surfboards with different surfboard outline leaning on a beige wall
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Surfboard Outline

How many kinds of surfboard outlines are there? How do the differences in surfboard outline affect your board’s performance? Read on to find out!

Surfing is an easy sport on the outlook, right? At least, it’s easy to take up as you only need a surfboard and a body to surf (which means that it might not be ideal for ghosts). But the question of surfboards remains a headache, especially for those who want to dive deep into the origin of every matter.

First of all, although surfing looks easy, it’s a highly nuanced sport where each and every subtle movement affects performance. Moreover, you’re on the ocean riding waves, and no wave can really be the same as the other. Their length, strength, and energy differ depending on the break and the wind. Likewise, no single surfboard is capable of handling all those differences and providing you with a smooth or even a good ride all the time.

Therefore, you need to know how surfboards work and understand how subtle differences in design might cause a chain of effects like the flutter of a butterfly. In that sense, understanding why the surfboard outline changes from one board to another and what that means for the performance of the board is quite an essential aspect of surfing.

The surfboard outline isn’t a culprit that acts alone either—it’s often accompanied by the type of your board, its tail shape, and its purpose. Below, we’re going to delve into it all to make you more confident on your board.

Three Main Types of Surfboard Outlines

The world of surfboard design is now more complicated than ever. There are all kinds of boards on the market, including those that have asymmetrical designs and those that are custom-shaped in people’s own garages and studios. 

Despite all the diversity, though, the number of main types of surfboard outlines is humbly limited to three: parallel outlines, curved outlines, and hybrid outlines.

Now, let’s see what these outlines are good for in a bit of detail.

Parallel Outlines

surfboard with parallel outlines

In a board with a parallel outline, the rail line is more or less straight. We’re saying “more or less” because it’s quite rare to come across a board that has a completely straight rail line. Almost every board has a rail curve, but let’s say that boards with parallel lines entertain a much less emphasized curve.

That being said, you can find parallel outlines almost in any kind of board, be it a soft top longboard specifically designed for beginners or a high-performance shortboard for advanced surfers. Yet, it certainly doesn’t mean that parallel outlines are just a useless aesthetic touch and don’t have any impact on the performance. 

Advantages of Parallel Outlines

What does a parallel outline endow your board with? Well, since the water meets less curvature, you’ll have less traction and, subsequently, more speed. Moreover, since less curve means more surface area at the bottom of your board, you’ll have more lift.

Although the two attributes we just mentioned combine to render the board less suitable for quick and sharp turns, that’s not necessarily a bad feature either. We surely understand that doing quick turns off the lip of the wave might be appealing for young surfers, but they’re hardly apt for those who want to be stylish. So, by riding a board with parallel outlines, you might even learn how to delay turns quite easily.

This particular trait comes especially handy for performance-oriented longboards, including logs and noseriders. In addition, fish surfboards—the best friend of an advanced surfer when the waves are small and mushy—might sometimes feature parallel outlines, making them faster.

In high-performance longboards and noseriders, extreme parallel outlines will be complemented by a wide point forward the rail line curving toward the nose. Such a wide point will ensure you re-enter the wave or drop into it late without losing speed and nosediving. When the wide point is back near the tail, on the other hand, it means that the board is more than capable of nose-riding.

Disadvantages of Parallel Outlines

Of course, if you’re aspiring to be an agile surfer who just squirrels off the wave with various tricks and aerial maneuvers, we cannot blame you. However, as we mentioned above, boards with strong parallel lines might not be much of a help to you in that case. That’s especially so for shortboards designed to surf head-high to double overhead waves.

Such big waves inherently carry lots of energy within them. So, you don’t really need the extra down-the-line speed provided by a parallel outline as long as you can channel the energy of the wave into your ride. On the contrary, you need a bit of drag so that you don’t find yourself further on the surf line without your knowledge. Therefore, you can actually benefit from a bit of a curve in such circumstances.

In addition, the majority of advanced surfing takes place in the pocket of the wave as it’s where the power of the wave resides. A board with a broad turning radius isn’t really helpful for maneuvers in the pocket. That’s also why shortboards are mostly labeled to be more suitable for big surf. Consequently, that’s why a parallel surfboard line is also known as the longboard outline. 

