Surfing Vancouver Island  

Surfboard Design Guide
compiled by Gioni Pasquinelli  

The focus is on longboards in Santa Cruz, but the info is applicable elsewhere and to all boards. All info has been gathered through my experiences and discussions with many many people. Opinions are like assholes, everyone's got one. This info is not the definitive source on surfboard design, please let me know if your experiences or opinions differ from the info below and I'd be happy to discuss it with you.

Special thanks go out to many in the alt.surfing and web community for their advice and input including;
Steve 'da Hulk Hull
Timothy 'Maddog' Maddox
Keith Elliot (Miffmole)
John Ferguson
Leo Dagum
Dr. Bruce Gabrielson
Bruce Jones
Don Van Dyke
Anthony Boesen

Sorry to anyone I may have left out!
Gioni Pasquinelli

Table of Contents

Cost and Options | Shapers | Board Dimensions | Blanks | Foams | Rocker | Stringers | Fiberglass Cloth (Glass) | Resins | Rails | Bottom Shape | Nose Shape | Tail Shape | Fins | Twinzers | Nose Riding | Tailblocks | Glass and Polish | Logos and Paint | Extras | Videos & Books

Like most anything, a surfboard has many complementary characteristics, and while one quality will tweek the performance in one way, it will most likely degrade it in another (speed vs turning ability, paddling ease vs easy entry, etc). So you must compromise and come up with the options that work best for you and where you surf.

Cost and options

$500 compares with the basic price for a longboard from most shapers in the area. Any "optional" features, like fin boxes, fins, sidefin boxes, special order blank, nose or tail blocks, tougher glass job, custom spaghetti flame artwork along the rails, etc, will cost more.

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Doug Haut, Pearson, and Michel Junod are consistently the best shapers in Santa Cruz for longboards, but they are also the priciest. Johnny Rice and Pat Farley, who used to own Santa Cruz'n, are also good shapers. Ward Coffey, Doug Banks and John Mel are good shapers for shorter boards too.

Other top notch or best known longboard shapers outside Santa Cruz are Bruce Jones in Sunset Beach, Robert August in Huntington Beach, Donald Takayama, Rennie Yater in Santa Barbara, and Bob McTavish in Australia amongst many others.

Patagonia and Surftech are both new companies experimenting with new materials in an attempt to make a stronger and longer lasting board. The jury is still out on whether or not they'll succeeded, more on them later.

Johnny Rice | Doug Banks 831-427-3625 | Bruce Jones | Robert August | Rennie Yater | Patagonia | Surftech

links to lots more shapers

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Board Dimensions

Longboards in general range from 8'6" to 12' depending on the purpose and person riding. An average board would probably be in the 9'6" area, with anything under that for the groms or super light people. General longboard for a slightly bigger than average man: Length: 10' Thickness: 3-3 1/4 " Nose 18-19", Tail 15-16", Width about 23" give or take a little.

I (6'3", 260 lbs) ride an 11' X 24" X 4" board but have also ridden a 10'6" X 23 1/2" X 3 3/4" board as well. The 10'6" worked well for me but the 11 footer has allowed me to catch lots of waves in crowded point break surf and I have learned to cross step and nose ride it while I couldn't do either on the 10'6".

The exact dimensions are usually written along the stringer somewhere or are at least somewhere on the price tag in the surf shops. Remember the nose and tail measurements are 12" from either end.

Generally, the greater the size, the more stabile and easier paddling, its going to be. So walking around on the board and catching waves will be a lot easier though it will be heavier and less manoeuvrable. Again, you have trade-offs everywhere. You can also combine different features to compensate like getting a lighter blank and glass job to keep the weight down on a bigger board, downside is that it will ding much easier and may not last long. Or getting a longer board but more rocker to help with turning, downside being it may not paddle or nose ride as easily. A good shaper will listen to you and blend all dimensions of a board into something that works for you and the places you surf.

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First things first, the blank is the basis of every board, though the future holds alternatives to the classic foam board made from closed cell polyurethane. Before the 1950's wood was used, especially balsa and redwood and before that Hawaiians used koa.

You can also get foam in different densities, like 1 lb/cuft or 2 lb/cuft, which effects weight and strength.Blanks in the US usually come from Clark Foam and are made from the 'super blue' type blanks.

  • Ultra Lite - lightest and weakest, least dense

  • Super Lite - slightly heavier and stronger

  • Super Blue - what most shapers use unless told differently

  • Super Green or Classic - heaviest and strongest, most dense

Listed in order from weakest to strongest, lightest to heaviest. You can't tell what kind of foam the board is made from by the color of the foam (always white) or the color of the glue line. You can get any color glue line you want when you order the blank. Remember the denser foam is heavier and you will sacrifice a little float and responsiveness in your turns. I've found that you quickly get used to the extra weight and it is easily compensated for and well worth it if you want a board that lasts without delaminations (especially for bigger riders).

