In this article, you will learn about surfboards and all that there is to ever know: the history, types, dimensions, and uses. You will find that there is always a perfect surfboard for all needs.
Although it sounds like a sport of the modern times, surfing is actually quite old. The earliest evidence that suggests Polynesians and Hawaiians surfed dates back to the 12th century, but it's possible that it existed long before that as well.
Of course, back in those days, it wasn't just a sport that was mainly preferred by warriors with fit bodies. At least for Hawaiians, it was part of the culture and religion, so much so that the whole activity of boardshaping was a ritual and Hawaiians would send their dead into the ocean on a surfboard.
These boards were made of the wood of different trees depending on the location and they had rough edges, were heavy, and were quite big. If you put even the most legendary of the contemporary surfers on one of those, they'd have a hard time surfing because they were nothing like the modern surfboards.
Nowadays, the surfing world and surfboard shapers provide surfers with all the specific features they want for riding certain types of waves. As a result, there are many surfboard shapes with strange names like mini mal, strange designs like asymmetrical boards, or strange and varied tail shapes.
Especially if you're a beginner surfer, it's understandable to feel a bit overwhelmed by all the different surfboard shapes you see on the market and online shops and not to know where to begin. To prevent that, we prepared a comprehensive list of all the surfboard shapes that matter so that you can decide which one is the perfect match for you to jump on and start catching waves.
Surfboards for Beginner Surfers
Beginners have different surfing needs. You cannot just put someone who doesn't know how to properly stand on a board, how to maintain balance when on rail, or who just wobbles to generate speed on a responsive board and expect them to surf mid-size waves. They first need to cover the basics of surfing on small waves with boards suitable to that purpose.
The surfboards we're going to list below are those that'll benefit beginners the most by allowing them to master their balance and coordination while also providing a certain level of comfort.
Soft Top Foam Surfboard
When it comes to beginner- or user-friendliness, it really doesn't get any better than soft top foam surfboards, which are also often referred to as foamies. You can interpret the nickname "foamie" in two ways. First, it informs you about what the board is made of - at least the top part of it: foam. Secondly, they're ideal for riding very small waves that we also call white foam.
Of course, once foam boards made it into the surfing sphere, their range of use quickly widened. Nowadays, you can easily find a soft top fish surfboard, but soft top shortboards such as the fish don't really make sense from a surfing point of view. You see, the point of shortboards is that they are responsive to the wave and the surfer's moves, but a soft top (and foam) absorbs these forces, making them somewhat contradictory in essence.
Soft top longboards, on the other hand, are exactly what beginner surfers should pick up to catch their first waves. They're great for catching smaller waves with great efficiency, they're buoyant and stable, they're incredibly comfortable to paddle, and when you get wiped out and fall on them, they're more merciful than surfboards not made of foam. Therefore, they're perfect to learn the basics such as how to stand on balance and how to generate speed.
They might not have the glide and responsiveness of the shortboards, but they're still a must for any quiver including that of the advanced surfers. On the days you can only ride mushy waves, they'll be fun to tinker with.
What we call longboards are simply those with length between 9-12 feet. Of course, you cannot imagine that such a long board can accommodate narrowness. Therefore, their width also can go up to 24 inches. On top of that, they're also quite thick and most of them have a wide and round nose.
When surfboards are so loaded in terms of length, width, and thickness, it means that they're more buoyant, but it also means that maneuvering them and riding them on steeper waves will be hell unless you're an eccentric pro surfer who wants show the world that they're able to pull off the impossible.
Yet, for those who want to learn how to surf, longboards are generally the first choice. Like soft tops, they're easy to paddle, they're very stable so they're great for learning how to balance yourself, and they'll catch waves due to their sheer volume. In short, as a beginner, you'll probably have many smooth rides on a longboard.
Mini Malibu Board
Mini mal surfboards are named after the point break located in California, and its characteristics pretty much reflects the wave type you can ride there: small and hollower waves.
Mini mal is also referred to as mini longboard (7-9 feet), and it makes sense as they offer the comfort, stability, and buoyancy of longboards with more maneuverability that'll appeal to more advanced surfers on days when surf conditions are far from ideal. However, mini longboards are not as good when it comes to waves that approximate head high.
