for.
The widest point of the surfboard is measured from rail to rail. Generally the wider the surfboard the more stable the board, while a board with smaller width maintains better speed and performance.
Surfboard thickness is measured from the top deck to the bottom. The thickness again has a bearing on the board’s performance. Professional surfers will tend to go for the thinner boards as they are lighter and offer better performance. The thicker boards are stronger and because there is more foam under the surfer the boards are more stable.
The bottom curve of a surfboard. Generally the more rocker the surfboard has the more loose (maneuverable) the surfboard will be. Where the flatter rocker surfboards will be faster, although they will lack the looseness.
The tip of the surfboard, the nose can vary in shapes and size. Basically the thinner the nose the more response the board will perform, while wider noses are better for stabilization.
Used to increase the strength of a surfboard, a stringer (normally made from wood) runs down the length of a surfboards (typically in the center of the board from the tip of the nose to the tail). Boards built with Epoxy, Carbon Fibre and soft boards generally don’t have stringers.
The materials used to create surfboards have been responsible for the most recent advancements in surfboard building. No longer are surfboards mainly being produced with polyurethane foam cores and an outer shell of fiberglass cloth and polyester resins. Here are the main options:
Glassing (Fiberglass & polyester resins)
Fiberglass & polyester resin is the standard option for shaping surfboards and has been the proven material since the 50’s.
The following are the general options for glassing:
- Light – for performance, mainly used for competition surfboards;
- Medium – The standard for production surfboards, for the all round surfer;
- Heavy – Extra strength, less prone to dinging;
- Wet Rub – Matt (standard finish);
- Polish – Gloss (give the surfboards a shine);
Epoxy is a type of resin (liquid chemical) it is not foam or fiberglass. Epoxy surfboards tend to be stronger, more resilient to dinging and much lighter than standard surfboards (polyester). Epoxy is more difficult for shapers to work with and that translates to the price tag, although many surfers see it as a trade off as epoxy surfboards generally have a longer life span. Epoxy offers surfers increased drive off the bottom of the wave, this is accomplished by a slight flexing action (similar to a snowboard).
The latest surfboard technology. Carbon Fibre surfboards are completely hollow (no foam required). The high temperature fibre placement process gives the carbon fibre surfboards the highest strength to weight ratio available today, again this translates to the price tag. Similar to Epoxy board the Carbon Fibre boards will gain speed through turns thanks to the flexing of the surfboard.
Balsa wood was first used as early as the 1930s and is still being used to this present day. Generally balsa is the heaviest of the materials, but is still very popular with longboard surfboard shapers.
The different types of surfboard rails:
The outside edge of a surfboard. The rails are critical to the performance of a surfboard. As the surfer rides along the face of the wave, its the sinking and unsinking motion of the rails used to gain speed. The thinner the rails with less foam are easier to sink which means that the board will turn sharper and quicker.
The larger fuller rails hold more foam, this adds floatation.
Round / Egg
For smaller and sloppy waves.
Mid / 50-50
Generally works a for all conditions.
For cleaner, steeper waves.
For the big waves.
The different types of surfboard tails:
The end of the surfboard where the water exits form the board. The different tail types affect the stability and performance of a surfboard. Following are the most common tail types:
Round Pin Tail
The curved tail with a pinch at the end permits the surfboard to hold well in the pocket of the wave and smooth rail to rail. The Rounded Pin tail can bog down through flat sections, therefore is great for powerful, medium to larger surf.
The tail is shaped into a point. Pin tails have the minimum amount of area in the water, designed to hold the waves well at higher speeds. Excellent for large waves where speed needs to be controlled, not generated. Popular with Gun surfboards.
Great for shortboards and small waves. The square tail contains the greatest area of any tail design. The rails meet the tail at sharp corners allowing the surfer o carve the most sharpest, pivotal turns with great responsiveness.
One of the most common tail designs with shortboards. The Squash tail is similar to the Square tail but with rounded edges. The tail provides excellent performance while maintaining speed and drive.
Easy to identify with the reversed ‘v’ chopped from the tail. The gap allows water to flow freely between the two pins (pivots) which provides more drives in the weaker waves.
Half Crescent Moon Tail:
The Half Crescent Moon tail has been named due to the appearance of the tail, it has a semi-circular shape cut out of the tail. Popular with small, sloppy wave boards such as fish surfboards.
One of the more futuristic tail designs. Basically a bat tail is two outer pivot points and the addition of the central point. Bat Tails are good in small waves, but have been used for tow boards as well.
The purpose of wing tails is to reduce the width of the tail (generally for the wider boards). The reduction is a small cut away which typically occurs just in front of the front fins. The example shown above is a wing tail combined with a swallow tail.
The different types of surfboard fin configurations:
Generally heavier surfers require larger fins to hold the waves better. Although if you prefer to ride a looser (less hold in the waves), smaller fins would be a better option.
Fin configurations have an effect on the ways your surfboards perform. The following are some of the more common fin configurations.
The single fin was the original fin configuration for surfboards. Based on the idea of the sailboat keel. Single fins are added stabilization and control on the powerful, larger waves, although lack maneuverability.
Are great for small waves, being fast and maneuverable, but when put into tight spots on larger waves, they become hard to control. Popular with Fish surfboards.
Thruster / Tri-Fin
Widely recognized as the standard fin configuration, the thruster answers the shortcomings of the single fin and the twin fins configurations. The thrusters give you stabilization, control and maneuverability in all types of surfing conditions. This concept was the brainchild of Australia’s Simon Anderson.
With four fins in the water, Quads boasts an extraordinary amount of holding power in larger surf. You may think that having four fins would sacrifice speed by creating more drag, but this is not the case. The both sets of fins are working together on the rail, which makers believe they creates less drag than a board with a center fin. The maneuverability isn’t sacrificed either, with fins directly under your back foot, the quads are very responsive.
Similar setup to the Twin Fin, although smaller (low profile) fins are generally placed wider (closer to the rails) on the surfboard. Popular with Fish and Egg / Retro surfboards.
Popular with Longboards, the fin set up utilizing a single center fin is complimented with two small fins.
Twin with trailer:
Basically a Twin fin configuration with an added small center trailer fin, this adds more stability than the standard Twin fin configuration.
Generally has two larger fins at the back (middle) and two toed (set on an angle) smaller fin placed outside and further from the tail of the board. Like the Quads, Twinzer is much looser than a thruster yet maintains speed. Popular with Hybrid surfboards.
Bonzer / C5:
The 5-fin configuration is similar to the Twinzer but with the addition of a center trailing fin in the back. The two front fins are typically small and oval shaped, designed to direct the water through the larger side fins, thus allowing more drive from your board. Like the Twinzer, Bonzers are popular with the Hybrid boards.