Using a superlite blank in a 10' board will save about 1.5 lbs over using a superblue, or 2.5 lbs instead of a supergreen. When you add the rider weight to the board weight, you'll see that a pound or two is not that important, but the durability of the board is!

Every blank is stamped with information by Clark Foam explaining what type of blank it is. But usually you won't see the blank until after the shaper's gotten ahold of it and shaved all that information off. So usually only your shaper knows for sure what blank was used. If you get a chance go to a shop that sells blanks and take a look at one.

If you're shaping your own board, make sure it is a first run blank, no air holes, very even in density throughout the board. Rejects are considerably cheaper than first or second grade blanks, and the finished board probably won't look as nice, but functionally it will perform the same. Holes are found by holding the blank in front of a strong light. Move the blank back and fourth and note if small shadows or dark spots can be seen. Holes appear as dark spots. The background light method is used by manufacturers in initial grading. If you find a hole during shaping, you can still shape around it, but will need to fill it (if it's large) with foam dust during your initial glassing.

It is very important to get the proper sized blank to avoid "overshaping." Blanks have a hard "shell" towards the outside of the blank where the foam has cured more than the inside of the blank. You want to retain as much of this shell as possible to maintain the strong integrity of the blank. If the shaper removes the shell, your board will not last as long and will be more susceptible to delaminations. A strong blank is the foundation and combined with a good glass job, you'll get a solid long-lasting board.

A few years back, Clark Foam was reformulating their chemistry to fit in with CA clean air standards. Thing is, the blanks would 'outgas' for a while after being removed from the mold. Sometimes, before they really understood how this was happening, a blank would be shaped and glassed before the outgassing had finished. This, in turn , would make for tiny, almost microscopic flaws (hole) in the glass job as the gas went through it. And, in use, the board would inhale and exhale a little as it went from warm air to cold water, sucking in a little water through the pinhole. You wound up with a board that looked like it had freckles. Sooner or later, the whole board started to suffer the effects...and major delams in odd places... The moral of the story? Letting the resin cure on a new board is really neither here nor there....but the blank itself needs to cure a bit before it is glassed.

Foam breaks down when exposed to UV (sunlight) turning yellow or brown. This can be avoided with resins that have an added UV blocker or by pigmenting the resin an opaque white color (see below for more on this).

A quick note on popouts as the question seems to come up occasionally: pop-out means popped out of a mold and then glassed. No shaping involved and using cheap materials, the customers they were aiming for were none too sophisticated. If you can't build it well, build it strong. Lay on the glass HEAVY! And fiberglass matt (nonwoven, sort of like felt) at that. They go down the line fast for a reason: bloody little rocker in those things. Don't turn too well though.

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Polystyrene vs Polyurethane Foam

Current experimentation from Patagonia and Surftech revolves around using EPS or expanded polystyrene foam which is open celled instead of the closed cell polyurethane that Clark Foam uses. Most sailboards already use EPS foam but you can also find closed cell polystyrene from some sources. A guy named Stretch in Santa Cruz works with closed cell polystyrene.

Open cell foam like EPS allows water to flow through the foam very easily, so if you ding a board it will suck in lots of water if you don't get it to dry land soon. The foam is also very sensitive to pressure/temperature changes so don't leave these boards in your car or in the sun. Sailboards usually have drain plugs which can be left open to allow air to flow in/out for the temperature and pressure changes and closed once the board is in the water. While closed cell foam (either polystyrene or polyurethane) will not soak up water like open celled foam, it will slowly soak up water and degrade (turn mushy and yellow) while in contact with it.

Open cell polystyrene (EPS) and closed cell polystyrene is much harder than Clark Foam (polyurethane) so you can use a lower density (lighter) foam yet have the same or more strength in the blank. Also, polyester resin (used on polyurethane) melts right through polystyrene so you must use epoxy on polystyrene blanks. Epoxy is much lighter than polyester resin, however epoxy is very messy and causes really bad allergic reactions after several uses. So if you are going to use epoxy, you must wear full bunny suits or risk a really bad rash.

Lastly, polystyrene foam is much harder to shape than polyurethane foam because it is so hard, therefore it takes the shaper much more time to create a board. Surftech has worked around this by machine shaping its boards. Either way (machine or hand shaped) makes the board more expensive as it takes an expensive machine or more time to shape. Also, epoxy is much more expensive (like 3-4X) than using polyester resin which also raises the cost of a styrene/epoxy board.

The jury is still out on whether or not polystyrene/epoxy boards are suited for surfing. The sailboarding industry has embraced it full force and its worked well for them. The surfboard industry tried it in the 80's and quickly abandoned it and now Patagonia and Surftech are trying to revive it though they haven't been around long enough to prove anything. It may just be that surfers don't like the higher expense of the boards, plus the stiffer flex patterns of the board plus its always fun to get a new board!

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Basically, rocker is the curve along the bottom of the board.

The newer blanks from Clark Foam have natural rocker built into the boards and generally the board doesn't need to be shaped down (see above comments on over-shaping) as much as the older-generation of blanks. Rocker is placed in a blank when the stringer is glued in. The blank is cut in half, insert the stringer and glue it back together.