Curved Outlines

surfboard with a curved outline leaning against a palm tree on a whitesand beach

You might feel outraged about certain boards that are referred to as “parallel-outlined” since there’s obviously a curve out there. Luckily, a board with a curved outline won’t throw you into such a fit of anger. The continuous curve of those boards is so emphasized that it’s hard to ignore, deny, or mislabel.

Similar to parallel outlines, you can find curved outlines in any kind of surfboard shapes as well. Mid-length boards, especially the hybrid ones, have it, but you’ll also see curved outlines in many high-performance shortboards. Guns and semi-guns used for big wave surfing feature it as well. 

Moreover, if you’re researching how your step-up board should be, more curve will probably be one of the main recommendations. Lastly, even some longboards entertain some curve, although it’s not really ideal.

Well then, let’s see what role curved outlines play in the board’s performance.

Advantages of Curved Outlines

A curved outline ensures that your board has a tight turning radius. However, as we implied above, a tight turning radius isn’t an advantage by itself. It becomes an upside only when it’s combined with other features, such as extra length, or when you’re riding waves that have a very small pocket.

How? Well, when you first move from surfing head-high waves to double overhead, for instance, you’ll want more volume, thickness, and stability under your feet so that you don’t lose control and confidence on your first go. To that end, most surfers get a step-up board that’s thicker, wider, and longer. 

However, such attributes alone mean that you’ll need to sacrifice maneuverability and agility for the sake of balance. In order not to sacrifice these while making sure that you have stability, a more curvy outline is of great help.

Furthermore, waves that have small pockets don’t really have the maneuver space for you to hold your turns longer and more stylish, like when you’re on a tight point break in Brazil, where choppy conditions are the norm, for instance. Like Filipe Toledo, you need to be quick and sharp. So, even though your board is already short, narrow, and thin, a curved outline will help you maneuver small and closed spaces of waves without getting washed over or losing speed.

On another note, boards with curved outlines are quite suitable for riding big waves simply because they have more traction and less speed when compared to boards with parallel lines. As the speed you want to generate is already inherent to big waves, you need a board that’s able to slow down. That’s why curved outlines are preferred on guns and semi-guns.

Disadvantages of Curved Outlines

Boards with curved outlines aren’t as fast as those with parallel ones, but as we explained above, that’s not really a drawback if you’re surfing waves that already have all the energy you need. Still, it’s a feature that might hold you back on mushy days when all you have is a board with a curved outline.

To compensate for their lack of speed, most curved boards will have a flat rocker design so that the surfer can have more planing speed. However, a flat rocker, especially when combined with a tight turning radius, isn’t really a feature you want on your board when you want to become a good surfer.

As our head coach Clayton Nienaber repeatedly explains in podcasts and interviews, surfboards aren’t made for you to stand up straight on them or to ride flatly. For a stylish ride, to be one with the wave, and to flow effortlessly, you need to learn how to engage the rail even when you’re only a beginner.

Accomplishing turns sharply and riding flatly might alter your understanding of surfing in negative ways. Ultimately, even though you’d become a good rail surfer, you might develop new habits as a result of spending too much time on flat boards. So, when you need to employ such boards, don’t forget to engage the rail.

Hybrid Outlines

surfboard with a hybrid outline buried half in white sand

The main purpose of having a hybrid of two different things is to bring together the best elements from both in order to cover up any weaknesses inherent to them. That’s the logic behind hybrid surfboards, and that’s the logic behind hybrid outlines.

Usually, a hybrid outline will be more parallel on the chest area of the surfboard and will have curved lines nearing the nose and the tail. More often than not, the nose area will have a more emphasized and elongated curve than the tail area to ensure stability when you’re riding on the back foot. However, noseriders with a hybrid outline will be just the opposite simply because they’re meant to be ridden on the nose.

Such outlines can be found on any surfboard as well. However, since the main purpose of having the best of both worlds is enhancing performance, it’ll work best with performance-oriented boards.

Advantages of Hybrid Outlines

The parallel lines of a hybrid outline will help you generate more speed when the surf conditions aren’t all that good. Yet, the curvy nose area will allow you to pull off sharp turns as well, be it when you end up in small pockets or are just riding down the line.

When these traits are combined with a shortboard, you’ll have a high-performance surfboard that’s good for almost any kind of surf condition. The waves are mushy and you aren’t that keen on shopping for a longboard? Well, a shortboard with a hybrid outline will decorate you with all the speed, buoyancy, and agility you need to display your tricks. Are the waves good? Well, you’re good, too!

