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.
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).