Natural rocker simply means the rocker that the blank has in it without any adjustments, that is, the rocker that the shaper designed into the "plug" that made the mold at Clark Foam. All Clark Foam is blown using moulds and the moulds were made by the better shapers from Southern California (where Clark Foam is HQ'd). Clarks blanks are all named and usually contain an initial which indicates who made the mold. For example, the 10-1Y blank is from Yater, 9-10H is from Rich Harbour, 9-8S is from Bill Stewart, 9-4B is from Bruce Jones and so on.

Clark Foam has literally hundreds of rockers available for the most popular blanks, some available to everyone, some for certain shapers only. Look at a Clark Foam catalog and the "Clark Foam Extended Rocker Catalog" available at shops where you can order blanks like Monterey Bay Fiberglass on 17th Ave. There is also a partial version on-line at Bruce Jones Surf Shop.

What rocker does, one by one.

  • Nose rocker-more makes a board resistant to nosediving; pearling. Less makes a board go faster and stall less, easier paddling as the board glides through the water, not pushing the water, better noseriding,
  • Rocker all the way through; generally slows it all down some, but makes a board turn well
  • Tail rocker; makes a board turn real well, easier drops into the wave for a speedier entry, and also aids in noseriding...but pays a large speed penalty due to drag both while riding and paddling

The best is a combination of all. Modern boards need to be able to turn to get speed, so tail rocker is important, and it's not exactly true that "flatter is faster" on a wave, maybe on flat water with a sailboard, but not on a wave.

The standard "Clark Foam" method of measuring rocker:
The board is bottom up on shaping racks (or something), you measure the center point along the stringer, that is center from nose to tail, so on a 6' board it would be 3' from each end. Then you would hold a long straight edge along the stringer, tangent to the mid point mark, and measure the gaps at the nose and tail. So a typical short board might have 5.5" of nose rocker and 2.5" of tail rocker, and on a longboard maybe 5" of nose rocker and 3" of tail rocker. You can take measurements anywhere along this line to get a more precise reproduction.

Or you can be more precise and make or get a "rocker stick", a tool that most shapers have, it is a way of holding a long flexible fiberglass batten in place so one can trace the curve onto a template.

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Lightness is important, but so is strength. Typically, you will get a 1/8" spruce stringer on a Clark blank unless specially ordered. Basswood (stronger), Cedar (weaker), balsa and redwood are also available. See Bruce Jones discussion of selected wood species bending strengths and stiffness for more detail.

A thicker stringer (up to 3/8") or two stringers glued together like plywood or multiple stringers will weigh a little more, but will definitely add strength and will also stiffen the board up whether good or bad. Strong stringers will give you the freedom to not worry about breaking your board, but they also decrease flex which can affect performance and the feel of the board.

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Fiberglass Cloth (Glass)

There are many glassing options with different types of glass having different strengths and weights/densities.

A typical longboard will come with a 6 oz bottom and one 6 oz and one 4 or 6 oz top and maybe another 4oz or 6 oz deck patch (extending 2/3 of the board) to cover the tail area where you spend most of your time on the board. This trend of light boards came from the manufacturers though. They like this, because its cheaper to make these boards (less materials used) and you're going to be coming back in for a new one real soon once this one delams and dings. Get a heavy glass job and your board will last longer. My board has a full layer (top and bottom ) of 7.5oz cloth with another layer of 6oz, plus a 6oz 3/4 length deck patch.

"E" cloth is most commonly used in either 4 or 6 oz weights. "S" cloth is a 1/3 stronger and is twice as expensive. "E" cloth ('electric'....don't ask me why) is a borosilicate glass while "S" is a magnesia-alumina-silicate glass. You can also use several layers of glass to increase strength though everyone has an opinion about how much of a difference " E" vs "S" and multiple layers makes in the strength of a board. You may just be adding lots of weight without the benefit of added strength. This area needs more research.

There is also type of fiberglass cloth treatment called Volan that's typically used on "classic" styled longboards. It's got a bigger weave coming in heavier than more normal glass, and so the weave is still visible after lamination, whereas newer types of glass are typically invisible after lamination. However, the most distinctive feature of Volan is the greenish hue of the finish , whereas other fiberglass cloth is simply clear. Volan comes in 7.5 oz, 8 oz. and 10 oz. weights so its stronger and heavier. Here's what a volan glassed board looks like, notice the green hue, also classic balsa stringer, tail block and laminated wood fin by Bruce Jones:

Volan Volan glassed surfboard picture of Volan glassed surfboard

Non-Volan Non-Volan glassed surfboard

Polyester resin is typically used to wet out the fiberglass cloth (more on this below). The ratio of resin to cloth is also very important and will greatly affect the strength and weight of your board. Basically, you want enough resin to fully wet out (cover) the glass but no more. More resin during the glass lamination does not make it stronger. From a little research done by Doc a couple of years back, the strongest laminations are around a 60/40 ratio -cloth/resin, by weight. This is difficult to do without vacuum bagging and high-tech tooling. With a squeegee, as is usual in surfboards, a practiced glasser can get about 50/50. More resin makes for a stiffer layer, more resistant to pressure. The pressure we all measure when checking out a new board in the shop; the old 'can I squash it with my thumbs' test, however the stiffness or elasticity (ability to reform its shape) may not be as good.

