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Basics of Surfboard Design

Basics of Surfboard Design

Do you want to be the guy who can pick up a random surfboard, hold it at funny angles, and come to conclusions about how it will perform? Do you have a desire to make a huge mess and shape your first surfboard? If you answered yes to either question, or if you just would like to know some of the basics of surfboard design, you have come to the right place! Understanding your surfboard will help you get the most out of your time in the water, and help you push your surfing to new levels.

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Rob Machado inspects an eco-friendly board shaped by Brian Syzmanski

The Supa-Basics

Nose: forward point

Tail: back of the board (where fins are placed)

Deck: top of the board where you stand

Rails: edges of the board

Foam: is the most common material for surfboard construction.

Fiberglass and resin: are the most common materials for the outerlayer of a surfboard although there are other contenders such as epoxy. This layer adds greatly to the strength and determines characteristics such as flex and durability.

Stringer: the strip of wood glued between the two pieces of foam which runs from nose to tail. One is most common number of stringers but there are variations.

The Good-Stuff

Length and width and thickness are most essentially measures of volume over space. A surfboard with more volume is typically easier to surf. This is why most soft beginner boards are long, wide and thick while pro-surfers typically ride short thin and narrow boards.

Usually more volume equates to less maneuverability, but a balance must be struck since maneuverability means nothing if you can’t catch a wave or generate speed. When you look at a surfboard’s design keep in mind that there are many different styles of surfing and levels of ability. The absolute best way to find what’s best for you is to trade boards with your friends!

Imagine tracing a surfboard’s shape onto a piece of paper, what you would be left with is a 2-dimensional outline of the board. This outline is called a template; shapers will often create templates of boards and write in other important measurements such as thickness. Templates are a good place to start when thinking about how a board will perform. Imagine how water will flow past the surface, will the water meet resistance as it pushes past the board or will the board glide with minimal resistance?

Comparing the widest point to the center of the board is a good use for a template. The further back the wide point is the more maneuverable the board will be, but with maneuverability you often forfeit predictability. This is why performance short boards often have a wide point close to the tail, while big wave guns will have it closer to the midpoint.

Maneuverability vs. predictability is a big binary in surfboard design. It comes up again when you look at the rails of a surfboard. There are two poles of rail design: hard and soft. Hard rails are rails that come to a point near the midline of rail. Soft rails come to a point below the midline (towards the bottom) of the surfboard. Hard rails are very common on long boards, they are predictable and forgiving, but they are not responsive like soft rails. Many surfboards blend the two designs.

Bottom contour is the shape of the board from rail to rail. Most commonly boards will have some concave, but they can also have a reverse concave or belly to them. A “V bottom” is similar to a belly and it means that the center of the board will be higher than the rails. Modern performance short boards often use single to double concave, with a single concave closer to the midpoint and a double concave near the fins. This design gives a healthy grip on the water for turning but not so much that you get locked into a path, aka the dreaded phenomena of “tracking”.

The nose to tail curve of a surfboard is referred to as rocker. It determines how the board will plane over the water’s surface.  If a board has a flatter rocker or no rocker it will move fast across flat sections of a wave, but it will also be less responsive in critical situations, like on a steep wave, or when turning. Keep in mind that rocker on a steep wave will keep you from nose-diving and taking a dive into the sand!