Surfing Index


(Click on the terms below to see their definitions)

Length
Rocker
Width
Nose width
Tail widths and designs

Outline
Rail Design
Bottom Contours
Foil
Surfboard Weight
Fin Design

 
Length
Surfboard length is probably the easiest aspect of surfboard design to notice the difference in performance. In most cases, the longer the board you ride the earlier you need to catch the wave. You have probably experienced going for a late take off on a step suck out wave, riding too long of a board. The front of the board catches water and your throws you like a catapulted. An experienced surfer will know if a wave is to steep for the length of his board to drop straight down the face. This is when he has to drop in at an angle to catch the wave safely. So, the length of the board has to be consistent with the shape of the wave and the style of surfing that you will be doing. If you are going to be surfing top to bottom on a tightly compressed wave, than you need a board small enough to fit in the curve of the wave.

Rocker is the amount of curve in the bottom of the board. The flatter the bottom, the more evenly distributed your weight the faster you go, but the more rocker the easier it is to lift more of the front of the board out of the water by putting weight on your back foot, which creates the ability to turn. When looking at a short board it is easy to see extra rocker added to the nose. This is referred to as flip.  It also can be found in long board tail rockers. Flip is added to the front of a board to prevent sticking the nose when dropping straight down into a wave.
Flip is added to the tail of a board to relieve pressure when turning.

Width
Surfboard widths directly effect board performance. Wider boards will be faster, more stable, but can be harder to turn. They also don't allow for stalling so constant turning back into the wave is necessary on powerful waves. Narrower boards do not generate as much speed but can turn with less effort, and provide the ability to stall the board and stay in the heavy part of the wave (getting barreled). Surfboard width can be looked at as your snowshoe size on the water. The wider the snowshoe the higher you ride on the surface of the water.

Nose width can be explained from narrowness to wideness. A narrow nose makes performance surfing easier, because less effort is needed to push the nose down bringing the board back into the wave. This eliminates changing foot placement when leaning forward. The drawback is lack of paddling power. Remember when you are lying on the board, unlike when you are standing, your weight is at the front of the board. So a narrow nose will cause you to sink.

Tail widths and designs
There are many different tail designs. A simple approach is to recognize that a narrower tail rides lower in the water providing more control but is not as fast as a wide tail.
A good rule of thumb to go by is wide tails for small or soft waves, and narrow tails for fast and powerful waves. Swallow tails are an attempt to combine both a wide tails speed and a narrow tails turning ability and control. When the board is flat on the water the tail is wide. When the board is leaning into a turn the tail is narrow because you are pivoting off of one of the two points. Diamond tails are a combination of the wide speed of a squash tail and the narrow directional control of a pintail.

Outline
The surfboard outline effects performance in two ways. The first is width which was explained above. The second is the curve of the rail. The straighter the rail, which is the side of the board that holds you in the face of the wave, the faster and stiffer the board performs.

Rail Design
The fuller the rail the more stable the board is. The thinner the rail the easer it is to sink and throw the board into a turn. The next important factor with rail design has to do with the diameter of the bottom rail. The harder a rail the better the board holds an edge when turning, like a sharp edge on skies. The drawbacks of a hard rail come from its inability to release water off the side of the board. This makes the board less forgiving.
When looking at long board rails the terms 60/40 and 50/50 often come up. This has to do with the ratio of top rail to bottom rail curve (60% top rail 40% bottom rail). Remember, the larger the bottom rail the smoother the ride and the more forgiving the board.

Bottom Contours
In my opinion the bottom of the board is the most overlooked factor in a surfboard�s performance. A flat bottom is fast but tends to be stiff and can lack responsiveness. A vee bottom is not as stable as a flat bottom and has more of a tendency to want to go rail to rail, and provides good straight tracking. Rolled bottoms are very common on long boards. They help to loosen up wide boards and are very smooth when going from one rail to another. Single concaves are designed to trap air and water under the board and create a hydrofoil lift. Nose concaves on long boards are used to flatten out the rocker in the middle of the nose to create a planing area for nose riding, and create lift where the concave ends. A double concave has the benefits of the rail to rail maneuverability of the vee bottom and the lift of a concave plus the up turned curve of the bottom creates more bite and holding power to the rails edge. Remember this is a simplified explanation of bottom contours, because a single board can transition several bottom controls in its entire length.

