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Types of Surfboards and When to Use Them

Not all surfboards are the same. With different shapes, materials, and sizes; each has been built and designed to answer a surfer’s unique style and surfing need.

Before you start looking for a surfboard, you’ll want to consider your skill level, where you plan on surfing, what kind of waves exist, etc. Even the best surfboard is useless if the surfer is not able to maximise its potential.

Why are there different types of surfboards?

A line up of different surfboard styles
A lineup of different boards


Surfboards come in different styles, shapes, and sizes. To the uninitiated, selecting a surfboard is mainly based on how this looks. But for the more discerning professionals, selecting a surfboard depends on riding style and the type of waves they would be riding.

Different types of surfboards answer a specific need. For example, beginner surfboards are easier to balance and usually longer with lots of volume. Advanced surfers, on the other hand, may need something easier to turn or able to cut through waves and generate more speed, like a performance surfboard.

How dimensions and shape affect performance 

There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all surfboard. It is because each surfboard is constructed differently in more ways than one. Several factors come into play when creating a surfboard: its length, width, thickness, foil, and material.

Length 

The length of a surfboard has a direct effect on its stability and ability to hold a line. Longer boards are ideal for beginners since paddling is faster, simpler to balance, and makes catching waves easier. Shorter boards have a different dynamic. Because of their shorter length, these can change direction more quickly. 

Width

A surfboard’s width refers to the widest point of the surfboard and measured from rail to rail. A wide surfboard offers more stability and makes gliding over the waves easier. Its bigger width offers beginners a bigger surface area to plant their feet to help keep their balance. 

Narrow surfboards make it easier to shift the board's direction. It is ideal for more advanced surf boarders who require a more responsive surfboard when navigating waves.

The position of the widest point of the surfboard has a direct effect on performance. A surfboard with the broadest point located above the center makes it easier to paddle and catch waves. Meanwhile, most competition surfboards have their widest points below the center because it makes it easier for the surfer to make tight turns.

Thickness

Beginners are encouraged to use thicker surfboards. These can hover better over the water, make paddling faster, and makes catching waves easier. Thicker surfboards are also able to carry their speeds over softer waves. What works for beginners and intermediate surfers may work against advanced surfers. Thinner surfboards can latch better to the water, just like running on rails. 

Foil

If you look at a surfboard from the sides, just like checking for thickness, you will notice that each surfboard has a distinct thickness profile. A surfboard can be thicker at the nose, mid-section, or tail. This particular shape has a direct effect on how your surfboard interacts with the waves.

Material

Originally, surfboards were made of wood from Redwood trees which is not a water-resistant material, so the surfboard naturally got heavier after being used in water. Today, most surfboard construction types use foam and fibreglass. These surfboards generally consist of several types of foams in their construction with the only difference being the type and application of the foam being used.

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Identifying Surfboard Components

A surfboard can be designed for specific water and wind conditions. It is why surfboards come in different shapes and sizes. But even with all these differences, the basic components of a surfboard remain the same.    

a. Nose – this is the leading edge or tip of your surfboard. It can be rounded or pointed. It has a direct influence on your surfboard’s paddling and handling ability.

b. Rails – the edges of your surfboard or curved radius that divides the top and bottom surfaces. Soft rails are rounder, while hard rails have a square shape.

c. Leash and leash plug – the leash, or leg rope, is used to attach the surfboard to the surfer. The leash plug is the point of attachment for your leash. It does not affect the surfboard’s performance, but you should check its position as this can get in the way of where you place your feet. Learn more tips in our Leash Guide.

d. Fins - these serve as rudders on a ship, it helps maintain direction and maintain control. A surfboard’s fin configuration can range from a one to five fin setup. To learn more, check out the Definitive Surfboard Fin Guide.

e. Stringer – this is a thin wooden strip or carbon fibre that runs along the vertical center of the board. The stringer increases the surfboard’s rigidity while reducing flexibility.

f. Tail – this refers rear to the rear section of the surfboard. The tail shape has a direct effect on the surfboard’s speed and ability to turn.

g. Rocker – this is the vertical curve profile that runs from the surfboard’s tail to nose section. There are two major designs; heavy, which is steeply curved, and light, rockers with a gentle curve.  

Technical surfboard diagram


Types of Surfboards

Below is a list of the different types of surfboards you'll find out there. Click into any of these board types to view more examples and get more context of their shape and profile.

Shortboards


Shortboard (Thruster) – the weapon of choice for top-tier surfers. These surfboards are designed for high-performance surfing and are usually used for competition. Shortboards are generally 5’6 to 6’4 long, 16” to 20” wide and with a narrower, pointed nose. Compared to other boards, they offer less stability and more difficult to paddle – qualities that make it difficult for any beginner to handle.