Vacuum bagging is too complex to go into details here, but basically when the board is glassed, it is wrapped in some type of impermeable material and then all the air is sucked out (creating a vacuum) which then applies pressure to the glass squeezing the resin into the cloth and into the foam creating a very strong bond, but this technique requires lots of equipment and skill and time. For more info go to Vacuum Bagging Techniques and Equipment from Fiberglast.

Definition: Feathering the glass means sanding the glass at ~30 degree angle to create a sort of beveled edge.

Lots of composite info at Fiberglast under the info center.

Epoxy resin works with any kind of foam, Polyester resin eats polystyrene (EPS) foam, use it with polyurethane foam only.

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A resin is a material, generally a polymer, that has an indefinite and often high molecular weight and a softening or melting range and exhibits a tendency to flow when it is subjected to stress. Resins are used to bind together the reinforcement material in composites. Basically its the glue that sticks the glass to the blank of a surfboard, however its not a chemical bond, rather a physical bond between the foam and resin.

There are different types of resins including sanding resin, laminating resin and glossing or finish resin. They are a lot alike, but the biggest difference is that sanding and glossing resins contain a styrene wax. The wax in the resin will rise to the surface during curing, protecting the resins surface from the inhibiting action of air. Without the wax, the resin would remain tacky even when applied in thin coats and fully cured.  You must sand off the wax layer before painting or adding another layer of sanding or glossing resin. The glossing or finish resin is the same as sanding resin (resin with wax) but it is also thinned with some added acetone or styrene which helps the resin flow more easily.

The process for glassing a board is begun with a finished blank. Glass is "laid-up" or is cut and put on to the blank and then laminated on with resin. The rails are usually overlapped to provide added protection. Once the resin has "gone-off" or hardened (though still tacky), the hotcoat (has a drop or two more MEKP) is added which covers the weave of the glass and finally the gloss or finish coat is put on. And there's sanding in between and after the hot and gloss coats. Lastly, the board can be polished.

Now, you can't get surfboard resin at a hardware store or a marine store. What you'll get there is known as 'boat resin ". It is usually a waxed resin and it goes off reddish brown and brittle. Surfboard resin goes off water-clear and pretty tough.

Ding repairs are usually done using sanding resin. Resin needs some help to cure unless you want to wait a long while. To speed of the curing you use a catalyst, which is generally MEKP: Methyl Ethyl Ketone Peroxide, which has a material toxicity sheet about six pages long and stings like hell when I get it underneath a fingernail. It breaks down with age, heat and sunlight, so don't store it on the windowsill and always get fresh catalyst when you need it.

When resin cures it forms bonds, longer bonds form if the resin cures slow, and the longer the bonds the stronger the resin. So basically, you want the resin to cure as slowly as possible. This is controlled by the amount of MEKP you use. Read the back of the resin can for more info as the amount varies depending on the amount of resin used, the temperature and the humidity. Use more catalyst with more resin, if it's colder or if its more humid. Also, coloring agents or fillers (cabosil, aerosil, microballons, q-cell) added to the resin will slow down the reaction so more MEKP is needed but not much (couple drops more). The filler will help space out the resin creating a lighter ding repair.

Lots of composite info at Fiberglast under the info center.
For repairing boards: Fiberglass repair and ding repair FAQ and The Complete Surfing Guide for Coaches - Repairs

Epoxy works with any kind of foam, Polyester resin eats polystyrene (EPS) foam, use it with polyurethane foam only.

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Some shapers are now working with an epoxy resin for its added strength and lightness. Epoxy is a lot stiffer than polyester resin and about 3-4 times the cost of polyester resin and it is only as good as the material that goes with it, like "S" glass, Carbon or Kevlar to get the full mechanical strength value. Also, epoxy causes serious allergic reactions and they get worse each time you work with the material so protection must always be worn.

Surftech is now using the EPS foam/Epoxy combo by taking a polystyrene blank, then applying epoxy resin, fiberglass cloth, then wood veneer or PVC, then polyester resin alone (on wood) or vinyl paint (on PVC). The PVC or wood veneer layer effectively creates a composite sandwich. This is called divinycell and it created a very strong board, however the jury is still out on long-term durability against dings and delamination.

These boards are extremely solid, however, the dynamics of these boards are different: they are more rigid and react very quickly. Walking on the board is a little more difficult; they are also much harder to surf in bumpy conditions than polyester boards which flex and absorb some of the shock. Definitely, try one of these boards out before buying one.