That hybrid character also makes the mini mal an ideal choice for beginner surfers who mastered balance, speed, and turns, yet are not ready to take the next step and face bigger waves.
Surfboards for Intermediate Surfers
Being an intermediate surfer means that you know the basics: you can stand on balance, you can generate speed without putting yourself off-balance, and your paddling is efficiently conducted so you don't need a board that has more paddling power.
So, you can sacrifice a little bit of stability now so that you can start working on your forehand and backhand turns, and test your skills on head-high waves. The boards below are still buoyant and comfortable enough, yet they entertain more versatility, which means your transition to the next stages of your surfing journey will not be keen-edged but eased as long as you pick one of those in accordance with your needs and skills.
Funboards are an interesting category. Some of them have a round tail, some of them have a square tail, and some of them have a squash tail. Their length ranges between 7 and 9 feet, and they're neither shortboards nor longboards. They can be called mid-length, but that category is somehow reserved for a more specific surfboard design.
So, the real transitional board between longboards and shortboards is called fun. Fortunately, though, they actually do provide enough surfing fun. The reason why they're fun is quite identical to why mini mal boards are fun: they entertain the volume and buoyancy of a longboard combined with a certain level of responsiveness that allow experienced surfers to have fun on small or medium-sized waves.
At this point, you might ask why we think mini mal is for beginners and funboard is for intermediate surfers. Well, mini mals won't do well on medium-sized waves, and funboards provide more versatility, especially when you're ready to take the next step.
As can be derived from the name, mid-length surfboards are also those that occupy a space between shortboards and longboards in terms of length: they're between 7 and 9 feet, like funboards. Whereas funboards generally have a quad fin setup, mid-range boards usually feature a single fin.
They might also come in a variety of shapes, but overall, they're more high-performance than the ones above: they have more maneuverability like a short surfboard design catered specifically for small waves and more advanced surfers will feel a refined glide when they're popping up and taking off, but you still can't duck dive in big waves with them if that's what you're looking for.
On the other hand, they're not as easy to control and paddle as mini mals, let alone a longboard, and they're certainly not as fun as funboards.
Fish surfboards are a strange breed and they really cannot be classified in terms of length as there can be fish longboards, shortboards, and funboards. The main characteristic of fish surfboards is that they have a swallow tail, and that's where the name of the board comes from.
In addition to that, most of them have quite a flat rocker. A flat rocker means that the board is easy to paddle and will catch waves more easily than a shortboard in mediocre surf conditions. Also, thanks to the fish tail and the pointy nose shape, it'll be very fast on small and mushy waves.
If the fish surfboard you have is not particularly a long one, they're also ideal for certain advanced skills. For example, when you are out in the ocean to duck dive into some big waves, there might not be any better surfboard shape for you. Combine that attribute with a funboard, and you might have the funnest board in your quiver.
However, unless you've mastered how to maintain your speed while doing turns or how to slow down a board when you need to, you might find it very loose, wobbly, and difficult to control. Moreover, even the short ones are not really designed for big-wave surfing in mind. Therefore, if you want something that would carry you from intermediate stages to advanced ones in assured steps, we can't really recommend fish surfboards.
When you try categorizing them in terms of length, grovelers fall under the label of shortboards, but unlike shortboards, they're not really suited for overhead waves. A groveler is actually a small wave shortboard, and as a result of that, this particular surfboard model features certain design specifics: they're short in length, but they're fat in width, and they're as flat as it gets.
The compensation of shortness with fatness is a matter of volume. Moreover, the flatness of the board serves a similar purpose to that of volume. As the volume and flatness of a surfboard increases, its paddling power and buoyancy also increase. So, if you want a shortboard that you can easily stand on balance on smaller waves, a groveler emerges as an option.
So, you might now be wondering whether there's a difference between a groveler and a longboard or a mini mal except for its length. Well, there actually is: a groveler is much easier to turn and maneuver and much more fun than the longboards.
However, you can only start having fun with it once you master how to do turns on shorter boards and how to control and maintain your speed. Otherwise, you'll just be riding as fast as the board allows, and before you figure out how you gain control of your ride, you'll get wiped out.
Hybrid surfboards are those that bring the elements of two or more surfboards in one. You might want to have the volume of a typical longboard in a shortboard in accordance with your surfing needs. You can also have customized nose or tail shapes that you or your boardshaper think are suitable for the waves you want to ride.