However, what it lacks in these areas, shortboards more than makes up for maneuverability and speed—making it the perfect choice for competitive surfing. Also known as thrusters, it got its name from its three-fin setup.  

View Shortboards

Longboards


Longboard (Log's / Malibu) - considered a classic, longboards are generally 8’ to 10’ long with a rounded nose. A great choice for beginners as they offer exceptional stability and are small-wave friendly. Longboards have a lot of volume, which makes them nice and buoyant.

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Mid Lengths


Mid Lengths - boards in the middle of short and longboards. Coming in at 7’6” to 8’6” in length, these are easier to turn compared to longboards while still offering a high level of buoyancy / stability for beginners.

View Mid-lengths

Fish


Fish - the original and classic style twin fin. Named "Fish" for their fish tail aesthetic. Featuring a rounder nose, wider tail, and mid-section. Due to their shorter and thicker design, fish have better gliding abilities compared to shortboards and ideal for a wide range of wave conditions, but mostly surfed in small to medium size waves.    

View Twin Fin Fish

Soft Tops


Soft Tops (Foamie/Softboard) - these take their name from the soft deck material their made of. Extremely buoyant making them ideal for beginners. It is also a safer choice because the softer material greatly reduces injuries caused by surfboards. 

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Fun Boards


Funboards - ideal for both beginners and advanced surfers, the funboard sits between a longboard and shortboard. Measuring at 6’ to 8’ long, funboards usually feature multiple fin options to play with and can be enjoyed in anything from ankle to head high waves.

Mini Simmons


Mini Simmons – with origins going as far back as the 1950s, the Mini Simmons was the brainchild of Douglas Aircraft mathematician Bob Simmons. Short and wide, these surfboards can cut through the waters, making them the perfect speed machines. Mini Simmons are ideal for small, weaker waves.

Groveller's


Groveller's – a few inches shorter (3’ to 4’) than a shortboard, these boards are ideal for smaller and weaker waves. A Groveller has a flatter rocker with wider noses and tails. This surfboard lets surfers enjoy the performance of a shortboard on less than ideal surfing conditions or weak waves.    

View Groveller's

Alaia's

Alaia – one distinct feature that makes the Alaia different from any other surfboard is the lack of vertical fins, making it easier for the board to glide over the water. Making turns is achieved by using the rail's sharp edges to cut through the waves and point the board towards the desired direction.  

Bonzer's


Bonzer - these were initially designed by Malcom and Duncan Campbell in 1972. Contrary to popular belief, the Bonzer, not the shortboard, was the first surfboard design to sport a three-fin configuration. It came with a large center fin with two aggressively tilted smaller fins. 

Gun


Gun - these are surfboards designed to catch the biggest waves. Guns use the longboard’s buoyancy and speed to catch waves that are impossible in smaller boards. Like longboards, guns are 7’ to 10’ long with four fins in a ‘quad’ layout.

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SUP's


Stand up paddleboard (SUP) - there is some debate on whether SUP should be classified as surfboards, but some professional surfers have used these ‘recreational’ boards for riding massive waves. Stand up paddleboards are popularly used in gentler waters. It gives it riders the ability to glide over calm waters. 

Tow Boards


Tow-In-surfboard – these are designed to provide speed, control, and stability over big, powerful waves. Measuring anywhere from 5’5” to 6’2”, tow-in-surfboards have a slim profile and a wider tail and nose. These are also heavier, around 10 to 20 pounds, which helps maintain stability and speeds better over waves.   

Step Up's


Step Up Surfboards – are souped-up shortboards which are longer and designed to handle bigger, more powerful waves. The two major advantages of step up surfboards include better stability when riding large surf and better paddling which gets you on top of a wave much faster.

View Step Ups

Foil boards


Foil Surfboards – what really sets foil surfboards apart from their traditional counterparts is the hydrofoil which extends from underneath the surfboard. These hydrofoils allow you to float on top of the water’s surface.


From Left to Right, Longboard, Bonzer, Roundtail Thruster, Twin Fin . Photo: Izzy Hobbs.


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Making the choice – Selecting the right surfboard for you

Having the right equipment makes all the difference. Whether you’re a first-time surfer or a fully-fledged competitor, your surfboard will determine how much fun you’ll have in the water.

Bigger surfboards (longer, thicker, wider) are more stable and easier to paddle – perfect for the beginner. But too much of it makes turning the corner a handful. It is knowing yourself – your skills and limitations that will determine the type and how much board you can take.


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