According to Bruce Jones, of the two manufacturers currently using EPS, one has tons of money (Patagonia) and doesn't care about the outcome, the other failed in the sailboard business (Surftech) and is trying it again in the surfboard business.

Info from Doc:
Epoxy continues to cure for quite a while after it's hardened. The stuff also goes yellow over time, which is (according to the makers of at least one epoxy board line) due to the continued curing of the epoxy. While it cures it gives off certain compounds that some people react too strongly. It also breaks down rather badly in sunlight unless some sort of sunscreen is mixed in. I'm not making this up, check out Patagonia's spec sheets at . Really rather enlightening.

As to whether or not epoxy is stronger than polyester, depends on the epoxy (and the polyester-many different kinds and formulations are available), the type of cloth it is used with (glass, Kevlar, carbon fiber) and so on. Lots of variables.

Epoxy (room temperature cure types, as commonly used in boats and boards) breaks down at lower temperatures than polyester (some common epoxies break down and go soft at 120 degrees F) and reacts/breaks down more quickly in UV light. Some epoxy resins have UV protection built in, true, but how that affects the strength and other factors is something you'd have to get from the spec sheets for that particular resin. One UV resistant type is System Three's SB112 (or 113) sailboard/surfboard resin. You can also just pigment the epoxy and opaque what to protect it from UV.

Now, I know somebody is going to say 'but Brand X has this type 123B resin that doesn't do that'. Okay, fine, it doesn't.

Epoxy works with Cabosil and other fillers as well as Polyester, but you are stuck with (sorry about that choice of words) the Part A (resin) to Part B (hardener) mix, which dries slowly. Up to 24 hours to get it workable/sandable.

You can't mix the stuff from different brands of epoxy or different types within a brand. If you use epoxy in a wide range of temperatures, it may pay you to use an epoxy that has slow, medium and fast hardeners. This gets kinda pricy.

Epoxy works with any kind of foam, Polyester eats polystyrene foam, use it with polyurethane foam only.

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Terms (thanks to Doc for words and drawings):
Round rail - like it says, round, like a half circle.
Egg rails - like round rails, except drawn out a bit so they bite in some and help you hold an edge on a wave.
50/50 rails - drawn out even more, with the 'point' in the middle of the rail, about halfway from deck to bottom like this.

50/50 rail

60/40 rails - same as 50/50s, but the 'point is just a skosh lower down towards the bottom.
Down rails - the 'edge' of the board, is right at the bottom. The rest of the board eases over to it.

Down Rail

Rolled rails- they are down rails, but kinda rolled under.

Rolled under or tucked rail

Soft rail - has a radius of at least half an inch
Hard rail - may have a radius of 1/8 inch or less.

Down rails bite in good, hold well and are fast. They also turn like a bandit. But down rails are either hard or soft which refers to the radius of the curve.

Rolled rails will hold okay, but will also behave like a really round rail. This means the board can be looser with the weight shifted forward.

Soft rails allow you to ease out a turn, make a little controlled slippage if you want while hard rails bite in, hard, and can cause a few problems like "catching a rail". You wouldn't want an all-hard downrailed board. Usually, it's more like this, from nose to tail- round to rolled (see the next bit) to hard down rails.

Or even more complicated - hard, down rails right at the first foot of nose, for lift as you take off, easing to a very soft low but not down rail about midway so that the main edge at the middle of the board will 'swoosh' a bit (love that high-tech terminology) and then easing down and getting harder towards the tail for a positive bite when you want to hold an edge going across a steep part of the wave or turn.

A hard rail is usually also a down rail.

Thinner rails pierce the water and hold you in there, while thicker rails won't get hung up in transitions.

Generally, sharper and lower rail line designs give decisive control when riding fast on the back third of the board, shortboard style, but are more difficult and less forgiving than soft rails. Sharper rails are also needed if sweeping turns are done using more rail than fin (like when a surfer positions himself towards the middle of the board, rather than at the back of the board over the fins) or the board will bog down. For a beginner a hard rail in the tail is ok as long as it gradually softens in the middle and front two-thirds of the board.

A soft rounded rail allows the surfer to completely exploit his fin's turning radius. Since torque is equal to force times distance, non-biting rails allow turning from near the tail to be fast and effortless in smaller surf. Tricks and many higher scoring contest maneuvers are also easier to perform with soft rails. The chief problem with soft rails in faster waves is speed. Since more actual rail contact is made with the wave face on large or quick breaking waves, soft rails will create more friction and thus more drag.

Thin rails also have "tuck", meaning the sharper part of the edge is near the bottom.Many board designs have a softer rail in the front, and slowly curve to a harder, tucked rail in the rear. The softer front can be a little more forgiving while turning while a hard rail will sometimes "bite" the side of a wave when turning in a tight spot causing problems.

One of the most important speed considerations is rail shape since to make the board break free and plane a hard rail will
encourage water release and fast planing and high top end speeds. The problem is hard rails are not that loose and want to turn only in the arc supplied by the combination of the rocker and tail template.

