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Surfboard Overview

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Surfboard Overview

young boy surfing on the beach

Surfboards were invented by the Hawaiians for riding breaking waves to the beach.


Originally made of wood or balsa the first surfboards were often over 15 feet in length and extremely heavy. The major advances over the years were the addition of one or more fins on the bottom rear of the board to improve directional stability and a change of materials.

Modern surfboards are made of polyurethane or polystyrene foam covered with layers of fibreglass cloth and polyester or epoxy resin. The end result is a light and strong surfboard that is buoyant and maneuverable. A few specialty surfboards are made out of hollow carbon fiber or aluminum for added lightness.

Long-boards as the name suggests are longer (9+ft), and also thicker, wider and with a more rounded nose than a short-board. Short-boards are shorter (5-7ft), thinner, and have a more pointed nose. They are not as wide as long-boards and are typically more maneuverable. Other variants include guns, mini-mals, fish, eggs, and tow-ins.

The design of a surfboard

In order to discuss board design, it is helpful to have basic knowledge of the vocabulary used to reference each part of the board. Here is a labeled diagram of a surfboard:

  • Nose - The front tip of the board. This can be pointed or rounded.
  • Tail - The back end of the board. The shape of the tail affects how a board responds. Tail shapes vary from square, pin, squash, swallow, diamond, and so on - each one in turn having its own family of smaller variants.
  • Deck - The surface of the board that the surfer stands on. Surfwax is applied to this surface.
  • Bottom - The surface of the board that rests on the water.
  • Rail - The edges of the board. A rounded rail is called 'soft', while a more squared off rail is called 'hard'.
  • Fins - Fins create stick and drive on the wave face. They keep the board from sliding sideways on the wave uncontrollably. There are countless fin designs. One of the most common fin arrangements is named the thruster, whose invention is commonly credited to Simon Anderson of Australia. It consists of three fins, one at the tail of the board and two slightly further towards the nose. However, as Surfer magazine documents, "Over a decade before Simon Anderson introduced his revolutionary Thruster in 1980, Duncan and Malcolm Campbell had already produced a functional triangulated-fin system." That system, a shortboard called the Bonzer Board, is documented to have been frequently used and erroneously claimed credit for by others. The bonzer's two ventral fins are angled inward slightly, and convey exceptional speed and agility. The Campbell brothers subsequently improved upon that design by turning out a faster, five fin setup.
  • Stringer - A thin piece of wood running from nose to tail that increases the strength of the board.
  • Leash Cup - An indentation in the deck of the board close to the tail that contains a small bar that a leash can be tied around.
  • Leash - A stretchy cord running from the leash cup to the surfer's ankle. This keeps a surfer from losing his board when he falls off.
  • Rocker - This refers to how much curve the bottom of the board has from nose to tail. Increasing the rocker improves maneuverability, but this is at the cost of speed - a steeper curve creates drag.

Snowboard construction

Snowboards are constructed of a wood core and laminated with fiberglass. The front or "nose" of the board is upturned, to help the board glide over uneven snow; the back or "tail" of the board may be more or less upturned to enable backwards (switch or switchstance) riding.

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