In short, hybridity equals versatility when it comes to surfboard outlines.

Disadvantages of Hybrid Outlines

In a nutshell, though, hybrid often means a lack of expertise in one thing, at least in theory. You can bring together the best of both worlds, but when you put the outcome into the equation, it’ll no longer be the best.

Think about it in terms of hybrid shortboards. In a sense, they bring together longboards that are more suitable for riding small waves with shortboards that are ideal on head-high to double overhead surf. Although a hybrid board can handle both conditions quite successfully, it won’t be the best board for either condition.

The case with hybrid outlines is similar. Although you can reduce your board needs to one and do well in any kind of surf conditions, the performance of a board with a hybrid outline will never be equal to its alternatives.

Different Tail Shapes and How They’re Paired With Different Surfboard Outlines

From a design point of view, it seems like a parallel line should be followed by a smoother curve towards the end, like that of a round tail rather than a pin one. At least, that’s what seems like the logical conclusion to laypeople.

However, there’s actually no correlation between tail shapes and the shape of the rail line, and there is no hard and fast rule like, “it’s better to have a round tail at the back of a parallel line.” Depending on your priorities, you may demand any sort of tail shape from your shaper. 

Still, let’s take a look at the most prominent tail shapes you can find on surfboards, explain what they’re good for, and give you an idea about how to combine them with different surfboard outlines.

Round Tail

The round tail is mostly seen on longer and wider boards to make rail-to-rail transitions and turns smoother while also contributing to their maneuverability. While the absence of sharp angles ensures smoothness, the sustained width provides it more lift that comes in handy when catching waves and taking off.

All that considered, combining a round tail with parallel lines might just give you a fast board that’s capable of smooth turns on small and mushy waves.

Pin Tail

The pin tail is exactly what it sounds like—the board ending on a pin-like point. It means less surface area and subsequently less lift but also more drag and more stability, as the pin-like area will be buried into the water when you’re surfing. That extra bit of stability and control comes especially handy when riding big and strong waves.

However, it also reduces the maneuverability of the board. Therefore, combining a pin tail with curved outlines might increase the maneuverability without sacrificing stability and control.

Squash Tail

clayton surf dv3 squash tail surfboard

The squash tail might be the most unassuming and unpretending of all tail designs. It makes the back end of your board look like it has run out of things to offer with just a flat line, and it provides only a certain level of stability and maneuverability. That’s it.

Thanks to that, though, it’s also the most versatile tail option since it offers the same level of humility no matter the surfboard shape and wave conditions. Sometimes, offering nothing might be the most versatile action one may take.

Swallow Tail

clayton surf reflex swallowtail surfboard

Swallowtail is a whole new surfboard category as it’s the ultimate negation of the squash tail, offering something almost on every front. Thanks to its V-shape that tucks the tail a bit inside, it’s able to perform sharp and agile turns. However, if you want to do some rail-surfing and take turns more slowly, the pointy ends are there to help you as well.

In addition, these pointy ends function like the pin tail, burying the tail into the water and allowing you to have more lift during take-offs and rides down the line. Moreover, the surface area provided by the pointy ends helps you generate speed more easily than a squash tail or a pin one.

Depending on the type of the board and the skill of the surfer, they might perform well in any kind of conditions. Therefore, it might be best to pair them with hybrid outlines to add even more versatility to the equation.

Wrapping Up…

We told you that parallel outlines go best with longboards that are specifically designed for small surf or versatile shortboards that you can have fun with no matter the wave conditions. We told you that curved outlines are better for pulling off sharp turns in the pockets of head-high to double overhead waves.

Although these are facts, what you can mine out of different surfboard designs ultimately lies in your ability as a surfer and what you precisely want to do on waves. Therefore, no word is gospel, no recommendation is a rule, and no board-shaper is an all-knowing being. Once you combine your knowledge of surfboard outlines with other aspects of surfboards, you’ll be able to make the best choice in accordance with your skills and aspirations.

Other aspects of surfboards? Let’s see:

If these guides fail to satiate your thirst for knowledge, you can always enroll in our Get the Right Board program and start learning directly from the best, that is, OMBE head coach and accomplished board-shaper, Clayton Nienaber.

Written by
Nico Palacios
surf coaching