Foil
Foil can be defined as the thickness flow of the board. Thinner boards are for lighter people and thicker boards are for heavier people. Thinner boards have more flex and provide more spring but they also have the tendency to break easer.

Surfboard Weight
The topic of surfboard weight is probably the most controversial. While most advertisements say lighter is better, this is not always true. A surfboard�s weight has to be proportionate to the size of the board and most of all to the person riding the board. The benefits of a light board are quicker response time, and the increased ability for the board to stay under surfer�s feet when going up the face of the wave. The drawbacks of a light board are extreme sensitivity to the texture of the water�s surface (losing control because of chop), a lack of drive needed to keep up with the speed of a wave (long boards having no gliding momentum), increased buoyancy causing the board to ride to high on the surface of the water (not holding an edge and sliding or spinning out).
The benefits of a heavy board are good drive (able to paddle into a wave and keep up with a wave when standing), smooth riding in choppy water, ability to keep an edge (the weight of the board causes it to ride low down in the water). The drawbacks of a heavy board are the inability to keep the nose of the board up when dropping into a wave (sticking or pearling), lack of sensitivity or quick responsiveness. The issue of weight becomes more and more noticeable with larger and larger boards. When you make 2 identical small boards with two different materials, one being made with light materials and another with heavier materials, the weight difference is small. But, when you run the same test with large boards the difference in weight is very noticeable, thus the different materials used to laminate larger boards has a greater impact on performance.

Fin Design
Fin design is one aspect that many surfers often know very little about, which is very ironic, given the fact that most boards today have the ability to change fins. There are several terms that come up when talking about fins tow, cant, foil, rake, base, and height. Tow is the term that explains the angle the side fins have when pointing towards the nose. Cant is the angle the side fins have leaning outward from the middle. Foil is the thickness flow of the fins (side fins are foiled on one side and center fins are foiled on both sides). Rake is defined as the angle at which the fins seem to curve and reach back when viewing their side profile. Base is the width of the bottom. It most important that the weight of the surfer match the size of the fins. This is because too small of fins for a persons weight will cause the tail of the board to slide out. You will be surprised to find out just how different your board is with a different size and shape of fins. Towing the fins in will help loosen up the board for turning but also causes the board to slow down. Putting more cant on the fin allows water to slide sideways over the fin and release pressure creating a slipping affect. This also loosens up the board but too much will cause the board to loose speed as to much water will slide over the fin versus going straight out the back. There is so much that can be said about foil. Contrary to popular belief a thinner fin may not be faster. There must not be too much sharpness on the leading edge of the fin or else it will cavitate, and the back side of the fin can not be too thick or it will cavitate. To simplify fin foils, a symmetrical double foiled fin is stable and will track and go straight, whereas a half-foiled fin is unstable (an airplane wing causing lift) which encourages turning. Rake plays the role of creating drive. You may have noticed that the further back behind you your fin is, the faster you go, and the more on top of your fins you are the looser more responsive, but slower your board is. When you are surfing, you are riding not straight down the wave but at an angle, slightly moving down the face of the wave, to create drive. Your weight has to be in front of the fins that hold you in the water. This is what rake does. The more the rake, the more drive you have, but this also increases stiffness. The best example of this is to watch a big wave surfer getting barreled at pipeline. You notice he will bring his weight further forward on the board when he gets deeper and deeper into the wave. This is to increase speed. The size of the base determines a fins holding power, and the height of a fin helps to keep the board from popping out of the water when turning. Fin size is also very important with regards to the width of the tail of the board. Remember narrower tails have a tendency to ride lower in the water and have less need for a fins holding power, while a wider tail rides higher on the surface of the water and needs larger fins to keep it from sliding side ways on the surface of the water when turning.

With all of this having been said, I hope you have a greater appreciation for all those who have been putting so much thought into making your boards work so well for you.
 

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