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A Guide to Understanding Surfboards

A Guide to Understanding Surfboards

If surfing is your newfound passion or if you have sparked an interest in pursuing the art of riding a wave, then maintaining a true understanding of your surfboard, and surfboards in general, is one of the most essential pieces of baseline knowledge needed to progress forward.

Surfing is a relationship between three major components, after all, being:

  • Yourself
  • The Ocean
  • Your Surfboard

And when each is as equally important in terms of their effect to surfing as a whole, taking the time to master the individual aspects is exactly what it means to become a better surfer.

In this guide, we're going to expand on some of the most important aspects of your surfboard, including the different parts of a surfboard and why they matter, so that you can take this knowledge and apply it directly to your passion.

Surfboard Measurements

Any time you begin to read about and learn about a surfboard, including finding one that best suits your body type and level of surfing, you are going to be presented with a plethora of different numbers.

These numbers are measurements, and these measurements are what make up what is called the ‘dimensions’ of your board. The dimensions of your surfboard define a majority of the ways that your surfboard will move and feel in the water, and they are personalized to the type of surfboard and how it is meant to perform.

If you are browsing surfboards in person, then you can usually find these dimensions scribbled into the bottom of the surfboard by the shaper, so let's get into what surfboard dimensions are and how to understand them.


The length of your surfboard, also its height, is the measurement from the longest point of the tail to the longest point of the nose. The length is how tall your surfboard is, and greatly affects the type of board you are riding.

Surfboards that measure a length of over 9”ft are considered a longboard. Because longboards are so long, this places more surfboard foam in the water, creating enough buoyancy to catch extremely small waves as well as stability when riding. Longboards are perfect for beginner surfers so that they can practice on small waves, and experienced surfers love longboards for their old school style.


The width of your surfboard is the widest measurement from one rail (an edge) of your surfboard to another. Usually, longer surfboards also coincide with longer widths.

More width means more stability, as wider surfboards create more surface area within the water, and less width equals more performance. The wider a surfboard is, the better it floats, so wide boards are suggested for beginners learning on smaller waves.


When you place your hands around the sides of a surfboard, you are feeling the dimension called ‘thickness’. The thickness of your surfboard is the widest part of the rails, again the edges, of your board.

Thick boards are made of more foam. The more foam a surfboard has, the better it will float and the more stable it will ride. This means that thick boards are great for beginners, especially when learning the basics of paddling into waves (as thick boards paddle faster), and help to keep you sturdy and straight down the line.

When you begin to perform maneuvers on a wave, however, like carves and cutbacks, a thick surfboard can slow you down. For more performance, thinner boards allow more of the rail to dig into the face of the wave for more extreme turns.


The volume of your surfboard, measured in liters, represents how much water your surfboard displaces. Surfboards that have a lot of volume displace more water, and therefore float better. High volume boards are best suited for beginners and heavier set surfers.

Longboards, for example, are usually high in volume, as their length, width, and thickness are also greater. This means more foam, and more foam means more volume.

Surfboards with lower volume displace less water, and this makes them more aggressive in their ability to move on a wave. High performance shortboards are often shaped with lower volume so that the surfers can easily turn and control the surfboard, making it possible for them to throw huge airs and perform incredible turns.

You should wait to purchase or ride a board with low volume until you feel comfortable with your wave catching abilities and when you can comfortably ride down the face of a wave.

The Parts of a Surfboard

Now that you understand the different dimensions of a surfboard, the next step to understanding a surfboard is to understand what the different parts of a surfboard are.

From top to bottom, we are going to hit on every aspect of the surfer’s vessel!

The Nose

The nose of your surfboard is the top portion of the board. Some noses are round and mellow, whereas others are pointy and aggressive. This depends on the type of board and the type of surfing.

Wide and round noses are synonymous with easy to ride, mellow and cruisy feeling boards. Like longboards and fun shapes, a big and round nose adds buoyancy to the front of the board for easy paddling and stability on a wave.

This also allows you to walk up the deck of a board to perform what is known as a ‘noseride’.

Sharper and more aggressive noses are shaped on shortboards for performance. These noses take away volume from the front of the board for quick movements, and are especially hydrodynamic to maintain speed down the line.

When looking at noses from a sideways angle, you will notice that they tilt in an upwards direction kind of like a ‘U’. Some boards tilt more aggressively than others.

This tilt is known as the rocker. Boards with aggressive rocker are meant for powerful, steep waves, and boards that do not curve as much at the nose are meant for smaller and mushier waves.

The Surfboard Deck

The deck of your surfboard is the top of the board where you place your feet. Wider decks mean greater measurements of width, and therefore more beginner friendly boards.

The Tail

The tail shape of your surfboard has a huge effect on the way that it rides. There are a ton of different surfboard tail shapes that exist, and some of the most common you will hear about include:

  • Swallowtail
  • Pintail
  • Squash tail
  • Square tail
  • Fishtail

And many more. Usually, the name of the tail is indicative of its shape. A fishtail, for example, has a tail that is shaped like that of a fish! A squaretail, then, is of course shaped like a square.

The tail shape makes it so that different points of the board are engaged in the water during turns. Tails with sharp points are good for aggressive and quick turns in the pocket (the powerful section) of a wave, and tail shapes that are round and smooth are better for slower surfing and mellow turns.

The Fins

Surfboards come in a variety of different fin setups. These include:

  • Glassed on: The fin is permanently shaped into the board
  • Tri fin- 3 fin set up
  • Quad fin- 4 fin set up
  • Single fin- 1 fin set up

A glassed-on fin setup is a classic and old-school method of shaping a fin into a board, usually only found on vintage surfboards.

A tri-fin setup is great for steep waves and aggressive turns, and a quad fin is best when you need speed down the line and fun, easier-to-ride faces. A single fin is reserved for longboard shapes.

Some boards come in only one fin set up, and other boards are shaped so that you can switch the finds around depending on the wave conditions with a simple tool called a fin key!

Leash Plug

If you look at your surfboard, there's probably a small little hole somewhere around the tail with a metal bar extended within. This little hole is known as your leash plug.

Leash plugs are extremely strong and sturdy areas of the surfboard where you tie in your leash. Your leash is the safety device that straps around your ankle to attach the board to your body.

Tail Pad

On the tail of a surfboard, here is where you will find or attach what is known as a tail pad. Tail pads have a waterproof adhesive that allows you to permanently attach them to the board, and they are foam pads meant to grip your back foot.

They feature hexagonal shapes to improve this grip to the greatest extent, and the back of the pad is angled upwards so that you can dig your foot deep into the pad for aggressive and sharp turns.


If you notice a layer of something on the main deck of the surfboard, then you are looking at the surfboard wax. Wax is placed on the deck of the board before surfing each time to also improve grip, just like a tail pad, but this time for your front foot.

The type of wax you use depends on the water temperature, and they even have colored wax for a little personal flair to your board!

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