In that sense, funboards or grovelers also fall under the category of hybrids. Whereas funboards and grovelers have so far been met with a general approval from the surfing world, you might also create more customized surfboard shapes with hybrid surfboards.
As long as you don't have unreasonable wants from a board or a crazy shaper, it's likely that a hybrid board will be fun. However, you need a certain level of experience and the ability to translate the feedback of a board to accomplish your aim.
Surfboards for Advanced or Professional Surfers
Most surfers who line up in pro competitions or who want to test their skills on challenging waves already ask their shapers to carve up a customized board for themselves. And it's quite easy for them because having progressed through the stages of surfing without the ability to interpret how a board performs under what conditions is unlikely.
However, there are still certain surfboard shapes that have gained prominence over the years for advanced and pro surfers. Now, let's see what those are.
Shortboard surfboards probably doesn't need any introduction at this point because we already made enough references to them and compared them with others, so you might have a general idea: they're ideal for advanced surfers and large waves, they're incredibly maneuverable, and unless they're hybrids, they don't fare well on smaller waves.
They are also known as thrusters because, well, they thrust, and they come in 5 or 6 feet of length and 17-18 inches of width. Fin setups might differ from one model to another, but the general tendency is a 3-fin setups: one in the center and two near the rail line. As the majority of shortboards come with 5 fin boxes, you can use a quad setup with them as well.
They are specifically designed for those who're looking for a high responsiveness, nuanced performance, and a hell of a speed. The low volume and the ability to transfer the wave's movements directly to the surfer help on those fronts.
However, to control a board with such low volume and high responsiveness and to catch waves with it requires you to understand the ocean and have an advanced knowledge of waves.
Unless you know where to position yourself to catch waves, you won’t be getting anywhere. Unless you don't know how to paddle efficiently and less, you'll find that they're not exactly the ideal paddle boards. Unless you have the bravery to stay on the wave face, you'll find that they're not really good on the flat shoulders.
Step Up Surfboard
You might know everything about the ocean, where to position yourself to catch big waves, and how to pop up most efficiently, but still, sometimes, a typical shortboard won’t help you. Then and there, step up surfboards come to the rescue.
Step ups are like the opposite of grovelers or funboards: they have all the attributes of a shortboard, but with more length. Thanks to that length, catching big waves with a step up is much easier than it is with a shortboard, and you'll have more balance overall.
However, it doesn't mean that the step ups entertain more volume as their length is compensated by narrower tails and overall rail line, but there are also certain drawbacks that accompany it: it will be difficult to turn on waves that are smaller than what it was designed for. Also, if you're looking to duck dive into large waves, you better stick with a shortboard.
We've been talking about how shortboards are ideal for surfing steeper waves. So, it might surprise you that the real big wave surfers who only want to ride waves that are more than double overhead opt for gun surfboards simply because they're not short at all.
As we said, most pro surfers have their own specific surfboard shapes, and gun is one of those, but in general, their length varies between 7 and 11 feet. They're also quite narrow and thick, have a more pointed nose that makes them ideal for steep drops, and have a hell of a rocker. As a result, they have more paddling power and momentum.
Be wary, though, that they're strictly for large waves and pro surfers. If you're a beginner or intermediate surfer, it's better to forget that you've ever heard of them.
Lately, you might have realized an increase in the asymmetrical surfboard shapes and you might be fearing that, to be able to ride such a board, you really need to be a pro. Well, that's not actually the case, and anyone can ride them as they come in different length, width, and thickness options. But understanding the reason behind their existence might take some advanced knowledge of surfing (mainly, rail surfing and not the flat rides of beginners) and the human anatomy.
You see, the human body is not symmetrical at all. For instance, the way we stand on our boards is the exact opposite of symmetry. So, why should the boards be after a symmetry that eludes the universe instead of matching the asymmetry of our bodies and stance? Wouldn't it make riding both forehand and backhand possible on the same wave?
The surfboard designer Carl Ekstrom asked these questions and came up with the concept of asymmetrical boards in the 1960s. Some of them are long and some of them are short. Some of them are thick and some of them are thin. One part of their stringer line has a round tail and the other squash. These specs don't really matter.
As long as it matches your body’s asymmetry and optimizes both heel and toe side so that you can control the board almost equally on both sides, it will be categorized as an asymmetrical board.
