Not all surfboards are alike. In fact, the vast variety of options in the world of surfboard shaping is quite staggering. The dimensions and specifics of a board can dramatically change how the craft functions in the water and how well it will perform in certain kinds of waves. The two main categories of surfboards are shortboards and longboards, and here we’ll be discussing shortboards.
An era of surfing history known as the shortboard revolution came about in the late-1960s and changed the sport forever. Suddenly people were riding boards much shorter in length than previously, and this opened up a new world of wave-riding technique. Shortboards quickly became popular due to their maneuverability and speed, as well as the ability for a surfer to ride in the barrel (the tube of a hollow wave) more efficiently.
There are different types of shortboards, but the most popular is undoubtedly the thruster. This three-fin setup was pioneered by Australian pro surfer Simon Anderson in the 1980s and has become a phenomenon around the world. Not all thrusters are the same, though, and one reason for that is the multitude of tail shapes a surfer can choose from:
Squash tail: This is the most common tail design associated with shortboards. A squash tail makes a board very responsive and can result in some serious turning ability. The surface area of this design makes it easy to maintain speed, something that can be especially useful in smaller waves, a big reason for its popularity. This tail setup can be used in most conditions.
Pin tail: More commonly seen on longer boards known as guns, the pin tail provides the kind of control that a surfer wants when surfing big waves. The hold from this design allows for critical drops in dangerous situations. Shortboards can see a hybrid tail that combines the pin and the round tail (see below); this is known as a rounded pin.
Round tail: Similar to the pin, the calling card of the round tail is control. The increased width of the round tail compared to that of the pin makes for a more versatile setup. This tail can hold up in large, hollow conditions but also make for a fun session in smaller waves.
Square Tail: The square tail is the oldest tail design and not very common on shortboards anymore. However, it’s worth noting for its historical value.
Another common tail design, though not seen on thrusters, is the swallow tail. This design looks as if two small pin tails were attached to one another on a single board, and boards of this design are usually very short in length. The swallow tail performs best in small waves, and boards designed with this tail setup are commonly referred to as “fish.”
Tail design is not the only thing to consider when choosing a board. Volume is another crucial factor. The volume of a surfboard has more to do with the weight of a surfer than anything else, but the specific break being ridden can also factor in. If the wave is on the slow side and trying to paddle into, one may want to increase their volume a bit to aid in their paddling.
The nose of a board also comes into play when considering the wave one is surfing. Wider noses often aid in paddling, similar to increased volume, and a broad nose can be helpful in tapered waves that may be more challenging to catch. A narrow nose is useful when surfing hollow waves due to the steep drops often encountered in such conditions.
There are more details that go into choosing a surfboard, but those are enough to get started. It’s important to know what kind of wave you’re about to surf before you paddle out. That way you can adapt your surfboard choice to that specific break, which can only have a positive effect on your surfing. It may sound complicated at first, but once you grasp the core concepts, you’re well on your way to understanding the dynamics of board design and performance. Tailor your board choice to the wave, but also remember to tailor it to your skill level and style.