Surfboard tail shapes are an integral part of surfboard design and are specific to the wave type for which a surfboard is intended. This is surfboard tail shapes explained.
If you think that the shape and design of the surfboard is limited to aesthetic purposes, then you are mistaken. Speed, manoeuvrability, hold and other elements can be controlled by design, particularly with respect to the all important surfboard tail. Though most surfboard tail shapes can work in multiple wave conditions, specific designs can be beneficial to surfers who want to increase the functionality of their boards for a specific wave type.
For example, someone who craves down the line speed (Benny does…) will want a surfboard tail that will provide acceleration and control at speed speed. Someone who gravitates towards high performance surfing might want a tail with better manoeuvrability to manage sharp turns in the pocket and fluid transitions between manourvres.
The Humble Beginnings
Surfboards first manifested themselves as basic, rectangular pieces of wood, which tapered slightly at the bottom. Fast forward and with the help of science and the general understanding of waves, the ocean and fluid dynamics these simple shape have evolved tremendously and into a myriad of forms, depending on the needs of the surfer and the waves / conditions for which he or she intends to ride the board.
An integral component of a surfboards overall design, surfboard tail shapes come in many shapes and sizes (many more than will be discussed here). However, the six most popular designs – pintail, rounded pintail, round tail, squash or rounded square tail, swallow tail and square tail – may be found on most craft we use to access those mesmorising, strangely shaped pieces of water called waves.
The names themselves may lend and idea to how they look like — the pintail shape tapers sharply at the end of a surfboard to a point, while the square tail has a flat, straight bottom with sharp corners. Over the years, many variations and combinations have branched out from these six shapes, with each one offering different strengths and functions.
Six Basic Surfboard Tail Shapes
- Pintail – If one needs better control in the biggest, baddest waves around, this tail shape can best provide that. Pintails are crafted to give better wave control and hold, enabling surfers to speed through the water at pace without sacrificing control. The decreased surface area at the tail allows the surfboard to minimise lift, thus maintaining direction and momentum. Pintails are a common sight in ‘good wave’ locations such as Indonesia, Hawaii, South Africa and Western Australia where the pintail shapes helps to control the speed generated by giant, powerful, fast moving waves often found there.
- Rounded Pintail – A slight variation of the pintail design, rounded pintails are more versatile because of the more smoothed out bottom, as opposed to the pintails more rigid curve and pointed tip. Because of this, rounded pintails generate less reduction of the surface area, which enables it to manage moderate surf heights compared to the high (double overhead +) waves suited for the standard pintail. Still the pulled in tails help to control speed and fit more snugly into the curves of a steeper and/or more hollow wave face.
- Round Tail – With regards to shape, this type completes a generally wider, more circular edge compared to the previous two types mentioned. The design enables easier turns and overall versatility because of the introduction of more lift to the tail while still sitting comfortably in steeper, better quality waves.
- Squash Tail or Rounded Square Tail – Geared for versatility and modern performance surfing, a squash tail is a departure from the pin variations. Instead of having a curve toward the tail, the squash has a square or flat bottom with rounded corners that gives better release. This designs translates to better management of turns while maintaining speed in slower spots. The rounded square or squash tail is, by far, the most popular tail shape with the vast majority of WCT and WQS surfers riding boards using this design.
- Square Tail – similar to the above but with sharp corners, square tails are less prevalent and are generally used for surfboard designs intended for airs or punting. Also, the sharp corners create a very precise pivot point, which breaks the water flow hard and fast in short, tight turns.
- Swallow Tail – This type is similar to the squash because it increases surface area with the added width at the tail, but has a triangular area cut out of the bottom. This feature allows for more bite and control in instances where the surfer needs to work around and manoeuvre in and out of the waves. The swallow tail is a versatile design that features in surfboards of all shapes and sizes. Small wave fish surfboards may have a wide swallow tail for increased surface area on the rail line for drive but the cutout releases through turns while a big wave ‘gun’ surfboard may have a tight swallow tail (usually cutout of a pintail or rounded pintail design) for hold and control with slightly more manoeuvrability vs. the standard pintail or rounded pintail.
Next time you are shopping around for a surfboard, think about the waves you intend to ride most with the board – there may be a tail shape that is perfect for given surfboard designs and wave types you intend to ride.