Surfing, in common with most sports, has its very own language and terminology. Understanding the various terms used to describe parts of a surfboard is useful for beginners but a more in depth understanding has an even greater purpose. If you know how the particular components of a surfboard affect its performance then you can make a more informed decision when buying a board. Furthermore, a greater understanding of surfboard features will also allow you to maximise and improve your own surfing performance.
The intention here is to give a general overview and explanation of the terminology used for the different parts of a surfboard, so allowing the reader to investigate further any subject needing a more in-depth explanation.
This describes the front section of the board, usually about the first 12”. Shapes vary considerably depending on the overall design of the board. Generally speaking the wider the nose the easier it will be to paddle – the greater surface area in contact with the water generates extra speed. Short boards, which typically have a more pointed nose, will be more manoeuvrable.
This describes the rear section of the board. It is an essential feature of surfboard design which can affect and determine such things as stability, manoeuvrability, turning due to the tail's looseness in the water and the wave size which the board is suitable for, amongst other things.
There are many different tail types and new designs are constantly being experimented with but some of the more commonly seen include 'pintails', 'squash', 'square' and 'swallow-tail'. There is an excellent article on this site which covers this rather complex subject in depth.
The uppermost surface of the surfboard which a surfer stands on. Wax is needed on this surface to prevent slipping.
Rails are the sides of the surfboard – the part where the bottom of the surfboard joins the deck. I had been surfing sometime before I even realised these not only varied but played a hugely significant part in the way a surfboard performs.
Rails vary in both shape and thickness. Some have very definite corners or angles while others maintain a smooth curve from front to back making them semi-circular overall. You will hear the terms 'soft' and 'hard' used when describing rails. Soft means regularly rounded and usually thicker and are a typical feature of larger or retro longboards. They aid with flotation and are less 'tippy' when the edges are stepped on. Hard rails are typically thinner and there is usually a definite angle at the join of the bottom of the surfboard and the rail. This allows for a faster plane through the water and tighter turns gained at the expense of less stability. You will also hear the term '50/50' rails which describes the evenness of the rails shape.
Although they may appear so at a casual glance, surfboards are very rarely totally flat. There is a varying curvature from nose to tail known as the rocker. Some boards have a sweeping regular rocker while others may utilise varying rocker in their different sections thus the terms 'nose rocker' (for rocker in the front section of the board), 'midsection rocker' and 'tail kick (describes the rocker in the board's rear section).
The rocker will help determine the speed, drive and manoeuvrability of a surfboard.
All rockers work with the same principle – the greater surface area of the board that is in contact with the water, the greater will be the board's speed capacity but with less turning ability. Therefore boards which are designed for small, mushy surf have a flatter overall design/ less rocker to keep them going over flat sections. Boards which function well in hollow, fast waves which may need a late take-off will typically have more rocker allowing far easier turning which may be critical. Overall shortboards have more rocker than longboards.
THIS BOARD HAS A VERY OBVIOUS ROCKER (Alex E. Proimos)
In addition to the rocker which shapes the bottom of the surfboard there is also a rail to rail shaping which is known as the bottom contour. Variations in design here will determine how water flows under the board and thus speed, drive and turning ability by loosening the surfboard's tail. Types include 'flat', 'single concave', 'double concave', 'channels' and 'V'. The bottom contours can be placed in various parts on the bottom of the board – for example, a 'spoon', which is a concave in the nose of the board is a feature on longboards designed for nose-riding.
Generally speaking, a flat bottom contour is more suitable for small, messy surf but becomes unstable during quick turns. Other options add thrust, lift and drive and aid in fast, rail to rail turns.
This is the central strip(s), usually made of wood, down the middle of your board which is used during construction to provide integral strength to the foam blanks. Most boards have a single stringer but you may also see 2 or 3 and occasionally boards have 'parabolic' stringers which unlike central, longitudinal stringers, have a curve and are placed on the inside of the rails.
SINGLE STRINGER SHOWN WITH THIS SURFBOARD DURING CONSTRUCTION (Gui Seiz)
Also known as skegs, the shapes, number of and placement of fins has been perhaps more experimented with than any other area of surfboard design and innovation. Fins work fundamentally as a rudder, allowing you to steer your surfboard and they also will affect its stability in the water. Traditionally, all surfboards had just one centrally placed fin which needed to be very large to hold the length of the board in the water and especially while the surfer board walked. Today, you will find surfboards with 1,2,3 or 4 fins with by far the most commonly seen being the 'thruster' set-up (3 fins – one larger central fin and one either side).
Generally speaking, the less fins a board has the looser it will be in the water and easier to turn but with less stability.
Modern boards nearly always have removable fins set into a fin box. The fins are tightened up or removed with the aid of a small key known as a fin key. Removable fins are almost essential if you intend to travel with your surfboard and are more conveniently replaced when they snap. Permanent fins which are usually glassed into place make for a pretty board but are a nightmare when one is lost or broken. As they are an integral part of the board a snapped glassed-in fin may cause damage to the board's underside.