Surfboard Tails, Rails, and Noses
Knowing all the surfboard shapes you can find on the market or lined up in the ocean doesn't really mean much by itself. You also need to understand what makes them different from one another, other than very obvious aspects such as length, volume, thickness, and flatness.
Some of the more advanced surfboards we included on our list have more pointy noses whereas the beginner ones are rounder. Why? Why are there all these different tail shapes? When two boards have similarly shaped noses, does that mean that they have similar acceleration capacities?
Now, let's answer those and more.
The tail shape of a certain board might be the most tinkered part of it. You cannot really have many custom options when it comes to the nose, rail line, or fins, but you can certainly have some fun with the tail and have one that's even shaped like the logo of your individual brand.
But, will that work in line with your surfing needs? By informing you on different shapes and features of surfboard tails and how they affect your ride or function, we can give you a clearer idea about that.
Firstly, a wide tail means that your board will have more stability, more buoyancy, and more speed, and they're ideal for small waves. Narrow tail, on the other hand, means that you'll be better on the rail, do turns in a more accomplished manner, and have no trouble in the wave face, and where they really shine is on steep waves.
Moreover, while emphasized corners are better for beginner surfboards, once you start making it through the stages of surfing, the tails of the boards suitable for your surfing skills will be more rounded.
Now let's see some of the most common shapes:
- Squash tail: In the past, square tails with hardened corners were more prominent, but they're now taken over by squash tails with rounded corners. They're wide and they provide the surfer with a higher level of control, and they work better on smaller waves.
- Round tail: Round tail is not a definitive term in surfing, as there can be rounded pins or squares. But real round tails will just be curved at the back of your board, and unlike squash tails, they're ideal for big waves.
- Pin tail: Pin tails are those you see on advanced surfboards: they're very pointed and quite narrow. They're ideal for big wave surfing or barrel rides.
- Swallow tail: All the fish surfboard shapes and most of the shortboards have swallow tails. They can be functional for both small and big waves, but if you're going to frequently make turns, they might cause some problems.
- Asymmetric tail: They're peculiar to asymmetrical boards, and it obviously means one side of the tail is different from the other side of it.
Rails run along both sides of your entire board and their design plays a major role in generating speed, buoyancy, and doing turns.
You probably realized that beginner surfboards such as typical longboards and mini mals have more straight rail lines, whereas the advanced ones entertain curvier designs. That's because a straight rail line means more speed on flat surfing, more float, and less maneuverability. Curved lines mean more speed on rail surfing, less float, and increased control and dexterity in maneuvers.
In addition, there are four rail types: full soft rail, tapered soft rail, full hard rail, and tapered hard rail. As the softness and fullness increase, features such as buoyancy, stability, and flatness also increase. Therefore, beginners will benefit the most from softness and fullness, since those rails are ideal for riding short waves.
A hard and tapered (toward the underside of the board) rail means that your board will be more responsive, especially when you're on the rail, and that's what you expect from the advanced board that you want to ride on bigger waves.
You might be thinking that the nose of your surfboard has more to do with speed and less with other features, but that's not the case at all. The nose shape has an impact only on the paddling power and wave-catching ability of your board.
A round nose means that your board has more paddling power and it'll float on the water without you doing much. That's why you see them mostly in beginner boards: if you have problems standing in balance on your board and if you still don't have enough wave knowledge to position yourself with as little paddling as possible, having a board with a round nose will help you a great deal.
Advanced surfers, on the other hand, are those who know where to position themselves to have a good takeoff and they have already mastered the proper surfing stance. Therefore, they don't need a round nose. What they're looking for instead is high performance when it comes to riding steep waves, doing turns with more hold, and pro skills such as duck diving and barrel or tube riding. As a result, advanced boards end up having a narrower and more pointed nose.
In the end, it's pretty clear that the surfboard shape entirely depends on where you are at the moment in your surfing journey. If you've just started and are yet to learn certain surfing basics, you cannot just jump on an intermediate board such as a funboard (no matter how cool it sounds) and expect to catch waves.
This guide will help you understand your equipment better, which is a crucial part of the learning process, and you'll be able to make informed decisions during the rest of your progress. And maybe, in not so close a future, you'll have a signature surfboard to your name, which will get added to this list.