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Bottom Shape

Beginners should avoid complex bottoms with concave or double concave tails or a tail with a heavy "V" in it. A flat bottom in the tail is fine. Wings, textured bottoms, concaves or channels are high performance features that may cause you problems while learning and have not proven to be lasting significant design improvements.

Nose concaves are designed to provide lift so that you can nose ride longer. Concaves towards the tail of the board also generates lift, but in the tail it helps the board plane earlier thus getting up and riding earlier on the wave. So concaves just add surface area to the part of the board that is in constant contact with the water for early planing. Besides lift, concaves also create drag slowing the board down.

Channels towards the tail of boards basically attempt to increase the speed of the board using the Venturi effect and other physics theories beyond my scope.

Lots of "V" in the tail will help cut through chop especially on big wave boards and it may affect turning ability.

Essentially, if you find something that works for you, go with it, otherwise stay with a basic bottom.

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Nose Shapes

The flat or concave bottom nose design has proven to be a pretty good design feature for riding the nose but it doesn't have to be extreme to help. As far as getting on the nose, a wider nose will generally give you more float and stability when you are up there. There is also a feature called the step deck which helps with nose riding by flattening out the rocker when you move forward on the board.

Wider noses do help with nose riding, but with so much weight upfront they can hinder turning and entry into steeper waves by increasing the chances of pearling.

The step deck attempts to overcome this by removing weight from the nose. The concept maintains bottom contour and shape but chops off a section from the top of the board thus reducing the nose's swing weight and the nose will actually flex down ward effectively reducing the nose rocker of the board. Here's an exaggerated side view:

Stepdeck surfboard

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Tail Shapes

The major difference in tails is the width or volume. A wider tail with rocker catches waves easier, because it lifts up with the wave, and provides a quicker plane and start. Narrower tails give more control and holding power especially in steeper waves, but can drag in smaller weaker surf.

The two basic tail shapes are pintails and square tails. Everything else is a variation on these. Round tails, rounded pins, swallow tails and diamond tails are just designs that try to go in between.

Pintails are very pointy and you will see guns that are extreme examples of this design but you will also see them on longboards. People who prefer them claim that they get very smooth turns and cutbacks and also much more hold in steeper/hollower and bigger waves. Again pin tails will get in the way on smaller, mushier surf.

Square or squash tails are flat at the back, like someone cut off the last 2-3 inches of the pintail. People say they give a squarer turn. The squash tail design is related to shortboard design, and refers to the widest part of the board being near the tail. The old Malibu Pig longboards were kind of like that but today most longboards are widest near the middle of the board.

Square-squash-round-rounded pin-pin tails are foremost a progression from most to least tail volume and planing area. The more volume and planing surface you have back there, the more there is to push against to do fast, precision flicky turns. Vice-versa, the less you've got, the more you'll need to turn from the rails.

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Fins are a greatly unexplored area with lots of potential to change surfboard performance and evolution. You have cant, toe-in, rake, aspect ration, cutaways, and curved fins to play with.

The current explosion of FCS and O'Fishl and other removable fin systems has lead much of the innovation in fin design. With these systems, fins can be easily swapped in and out with a screw or snap allowing surfers to try lots of different fin combinations whereas traditionally you would have to reglass the fins on the board.

Longboards have traditionally been single fins, but many modern boards are tri-fins with a large middle fin and two small side fins. When ordering a board, the most versatile setup is two side boxes for the small fins and a large box in the middle. This way you can switch around if need be to a smaller or larger middle fin with or without sidefins, or switch to only a single center fin.

A long fin helps keep the board from spinning out or side slipping as well, but it will also effect the looseness during turns. 8-10" will probably do fine for a single fin and tri-fin can go from 4-8" center fins with 3-4" side fins. How to measure the length of a fin? The fin makers measure using the length perpendicular to the bottom of the board.

A lot of fin area will stabilize the board, but it will limit the looseness of the turns.

Cutaway fins are relatively narrow at the base compared to the tip of the fin and are far looser than full fins. The shorter the fin, the less drag in turns, as well but at some point you risk spinouts especially when noseriding. High turns on a steep wave will cause the fin to pop out of the water resulting in a spin out too. Though if you can hold on and save a spin out, you'll look like a pro surfer and can eventually work these into 360's or helicopters.

The placement of the fins will effect turns a lot. It has a lot to do with the idea of a "sweet spot," like on a tennis racquet. There will be a spot where you place your back foot that gives you the best turning responses. A big spot is best because you don't have to be in the perfect spot to get the responsiveness you want to have. Subtle changes (1/4") in fin position can make a big difference. Moving the middle fin forward in the box will help with trim speed and help loosen up the board. Unless you put it so far forward that you must do more rail turns (on the softer part of the rail) than fin turns and the board may also spin out more often. Moving the fin back will increase stability to help with nose riding.

