Science of surfing: Guide to surfboard tail shapes

Jun 13, 2017 BY AWE365 Team

Like surfers, surfboard tails come in many shapes and sizes which all affect performance in the water. In this our first article exploring the science of surfing, we’ve put together a guide to surfboard tail shapes in order to help you choose the right board for you.

Science of surfing Guide to surfboard tail shapes - Wikimedia CC image by Alex Proimos

Science of surfing: Chasing tail

The tail of a board is extended back into the face of the wave by the weight of the rider. This means it is the focal point of most surfing manoeuvres and an essential feature of all surfboard designs.

Whether it be big wave riding, tube riding, aggressive turns, or simply coasting, shapers manipulate the tail of a surfboard to meet the various goals of surfers. Knowledge of these surfboard tail shapes is imperative when buying a board.

Although you’ll find many styles, surfboard tails are derived from three basic designs. And understanding which category surfboard tails fall under will help you choose the right board for you.

Science of surfing Guide to surfboard tail shapes - Wikimedia CC image by KDS444

Guide to surfboard tail shapes

On the whole, rounder shaped tails will provide smoother, rounder turns as the water grips the edge for longer adding stability particularly in larger waves. While angular shaped tails suit sharper and pivotal turns, so the board feels more loose and skatey.

There are many variations in tail design, including asymmetrical shapes and some weird combos. But for this guide to surfboard tail shapes we are sticking to the five most common and explore the science of surfing:

Square/Chop Tail

The original surf tails from which all others were born, a square or chop tail board looks like the end of the tail has been chopped off. You’ll see a straight line across the bottom, that varies from very near the tip to closer to further back.

Science of surfing Guide to surfboard tail shapes - square tail. Flickr CC image by frphoto1

Because square tails have a lot of volume in the back end it helps you to plane easily across fat or weaker sections of the wave. This increased surface area in the tail improved stability and makes them a little easier to ride in smaller surf.

The corners of the squared off tail dig into the water making pivotal turns easier. You will normally see a square tail on longboards, but you do see them on short boards too.

Round Tail

Normally found on wider boards, round tails look how you would expect with a rounded off rather than squared off tail. The longer tail means smoother and rounder turns as the water flows around the edge of the board.

Science of surfing Guide to surfboard tail shapes - round tail. Flickr CC image by Andy M Taylor

Round tails are better in larger surf than square tails. Overall they have a larger surface area so provide more lift and are better for picking up speed in slower sections. It will feel more maneuverable than a square tail but less stable.

In this guide to surfboard tail shapes, rounded are one of the most versatile designs and are found on long and short boards. But they are better for larger waves, steeper faces and barrels.

Pin Tail

A pin tail is similar to a round tail but more elongated and normally on narrower boards. Generally it will look like a shorter, rounder version of the nose of the board. Because a pintail protrudes further out from the surfer’s back foot, it digs further into the face of the wave than other tails.

Science of surfing Guide to surfboard tail shapes - pin tail. Flickr CC image by kevinwellsphoto

The science of surfing means that this protrusion creates more stability on the face of a wave while sacrificing turning manoeuvrability. Of the different surfboard tail shapes, pin tails are the best for big wave boards like guns or miniguns or larger step-ups.

When charging a 20-foot face, a surfer doesn’t care about hacking turns or cut backs, he just wants to travel as steady as possible. Recognize pintails as elongated ends of the board – if you needed to read this to distinguish a pintail from other tails, it’s probably not the tail for you.

Squash/Diamond Tail

The most prolific tail design of short boards, squash tails are shaped angularly with the very end of the board cut perpendicular to the stringer. This boxy design leads to improved manoeuvrability while still maintaining surface area for speed.

Science of surfing Guide to surfboard tail shapes - diamond tail. Flickr CC image by dakine kane

Squash tails are good options for surfing holidays where you expect waist to overhead surf. They can provide the basis of hard bottom and top turns, yet still be ridden quick and stable enough in a fast moving barrel.

Also known as diamond tails, squash tails can be differentiated from other tails by sharp angles at the end of a board that are not squared off. Buy one if you’re looking to throw turns or simply want more manoeuvrability from your surfboard.

Swallow/Fish Tail

Also known as a fish tail, swallow tails are recognizable by the distinctive ‘V’ shape cut out at the end of a board. This ‘V’ creates two points of contact at the tail instead of one improving the maneuverability and stability.

Science of surfing Guide to surfboard tail shapes - swallow tail. Flickr CC image by Chill Mimi

The design is optimal for sharp turns on the face of a wave while still providing enough surface area to generate speed. Often these tails can be found on ‘fish’ type surfboards that work well in smaller surf (below head-high) because they are good for paddling into slower waves and their sharp turning means you don’t outrun the wave.

Many variations of the swallow tail exist from very deep ‘Vs’ that plunge over the fins, to ‘bat’ designs with three points instead of two. Buy a swallow tail for the off season when big swells are hard to come by and manoeuvrability is at a premium.

We hope you found this guide to surfboard tail shapes useful. Keep an eye out for other articles in our science of surfing series by bookmarking our surfing articles home page.


Longboard, Surfboard Tails

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