surfboard rails
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Surfboard Rails

Rails are often overlooked or misunderstood in surfing, despite being a major influence in the design of the board and how it performs.

Surfboard rails are the edges of the board that extend all the way from the tail, through the sides, and up to the nose. When you pick up a board, you usually have your hands on the rails. 

The rails, much like any other part of the surfboard, have a significant impact on the performance of the board. While the shape of the board is definitely the main factor when it comes to how well a board paddles, stays afloat, and performs, the rails also contribute to all of that and should always be taken into account. 

Having said that, in order to get a better understanding of how they impact the surf, we have to go through the different types of rails. 

Types of Surfboard Rails

The material and shape of the board rail make all the difference in the world. Some riders prefer soft rail boards, while others make do with harder edges. 

Soft Surfboard Rails

The soft board rails are categorized by having a less aggressive curve to them than the hard ones. The rail’s curvature impacts how the board comes into initial contact with the surface of the ocean and sets the table up for how the rider can perform moves and turns. 

Soft rails are recognizable by the fact that they are super round and smooth to the touch. If you look at a board from the side, and it has an oval shape, then you’re looking at a soft rail board. 

Because soft rails have a fuller feel to them, they allow for a lot more buoyancy when on the water. As such, they are perfectly suited for beginners. They are usually found on longboards or boards that are meant for riding small waves in general.

The oval shape of the board doesn’t cut through the water. Instead, it allows for the ocean surface to “wrap itself” around the board. This provides a great deal more stability as the water and the board are bonded together. 

However, this also makes it harder for surfers to make quick turns and adjustments to their course. 

When Should You Choose a Soft Rail Board?

In a sense, you have to choose between having a stable and forgiving ride and one that will offer you all the mobility in the world. However, there are many more details and aspects that you should consider when passing your final verdict. 

If you are a beginner surfer, you will probably want to have more buoyancy and have the board float more easily. This will come in handy when you’re working on your pop up and catching waves. Also, as a beginner, you probably won’t go out big wave surfing from the jump. 

Soft rails make a lot of sense when the riders aren't going at great speeds on small waves. 

If the board doesn’t feature soft curved rails, it would be a lot more difficult for the surfer to gain enough momentum in order to have a successful surf. The increased stability keeps the board from pivoting out of control on turns and keeps it steady throughout. 

It also provides amortization on turbulence and forks in the road. This is mainly because the board is able to go through the water a lot easier and keep you away from becoming one with the whitewash. 

Hard Surfboard Rails 

Hard surfboard rails are the complete opposite of soft rails. Their edges cut a lot more and are a lot sharper. They don’t have the oval symmetry of the soft rails. This allows them to cut through the surface of the water like a hot knife in butter. Because they feature a flatter construction, they are super-efficient while gliding in that they don’t provide a lot of pushback to the surface of the water. 

When Should You Choose a Hard Rail Board?

Riders that are after a board that will offer a lot more maneuverability on the performance side of things should definitely go for a hard rail construction. The hard-cutting rails make it a lot easier for surfers to shift their weight from side to side and have that impact reflect on the trajectory of the board. 

When your course requires a quick correction and turn, the hard rails make it possible for the board to have a quick response time. Hard rails allow for a lot more control in general. Big wave surfers must have a lot of control over every aspect of their movements if they hope to get out to the other side intact. 

Bigger waves are a lot more steep and powerful than smaller waves, so the board needs to be able to sink a bit into the water in order to glue itself to the surface. This keeps it from turning over and locks in place. This is only possible if the board features hard rails that can cut down into the surface. 

The fact that hard rail boards are angled makes for less overall volume, which is another contributing factor to the control that a surfer can have on their movements. 

The Surfboard Rail Foil

The surfboard rail foil is the ratio at which the rail and body come together. This is crucial to the board’s performance under different conditions. Different ratios will yield different results. The most common three rations in surfboard rails are 50/50, 60/40, and 80/20. 

This accounts for the apex of the rail that can be seen from the side of the board. Let’s take a look at what they have to offer.

Fifty/Fifty Rails 

The 50/50 ratio is when the volume distribution between the rails is equal. The top part of the rail should mirror the bottom, and the curvature of the rails should be right in the middle. The 50/50 design is best suited for beginners and on soft rail boards that feature increased buoyancy and stability. 

Sixty/Forty Rails 

This construction is suitable for both hard and soft rail boards and is sort of the standard for intermediate surfers. 

This construction retains the agility of the hard-rail construction but still has some stability to it.  Riders will come across this ratio on fun boards and middle-length boards. It’s the best of both worlds, or if you are looking for something different than what you’ve gotten used to.

Eighty/Twenty Rails 

The 80/20 foil is mainly found on hard rail designs that are featured on high-performance and professional surfboards. 

The sharp edges make it possible for the rider to dig in and have the ultimate control over their movements and the speed at which they are taking place. It might be the construction that takes the least amount of effort in order to turn and maneuver, but it’s also the hardest one to master. 

In Closing…

The rail line on soft and hard rails is the determining factor of how the water will be coming down the board. Whether a board will feature a round rail or a tapered rail mainly depends on the surfboard shape.

Additionally, the rail choice directly impacts the tail construction of a board. For instance, thinner rails and tapered rails usually go well with swallow tail, square tail, and squash tail constructions. Put that together with the nose width, line speed, outer edge, and rail shape, and you will start to get a picture of how the board performs. 

Leave no pebble unturned when it comes to your surfboard. When you’re out there on the ocean, it’s the only thing you’ve got.

Written by
Nico Palacios
surf coaching