The Fish: Is it retro? Is it modern? Or is it simply timeless?
Some surfboard design elements stand the test of time – whether that’s due to stubbornness, naivety, or hype is one thing. When design elements stick around because they work, that’s another. That’s the category in which the fish falls into.
What is a Fish Surfboard?
The fish is another super recognizable surfboard design: short, wide, thick, flat rocker, with a swallowtail.
The biggest distinguishing feature of a fish is it’s swallowtail shape.
Today, the lines between true fish and hybrid become more blurry. But the fact that many modern surfboard incorporate design elements from the original fish is a testament to its performance.
The fish is a surfboard that’s fast and maneuverable with excellent paddle power. You’ll find it worthy of everything from knee-high mush to heavier, hollow waves.
The volume, width, and thickness of a fish combined with its short length and swallow tail makes for a super fast board, that’s easy to move around but maintains excellent hold when you want it.
Ride it as a twin, a quad, a thruster, whatever – and you’re bound to find a fish combination that works for you. Whether what you end up with is a traditional fish or not – who cares? It’s a beloved shape by all types of surfers, and you’ve got to try really hard to not enjoy yourself while riding a fish.
The higher volume and width allows you to go a lot shorter on a fish than you’d be able to on other surfboard without sacrificing paddle power or performance.
The fish offers some great versatility for experienced surfers, and a short, but floaty option for beginners who are interested in trying something other than a longboard or funboard shape.
Swallow Tail on a Fish
The swallow tail on a fish surfboard is probably the most defining characteristic.
Altering the depth of the swallow tail and the positioning on the fins in relation to the swallow tail’s points can have some major effects on the boards perfomance.
A larger, deeper swallow tail with the fins closer to parallel is going to fish you the fast, carvy fish feel.
A shallow swallowtail with fins toed in will give the fish a tighter pivot point.
Classic Fish Design Characteristics
Fish surfboards are extremely fun. They’re fast, they’re stable, they’re easy to paddle, and they’re super versatile for a variety of surfing styles.
The nose of a fish combines the maneuverability of a shortboard with the stability and paddle power of a log.
The fish also combines thickness and width with a flat rocker to make for a super fast planing machine.
Fish are also short – around the 5’5″ range – adding to their maneuverability and counteracting some of the drop-in limits of a flat rocker.
Classic fish are typically ridden as a twin – which makes them super loose, but you can play with fin positioning and fin shapes to make for a fish that’s both loose and capitalizes on the hold of the swallow tail for smooth, long turns.
Modern Fish Surfboards
While the retro fish follows a very specific shape, the modern fish is a bit more flexible. While many of these boards may be considered more hybrid than fish, the fish surfboard characteristics still shine.
You can find these boards in the class fish size range around 5′ to 6′ on up to more of a mid-length fish in the 7′-8′ range.
Fin set ups vary from the classic twin keels to more raked twin fins and even to quad and 5-fin setup options.
Fin Setups on a Fish
Fin setups are another level you can pull to change the feel of your fish.
A classic twin keel set up is going to provide you with the fast, loose feel.
Increasing the rake and toe of your twin fins will give you a little more turn control.
A thruster set up adds even more turn control and pivot to your fish.
A quad fin fish combines the speed of the twin with more control and stability.
Are Fish Surfboards Good For Beginners?
While many beginner surfers are going to find it easiest to start out on something longer and larger, a fish surfboard is not a bad choice for new surfers interested in something shorter than a traditional log or mid-length.
As stated above, the fish designs incorporates a lot of volume into a small package. Its rocker, width, and thickness combine to create a board that’s easy to paddle and easy to catch waves. While it’s less stable than a longboard, it’s a lot more stable than a high performance shortboard or even a hybrid.
Couple that with a lot of different options in the “fish” surfboard category, and you’ve got a board that you’ll be able to get a lot of use out of as you continue to progress. Surfers of all skill levels are able to have fun on a fish for a lot of different reasons.
A big benefit of a fish for beginner surfers is its maneuverability. The smaller size is going to give you a lot more control than your typically beginner longboard would.
History of the Fish
The fish is a surfboard design with roots we can pin down. In the late ‘60s, Steve Lis created the first kneeboard fish and tested in out surfing Sunset Cliffs in San Diego.
The design evolved from a desire to get deeper and into more critical positions on the wave.
The fish design caught on and spread locally at first, but was introduced to the surfing world when it was used to smoke the competition at the 1972 World Championships in San Diego.
The fish in its true form and design elements borrowed from it have certainly stood the test of time, and will certainly be here to stay.