Most single fins are placed a little farther back than the middle fin on a tri-fin setup. The reason being it's the only fin you've got and if it is spinning out on turns or while you're on the nose you generally lose control. On three fin longboards, the more you move the fin towards the side fins, the looser the board will be (for small waves), towards the back the more it will hold in and draw out your turn (for bigger waves). Using a big retro fin with side fins may be counter productive, as you would have too much total fin area, more than you need, and thus causing needless drag

If your into nose-riding, go with a big middle fin only. Side fins create wobble when you're up on the nose, and this is even more the case when you have a low-aspect center fin like in a standard thruster setup with three fins of equal size. The longer and higher-aspect ratio and farther back in the box your center fin is, the more it will anchor the tail of your board in the curl of the wave.

The side fins work because they are toed-in which causes drag, which causes tail lift getting you into the wave earlier. They also loosen up a board by putting higher pressure on the outside edge of the fin and helps keep the board from tracking (heading straight in), and makes boards react quickly and appropriately to direction changes. All this lift and drag causes the board to be slower and more difficult to noseride though helicopters and 360's will be easier as the tail will want to release from the wave.

The side fins on many longboards are angled very little, which means they act just like increased area on the center fin would. In fact, many longboard side fins seem to be a fashion accessory, and do nothing to improve the performance of the board that a larger center fin wouldn't do. Notice also that the side fins on big guns are nearly parallel to the center fin-they're strictly for straight ahead stability, not accelerating in turns. So make sure you're getting what you want from the shaper and not just some fashion fad.

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Twinzers, quads and twins are progressively faster than thrusters but are rarely used on longboards.

A twinzer has 4 fins, with two fins toed in on each side. Generally speaking, a twinzer is much looser than a thruster. The twinzer set up has a lot less drag than the thruster set up, and this becomes especially evident in bottom turns. When you first switch to a twinzer from a thruster, the bottom turn happens so fast it screws up your timing. You're out of your bottom turn before you've figured out what you're gonna do next. They are not too common, but some people swear by them. Wil Jobson is probably the best known twinzer shaper in Santa Cruz currently working under the Pearson Arrow label.

Twinfins have one fin on each side but have a natural tendency to get stuck in a straight line if you are not always turning. This is called 'tracking'. You can counter this problem by adding a center fin making it a trifin or thruster or by adding two fins to the outside of the twins like a twinzer.

Some people have spinout problems with the twinzer which can be solved by adding a small trailing fin in the center making it a five fin board. Another 5 fin variant is the bonzer which has a long center fin and 2 side fins on each side (usually shaped like half circles). The fin placement on twinzers on bonzers is crucial and not many shapers have mastered it.

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Nose Riding

The trim point of a board is usually up near the nose somewhere. Being around this trim spot allows you to control the throttle. Going past the max trim point (like hanging 5 or 10) will stall the board, slowing it down so you can stay in the pocket. If you start falling behind the curl, simply take a step or two back to the trim spot and the board should take off.

By fading forward and back on your board one can have a hell of a lot of fun on long point breaks, and never have to do a cutback. Minor redirections can generally be done near the nose, as can climbing and dropping but only if the fin is well locked into the pocket and not side slipping.

It seems like the most common means of improving noseriding performance is to widen and flatten the nose producing more surface planing area. A subtle difference was to turn down the rails in the nose creating more surface area.

The downside with a wider/thicker nose is the added weight and more rail in the front of the board. So designers began making more kick in the nose, and more responsive tail/fin/turning designs. The problem then became one where the kick was pushing too much water and slowing the board down and making paddling difficult. This spawned the step-deck, which flattens a little while the rider is on the nose and takes some of the weight out of the nose.

There is also the concave nose which has evolved in two directions now. The first, traditional one, is the teardrop or oval concave spot under the nose that produces some turbulence and increases float hydro-dynamically. The second, more recent development is the long blended concave, which does something completely different. This second form is meant to flatten the planing surface on the bottom front half of the board, reducing drag, while retaining the kick through the rails.

Ultimately though, the best way to get on the nose and stay there is to be a small skinny person :)
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Tail Block

A tailblock does nothing for performance, but it does have two purposes. One is style, it was an essential part of every decent squaretail in the 60's. It does add a little weight but it also makes the tail less vulnerable to fractures and rock holes punched into the tail while your are handling the board.

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Gloss and Polish

Steve 'da Hulk Hull's take:
Gloss and polish are for looks mostly. Without the gloss coat the board has a dull, light sanded texture. High performance pro's often choose not to gloss and save an ounce or two of weight. They also get dirty and ugly real fast though. I would choose a stronger grade of cloth over a pretty finish if I had to choose.

Doc's take:
As would I...but I think the gloss adds a bit of 'non-permeability' to a board and maybe some life. The pros...throw away their boards often and the original non-glossed boards were for pros who were unwilling to wait for their boards to be glossed. Weight savings....ah, minor. The acetate/acrylic imitation glosses that are sprayed on instead, they don't work with epoxy at all and don't always work with poly resins.

