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May 26, 2012 / Wave Tribe

Surfboard Tail Ecology: Understanding Surfboard Design

Some Tails Are Unique.

Selecting the right tail for your surfboard is an ecological decision.

Wikipedia (with my surf-inspired edits) defines ecology as the scientific study of the relations that living organisms (surfers in this case) have with respect to each other (and their surf equipment) and their natural environment.

Ecology is not just about green products, it’s also about the conservation of your precious energy and the application of the right knowledge that will allow you to have a better surfing experience.

In order to understand how a tail design affects a surfboard, we have to consider the mechanics of tail hydro-dynamics. It boils down to the fact that a more angular or knifelike shape will allow you to make sharper pivotal turns. Conversely, with a rounder surfboard tail shape you’ll obtain smoother and glider turns. Contemplate the surfing of Kelly Slater versus Joel Tuder’s and you get the idea.

Surfboard tail shape influences the grasp and release on the surface of the wave. Picture how water flows off the back of the board. Water is syrupy and follows the lines of the board. Curves hold water flow whereas corners allow water to break away and be free. Hence, curves can slow a board, and angles can increase the flow or speed of the water.

Think of a big wave gun and a longboard. The sharp nose on a gun allows for fast entry and the rounded nose of a longboard facilitates a slow and stable take off. Visualize the same two boards and think about their tails, a pin tail will hold the water longer and make it more stable in bigger surf and a square edged tail will release water making it looser and snap happy.

Pin Tail

Pin tails are best for tracking and control. Imagine skipping down the face of a bomb at Puerto Escondido, you need to control your speed and draw a fast and straight line to make it through critical sections or you’ll get slammed like a Hulk Hogan takedown.

Less surface area will cause the tail to sink or bite into the wave. You won’t be surfing your Mini at Puerto, you’d want to grab a board with a needle tail, something that holds tight in the pocket and isn’t made for quick turns.

Round Tail

More surface area equates to more lift and a rounded tail is just a pin with a wider arch. The added surface area allows for more speed in slow sections and lifts the rear of the board a tad—did you say stomp it! A round tail is best for big, fast , hollow waves where you need a bit more maneuverability than a pin but not so much that you’re going top to bottom.

Squash Tail

The squash surfboard tail gets us closer to where we want to be when we think of an all around board because it allows for the most surfing versatility. The squash tail is the most common tail on the market, the square edge allows for quick release, giving the surfer responsive and loose turns.

More surface area means more lift down the line, giving you speed and planability (sic). The wider the tail the more lift, that extra speed can help you get through flat sections of the wave and explains why big fat tails on the Mini Simmons do so well in mushy conditions.

Swallow Tail

The swallow tail is your classic fish tail, it’s really like two tails in one, offering a nice balance between speed and control. The swallow tail construction allows the shaper to create much wider shapes nose to tail, giving the surfer a very different  experience.

The upside-down “V” (the section between both tail points) allows for bite and control when making turns. It also gives the water a release point, but remember that when in a turn the pin on the opposite side of the turn must disengage before the tail can reengage on the other pin to pivot. This is why a swallow tail is sometimes hard to turn and will bog out if you hit a flat section in your cutback, that far pin just won’t disengage and can be like dragging an anchor through a Florida swamp.

However, the swallow does allow for a much wider tail section and more surface area means more speed. Thus if you want to maintain your potential for speedy turns, grab a board with a shallower “V”.

Square Tail

The surfboard square tail is the grandfather of all tails. The square tail is like a knify squash, the corners of a square tail dig into a wave while turning and allow pivotal turns. Less curve in the rail means there is more stability. These are old school designs and aren’t used much anymore, except on longboards.

There are many other tail designs floating around these days, but this should give you a jumping off point for selecting the right tail for your session. Choosing a surfboard board with the right tail will notably influence your surfing experience, helping you harness the flow of energy towards a more positive and ecological surfing expression.


One Comment

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  1. Stacking Wax / May 27 2012 2:33 am

    Really informative and well written article. Lays out all the information you need about tails. Great Job!

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