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Surfboard Design

Surfboard Design

surfboard design

Surfboard design can look very simple to the uninitiated. To most people a board just looks like an elongated piece of fiberglass with pointy ends. Surfboards can get very complicated, however, if you really get into the nitty gritty elements. Shaping a surfboard is an art, and each surfboard (provided it’s hand shaped) is unique and individual.

Different dimensions and shapes, even if they’re only changed by a small amount, can lead to drastically different results. Surfboards are tailor made to suit many different abilities, conditions, and styles.

There is also a profound sense of pleasure in having a board custom shaped to your riding style rather than blindly buying one off the rack. The better you know how a surfboard works, the better you can choose the perfect design for your next board.

Basic components of surfboard design:

Click on the word to go to a more detailed page regarding each design component.

Float – How much foam, or volume, does the board have? Older boards were huge and heavy, but floated and planed very well catching even the smallest waves. Smaller performance shortboards are often thinner (hence the nickname “potato chip” boards) and have less area. They are more maneuverable but sacrifice wave catching ability for this maneuverability. So the big question here would be whether you want to sacrifice waves for performance or performance for waves.

Length – The distance from the nose to the tail, tip to tip. Has a dramatic effect on the performance of a board. Affects paddling speed, riding speed, and stability.

Width – The distance from rail to rail. Also affects paddling speed and stability of the board, as well as turning ability.

Outline – The outline, or template of a board is how curvy it is, and where those curves are placed in relation to the length of the board. The curvier a board, the more maneuverable, however if it is too curvy and round the board will have no direction. If a board is too square it will be very hard to turn.

Tail – The rear end of the board. Tails come in a variety of shapes and widths.

Nose – Nose shape can be either pointed or rounded. Affects wave entry.

Rail – Shape of the rail can affect speed and planning of the board, as well as turning ability.

Fins – The fins of the board primarily provide turning ability, stability, and speed.

Rocker – The bending upward of the nose and tail. The less rocker, the less drag and the faster the board.

Hull Shape/Concave – The shape of the bottom of the board. One of the defining elements that can make or break a board. Concave provides lift for the board. The best wave to visualize the effect of concave is to think about putting a spoon under a faucet of water.

Fins – Fins primarily give the board direction, making sure the nose is always going forward. Fins also help hold the board on the wave, and provide the necessary leverage for turning the board.

Deck Shape – The shape of the deck, or top of the board where the rider stands. The deck can be domed or crowned, or flat. A crowned deck will make rail to rail transitions easier, and therefore make the board a bit easier to turn and control. A flat deck will make the board a bit more stable and require more effort when making rail to rail transitions and turns.

Material/Glassing – New materials are being experimented with every day, and can noticeably affect the “feel” of a board. The most common material is fiberglass, but other materials include foam, epoxy, and carbon-lite.

Stringer – the wooden balsa stringer adds strength to the board, acting like a spine.

These elements can be combined in different ways to create all types of boards. Surfboard designs have undergone a lot of evolution since the early days of surfing.

Types of Surfboard Designs

Longboards: The granddaddy of the surfboard kingdom, and the ‘original’ surfboard design. These boards are long, stable, and easy to paddle. Great for classic surf enthusiasts to beginners, these boards allow riders to walk the deck and noseride or hang-ten.

Shortboards: The most popular type of surfboard design. Shortboards are highly maneuverable and versatile, allowing for late drops and quick turns. Shortboards don’t get their maneuverability from being short, but rather by uniting very contradictory shaping elements with the thrusting power of the tri-fin setup.

Guns: Big-wave guns/Rhino Chasers. Serve a very simple purpose: get up to speed fast and get down the face.

Funboards/Mini Mals: These boards combine the paddling strength of a longboard with a shorter length allowing the rider to gain the ease of paddling into waves while also having a bit of the maneuverability of a shortboard. They get a lot of flack for being suited to below-average “weekend warrior” types, and not suited for more “hard core” surfers. Great for learning, and fun on sloppy summer days. Usually come in a tri-fin setup.

