In this article, we will explore the 5 main types of surfboard tails.
- The Square or Squash
- The Round Tail
- The Swallow or Fish
- The Pin Tail
- Asymmetrical Tail
We will also look at the many hybrids and variations of these tail types and how they affect the performance of a surfboard in various conditions.
Surfers and surfboard shapers have constantly been innovating to improve board design and, in turn, their surfing experience. Hopefully, after reading this article, you will have a sound understanding of tail shapes so that you can select one that suits your needs.
Let’s get into it!
How does tail shape affect a surfboard?
All tails shapes factor in four general considerations highlighted below:
- Angular tail shapes are going to hold the water harder and give you a sharper turning ability.
- Rounder designs don’t release the water flow as quickly and give you a smoother, more loping turning characteristic.
- With a wider tail, you should expect more stability and float, which will make the board better at planning over the water.
- And lastly, narrow tail shapes will allow the board to hold its line and enable the rider to shift from rail to rail faster.
Shapers use these characteristics to come up with infinite combinations of tail shapes—each with its pros and cons depending on the surfing conditions. The main ones are listed below.
The Square or Squash: This is the most common tail shape on surfboards today. The edges at the tail are classed as angular tail shapes, and therefore they have a snappy release allowing for sharper turns. The vast majority of pro surfers today gravitate towards a square or squash tail shape.
Round Tails: Overall, an easier tail shape to force into the water and initiate a turn due to less surface area. This tail shape is characterised by smooth meandering turns (less working of the board) without losing speed. Great for waves that don’t require an agile board to move in and out from the critical section.
The Swallow or Fish: Easily recognisable by its ‘W’ shape. Essentially it acts as a hybrid of pin and square/squash designs. This tail shape works best in smaller waves with slower sections, so it’s a firm favourite for a beginner shape. You get decent manoeuvrability (from the width) paired with speed from having 2 smaller pin shapes.
Pin Tails: The preferred choice for big wave surfers needing control in powerful surf. The narrow point translates into less manoeuvrability but more hold to keep a straight-line direction. The narrow profile of a pin tail provides maximum water flow and minimal lift, meaning that they need larger waves to work correctly.
Asymmetrical Tails: Are innovative solutions to an inevitable limitation that all surfers deal with. Toeside vs heelside turns. Our level of body control is different over our toes compared to our heels. So, what if we had a tail shape that suited our more agile toe side and complimented our less agile heelside. Enter the asymmetrical shape. The most common setup is a fish or swallow shape for the toe side and a round tail on the heel side. Genius!
How does a surfboard tail work?
The key to understanding how a surfboard tail works is to know about some basic physics. Gravity, buoyancy and torque all combine along with hydrodynamic forces to create the surfing experience.
Sow how do exactly do they affect the tail? Gravity and buoyancy are forces that counteract each other. When a surfer is stationary, gravity is stronger, so they are slightly submerged when waiting for a wave. However, as they paddle into the wave, buoyancy acts by providing lift to the surfer.
This lift comes from many hydrodynamic forces that keep the surfer afloat and provide a rideable experience.
Torque is the key to maintaining control. The same hydrodynamic forces under the board are sporadic and unpredictable. So when they push back on different parts of the board (not where the surfer is standing), they will cause the board to want to rotate. This is known as torque.
Control of the board typically comes from the back (where the board is submerged), and this is where tail shape and design come in. For example, suppose you were to hold your whole hand perpendicular to the water flow of a river. You would feel greater resistance than if you were to hold just two fingers perpendicular to the flow.
Now, if we think back to wider and narrower shapes. The wider setup is helpful for braking (and hence turning) since the board now dips vertically into the water, which increases resistance to water flow. The opposite is true for narrower shapes.
This is the basic building block of tail shaping, and the almost infinite shapes and combinations all start from these physical factors.
What is the best tail shape for a surfboard?
There is no single best tail shape for a surfboard because each tail shape performs differently according to the wave conditions. So the question is rather what is the best tail shape for the day’s conditions.
For larger, more powerful surf, you’ll benefit from a board with a pin shape to hold your line down the wave face. But in smaller mushier waves, you should carve with a fish or swallow tail.
In addition to factoring in the conditions, you should also consider your level of riding. Beginners will need to start with longer boards and rounder tails shapes while getting accustomed to shifting their weight around to initiate turns.
So a shorter board with a square tail shape isn’t going to be the best option for surfers who are still learning the art.
The beauty of having so many design possibilities means that there is a shape variation suited to both the conditions and your riding level.
How far back should a tail pad be?
When placing a tail pad on a surfboard, you need to consider 3 things, namely:
- The fins
- Proximity to leash
- The kick
The fin placement is crucial and will have a negative effect if incorrectly placed. So be sure to place the centre of the pad directly over the centre point of the fins.
Leave about a gap of roughly 1.5cm (roughly half an inch) from the traction pad to the leash plug. The spacing is enough for the leash to work and also avoid the possibility of the leash being close enough to lift the tail pad free.
And lastly, consider the kick of the pad. The raised rear section or ‘kick’ will be affected by your placement of the first two steps. Too far away from the fins, and you’ll not have the maximum control. Too close to the leash plug, and you could have the cord getting in your way.
Check out the video below for placement tips from the legendary Kelly Slater.
Hopefully, after reading this, you’ll be able to quickly identify the variations and surfboard tails and shapes. And know how they perform in various conditions.
We looked at how physics plays its role in shaping the rest of the surfboard and which tail design is best for your skill level.
Finally, we provided some insight on how to place a traction tail pad. If you are wondering about which size surfboard you should get, then check out this article.