Board Shapes and Board Types
By Cameron Christian
There are an endless number of surfboard types. Each board has a different purpose, the design dictates the functionality of the board. Bigger, longer boards are more stable and smaller shorter boards, more maneuverable and challenging. Knowing the differences in types of surfboards can help a surfer improve their skill. Surfboard design has evolved dramatically over the history of the sport and with the improvement of equipment came a radical shift in surfers performance.
*Disclaimer: I am no expert on surfboard design, but I have picked up some insight in my years of surf experience.
In the earliest days of surfing, coastal natives would ride large canoe like vessels made of bundled reeds. The first surfers would ride waves sitting or laying down and the magic of surfing was born. Flash forward to surfing becoming more strategic and structured, the boards started to take shape. Now one can find just about any shape of surfboard and experience the great differences in using each kind of craft.
The Foam Board:
Let’s start with the board most surfers get to know first, the foam board, foamie or soft top. Whatever you want to call it, this is the most user friendly board there is. These surfboards are made out of a soft floating foam. The most common foamie is 8 feet long (2.4m) most often found with 3 fins on the back for extra stability.
The good: These boards are great for anyone learning to surf. The best thing about the foam board is its ease of use, or its user friendliness. If you’re under 280lbs (127kg) you shouldn’t have issues floating on one of these bad boys. The softness of the foam makes falling and hitting your board basically a non-issue. Foam boards are also very cheap in comparison to other surfboards made out of hard foam and fiberglass.
The bad: Most of these beginner boards are very slow in comparison to hard boards of the same size. Foam boards also tend to be much heavier therefore difficult to move and maneuver once you’re up and riding the wave. These boards are also known as the beginner board, so if you are seen with a board of this variety, it’s assumed that you are a beginner surfer. This doesn’t stop professionals like Jaimie O’Brien from taking his foamies out in big Hawaiian waves though. Despite the design flaws, a skilled rider can still have a great time and perform impressive stunts on these boards.
The longboard, A.K.A log, noserider, the most traditional kind of surfboard, best for small waves. Longboards are usually longer than 8ft. These boards are a chill transition from the foam board in terms of difficulty.
The good: Longboards are perhaps the most fun (purely opinion). Ranging from 8 to 14 feet (2.4-4.2m), longboards provide ample stability for the surfer. It helps to think of boards as floating surfaces, or boats, how stable is an aircraft carrier versus a small sailboat? The bigger, the smoother and more stable the ride. The added length of this kind of board gives the surfer more speed than a shortboard because there is much less drag in the water, this is why longboarders can catch much smaller waves than shortboarders. These boards are faster than foamboards. The big surface of a longboard allows the rider to dance up and down the board while riding the wave, doing all kinds of different tricks like the famous hang 10. Very stylish if done right!
The Bad: Longboards are big. They are heavy. They are somewhat difficult to move-in and out of the water-. Unlike foam boards, these boards are made of a much more fragile material like fiberglass which can easily be damaged. This hard fiberglass build also makes them painful to fall on and be hit by. Longboards, and their big fins can be seriously dangerous, please be careful with these large apparatus.
Fun boards are basically shortboards with a little extra lovin. There are many subcategories of this generalized “Fun board” see also, “The Egg” and, “The Midlength”. They fall somewhere in between longboards and shortboards in basically every way, size, speed, personality...
The good: These boards are great fun, they offer more paddle power than a shortboard but less than a longboard. They are small enough to fit inside most cars and give the surfer more maneuverability than a log.
The bad: It’s difficult to differentiate the good from the bad with these boards because they are very much a middle ground. Less mobility than a shortboard but more mobility than a longboard.
The gun is a board design created for surfing big waves. Like really big. If you don’t know what a gun is, you probably shouldn’t be surfing one. Depending on the shape of the wave, the gun shouldn’t be taken off the rack until the waves hit the 18 foot mark (6 foot hawaiian).
The good: The benefits of riding a gun are added stability and paddle power as compared to a shortboard, and added maneuverability as compared to a longboard. The gun excels in big wave riding because it has the floatation to get surfers into, up and riding big waves while still allowing them to turn and move around a bit. Guns are basically a stretched out shortboard.
The bad: In average sized waves, a gun is not the right board. Guns are harder to maneuver than shortboards and they can’t catch as many waves as a traditional longboard. One can still ride waves with these, but the ride would likely be more enjoyable on a different size or shape, unless the waves are looking like small buildings of course. Let it be known taking out a gun can be viewed as a testament to the size of the waves, so if you're the only surfer on a gun you may catch some looks.
The Fish is sort of like a more sporty version of the Fun Board. A Fish falls in between the Fun and the shortboard. These are basically slightly larger shortboards, but they must have either 2 or 4 fins. Learn more about fins here.
The Good: A Fish can slice through a nice wave like a hot knife through butter. These boards are most similar to traditional shortboards but differ in that they generally offer a bit more floatation than a shorty, thus more paddle power and speed (more style too).
The Bad: Fish boards ride a bit different than shortboards because of their shape and fin set up. In general, a fish will go faster in straight lines down the face of a wave, and will not turn as quickly as a traditional shortboard. Fish are slightly less maneuverable than shortboards, and a bit heavier.
To see Fish being put to the test watch this. The same break but on a shortboard here.
The Shortboard :
The shortboard is the most challenging board to ride, the most rewarding too!
The Good: A shortboard offers the most maneuverability out of any kind of surfboard. Usually shortboards are no bigger than 6.5 feet (1.9M). These boards allow skilled surfers to perform the most technically difficult moves while on waves. Because of their small size, and streamlined shape, shortboards have become the ultimate frontier in surfing allowing the rider to carve, get barrelled, and even fly high above the wave.
The Bad: Shortboards are small and therefore very challenging to ride. The small surface of a shortboard makes for a slippery and unstable ride as compared to other, larger surfboards. These boards are also much more fragile than other bigger boards because the thinner build is structurally weaker. These boards are often somewhat expensive if bought new.
For more in depth insight on surfboards and surfboard design, check out this article on board design. *Andrews board is also an asymmetrical surfboard, I’m not even gonna go there.