Fish: Fish came along during the popularity of kneeboarding, and were initially designed to be ridden on the knees or standing up. Short and wide, they weren’t the first boards to use split ‘swallow’ tails or twin fin setups, but they were the first to really harness the full power of those elements. Fish are known for their paddling ease and speed capabilities.

Soft Tops: As the name implies, soft top boards are made of foam, or have an epoxy core coated in softer foam.  These boards are user-friendly, great for beginners, safe, and durable.

Other Resources

For more information on surfboard design and creating your own surfboard, check out The Surfer’s Textbook, a new book by Howard Jennar B.Ed (I.A).

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12 years ago

Hey – wonderful blog site, just looking around some personal blogs, seems a pretty great platform you are using. Im currently using Drupal for a few of my sites but looking to modify one of them over to a platform related to yours as a trial run. Anything in particular you would suggest about it?

' Psyche'
14 years ago

Interesting , The bottoms , tri-plane hulls, guns and mini-guns with the classic powerboard rolled V in the back 1/3 , You know what tey say ,’Everythings been done Before’ is true, but; every time the cycle rounds, we have a little more fine tuning here and there Peace Out

14 years ago

9’6 is very cumbersome, if I were you I would try an 8’6, that’s what I started with and you will get back to your old self.

14 years ago

I used to surf in my young days. I am now 57y female , 5’8″ and weigh about 180.. Yikes now you know why I want to start surfing again. what size board would you suggest. I used to surf longboard 9’6 in my young days. Was one of the few ” girls” in the 1960’s that surfed southern calif.
Thanks for the help

14 years ago

Hi Jack, welcome to the site. That board you described might be a bit tough for you to learn on if your body type is how you’ve described. It’s definitely on the smaller side. (plus, if it’s a shortboard thruster type shape it’s not going to be hiding foam in the nose or tail). I would definitely recommend getting yourself a mal to start off with. A fish would be good too, but it’s nice to have a longer floaty board in your quiver anyway for really small days (do you guys get small days in Australia?). So in short, I’d say you can try to slog it out for now, BUT I just have a feeling it’s going to be frustrating so I’d try to get a funboard / longboard with a full nose.

14 years ago

hey guys,

im not from the U.S. like most of you, im actually from Manly, Australia. (gives me some great beaches to work with)
i’ve been checking out this site for a while now and u seem to know what your on about. i’ve looked thru forums and all they do is confuse me due to the difference in opinions. i need advice on learning with my shortboard

i’ve got about a week left till i graduate from high school (planning on going out heaps over summer), and i got a shortboard off a friend who has been surfing for decades (note: he is over double my age), he says he’s only getting rid of it because it didn’t ride the way he wanted. his price on the new surfboard was indeed generous, so naturally i couldn’t refuse.

anyway, I am 6″3′ and roughly 185-190 lbs with little to almost no experience in surfing, and wouldn’t exactly say im the most athletic guy around.
this shortboard however is 6″6′ x 19 7/8 x 2 5/8. (need anymore info, i’ve done my research, i’ll be able to tell you).

i’m not sure how good it will be for learning in the long/short term.
would it be okay to slog it out in the meantime? or better to find a mini-mal or a large fish to start with? then move on to my shorty?

Surf Lessons UK
14 years ago

As a surf school operator – is there any chance you can add some info about “soft top” surfboards?

14 years ago

hello, the thorough input of this article is really helpful for beginners like me so thankyou =), but I was also wondering if it would be possible to add pictures with the descriptions? for example, I’m not sure what a crowned deck looks like, lol.

15 years ago

can you visually see the difference between an epoxy board and a polyester board?

Colin Yu
Colin Yu
15 years ago

concering the surfboards design could you please let me know that what is “tail stop” thanks

second hand surfboards
15 years ago

Thats a very comprehensive and informative article well done. Can you please become an editor on wikipedia and add some interesting stuff to the surfboard page because right now it makes for very boring reading!

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