When choosing a surfboard, one thing you don’t want to forget about is the shape of the tail. Surfboards come with different-shaped tails, with each shape affecting how the board rides.
Some basic rules of thumb when it comes to surfboard tail shapes are that a rounder shaped tail provides a surfer with smoother and rounder turns, while an angular shaped tail allows for sharper and more pivotal turns.
Another thing that the tail affects, is how water trails off of the board on the tail end. If you can picture water flowing across the board, both under and over, the water generally sticks to the overall shape of the board, as well as the smaller lines that run across the surface of the board. When you have a surfboard with a curved tail, this will tend to gather more water, whereas you can imagine a sharp angle will have the water leaving the surface of the board faster.
Basically what this boils down to is that surfboards with round tails add to the overall stability, since it kind of pins the board down a bit. On the other hand, a squared or angled tail will allow you to be more “free” from the water, making quicker, snappier motions, since you’re not stuck to the water as much.
The surface area of the tail is also determined by the shape, since this will affect the width of the tail. This plays a big part in how much speed you can build up, and how much control you have.
When you’re selecting your board, you will notice there are many different tail shapes, but they generally follow the following basic tail shape aesthetics.
If you’re looking for the best possible traction and control when surfing, your choice will be a pin tail. This type of tail has the narrowest width of all your basic surfboard tail shapes. Because the tail’s surface area is small, this allows the tail of the board to grab hold of the water, and maintain direction by tracking.
The pin tail shape is like an arrowhead, with two curved lines coming to a point. This design will give you good water flow over the tail of the board, allowing the tail to hold better, and avoiding any abrupt release that could knock you off your board.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for lift, you can’t get it with a pin tail since the surface area is small. This can make your board harder to maneuver, and hence not as good for smaller waves.
With larger waves, when you drop in, the most important things you’ll need are the ability to track and control your board, which the pin tail offers in spades.
The pin tail and the round tail have some similarities, such as letting the water flow around it, giving you better traction on the board. If you’re riding waves that are big and fast, that traction will come in handy, as opposed to the more square tail type boards.
Compared to the pin tail, the round tail is overall more versatile, so if you are just learning, having a round tail could be to your benefit. Because it is generally a wider shape, you get more surface area on the back end and therefore more lift. With more lift, this means you can turn easier as well.
With regards to those turns, they will be smoother, and rounder, just like the tail. More gradual, you might say. Square tails, as we mentioned in the intro, make turning snappier, where as round tails get you the slower turn, but added speed in certain spots.
All of the surfboard tail shapes today started with the square tail, as it was the very first to come along. The main thing the square tail has going for it, is that it is wide and aids the overall stability of the surfboard and therefore the surfer riding it.
At the same time, because of this extra wideness in the tail, there is less curve when it comes to the rails. The square tail surfboard has corners which bite into the wave, while you are turning and this helps to increase the board’s ability to pivot and change direction.
Longboards are generally the types of boards you will see with square tails, although once in a while you can spot them on shorter boards too.
If you’ve got a shorter surfboard, chances are you’ve got what’s called a squash tail, which is akin to a square tail. If you want a board that’s responsive, go for the squash tail because this will allow for quick release, letting you turn easier, and have some looseness to your ride.
This shape gives your tail more width, and hence more surface area. Once again, the wider surface area of the tail means you get more lift, and it is much easier to maintain a speed and also plane. When you hit a slower spot on a wave, these dynamics come in very useful, because you want that lift to avoid sinking down into the wave, and having your tail catch.
A squash tail board is ideal for having more control as well as high speed tracking. The slightly rounded end provide the board with more hold than your conventional square tail.
Overall, squash tails give you a lot of versatility, and improves your control when you’re riding a steeper wave, a big wave, or even a softer wave.
A swallow tail surfboard is like a double pin tail, like having one pin tail beside another on the same board. Actually, the swallow tail is designed after fish (yeah, actual fish), which have this type of tail. Having two points on your surfboard instead of one, as with a pintail, gives you more hold and traction on your board when surfing.
You can see the shape creates an upside down V, and this shape purposely gives your board better control, and a bit more bite when you go into or out of a turn.
Once again, we have a wider surface area here, which means you can more easily maintain your speed, when it comes to the softer parts of the wave.
A swallow tail performs best when it comes to smaller waves, and when the swallow tail is more pronounced, you will notice it gets stiffer as you transition from rail to rail. This is because when you are attempting to turn, or change direction, one of the pins needs to disengage before the other can engage, allowing you to pivot.