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Logos and Paint

This is where your personal creativity can shine through as long as the shaper has a good airbrusher or paint man. These are acrylic paints sprayed right on the foam. The paint does actually serve to protect the foam from the damaging UV rays of the sun which break down the foam and cause it to yellow or brown.

However, black decals or darker airbrushes, make for some truly awful delams in strange places. Stick with solid, light colors if you must have them at all. Easy to fix. Fade airbrushed areas are impossible to color match when doing ding repairs.

Doc adds that airbrushing may compromise the quality of the glass adhesion...after all, a pigment and some sort of vehicle, be it acrylic, watercolor, whatever, is being sprayed into the crevices and such of the foam, which in turn makes a bit of a barrier coat which the resin can't penetrate and thus it doesn't stick as well.

The way resin sticks to a blank, you see, is 'mechanical', not chemical...there is no chemical bond formed between the resin and the blank as there is between, oh, the laminating coat and the hot coat where there actually are some molecular bonds formed making it, for all intents and purposes, one solid coat of resin. (this is the reason laminating resin is used, by the way: while it doesn't completely cure without sanding resin on top of it, making a real pain to work with, the subsequent laminations can bond to it in a way that several layers of sanding resin won't). But airbrushing and anything else that fills crevices and tiny open cells in the underlying foam has to make the resin less able to get in there and hold the lamination of fiberglass on to the board.

You can also have your board pigmented, which goes on right on top of the sand job, under the gloss coat, although this is an art only a few workers can do, so it could cost more depending on how intricate you get. A tailblock/stringers will not show through any color work done in the glass that happens to go over it!

You should also have them put some design or the shaper's logo/decal on the deck somewhere. Though the board is great for advertisement (as long as it came out good and you surf it well), we unconsciously pick up cues about where we are on the board, both by feel and vision. A decal on the deck helps you keep track of where your balance point is when you paddle, where the sweet spot is for turns, and where you are on the board when you start walking to the nose. It can be anywhere as long as you can see it. Most put them about 2/3-3/4 of the way toward the nose. I put mine right in front of my head as I'm laying on the board in a paddle position, so that when I spin for a wave and start paddling I know if I'm in the right position.

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Your also going to need a leash, wax or deck grip and maybe a nose guard. Down the line you will most likely need a ding repair kit, multiple fins to experiment with, a wax comb, sunscreen, wetsuit, booties, gloves, hood, and a tub to carry everything in. Of course, these all depend on where you're surfing.

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Shaping Video & Books

There is a great how-to video series on the market called "Shaping 101" and "Glassing 101". The shaper (John Carper - of JC Hawaii surfboards) gives good instructions on the materials, tools and how-to of surfboard construction and glassing. You can get them from:
Crossfire Productions
Carl Ackerman

How to build surfboards and related water sport equipment, Originally published in 1963 under the title Surfboard Builder's Manual. Last reprinted in 1994 in an English/Japanese version. While it leans more towards short boards in the pictures the information is classic. Shouldn't be hard to find in Santa Cruz.
Stephen M. Shaw
733 (maybe 773) Bishop Street Ste. 170-479
Honolulu, HI 96813, USA
ISBN 0-912750-04-09
You see ads for this book in one of the surfer magazines once in awhile.

George Orbelian
The book states it can be ordered from (11 Dollars American plus shipping and handling)
George Orbelian
Orbelian Arts
417 Dewey Boulevard
San Francisco, CA 94116,
USAISBN 0-9610548-2-4

Dr. Bruce Gabrielson
Covers Judging, Coaching, Learning, Shaping, Glassing and Repairs
Go to his website to order or via mail
Bruce Gabrielson
PO Box 550
Chesapeake Beach, MD 20732
$25 includes postage

by Bill Walters

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Gioni Pasquinelli







♠ learn to surf
Learning to Surf - a BC surfing tutorial - Surfing Vancouver Island Learning to Surf - a BC surfing tutorial

» Learning to Surf by Chris Payne
» Learner surfer's FAQ by Stephen Whelan
» The Complete Surfing Guide for Coaches by Bruce Gabrielson

» PD's Trick Tips   Backside Roundhouse

Frontside Carving 360
Frontside Carving 360
The Frontside Snap
Frontside off the Lip
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Backside Air Reverse
Speed on a Backside Wave
Backside Bottom Turn
Backside Air

Layback Snap
Backside Floaters
Backside Re-entry
Pumping on a Frontside Wave
Frontside Bottom Turn
Frontside Air
Frontside Roundhouse
Frontside Cutback
Frontside Floaters

♠ more surf stuff

» Ding repair FAQ
» wave / board / surf terminology
» Surfboard Design Guide
» surfboards we love
» Rip Currents & Undertows - Ray McAllister - Steve Baum - Neil Savage
» about waves & sets - John Sidles - Timothy B. Maddux
» foam in the surf? - James G. Acker
» Lud's Wave Prediction - Ludwig Omachen
» cold water & rubber
» local surfing Q & A
» surf travel tales and pics
» bc/pnw surf comps archive



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