Everything in surfing design has variations – from single fin types to surfboard tail shapes. To the untrained eye or even the non-surfer, the most distinctive difference in surfboard design is probably the overall shape of the board itself.
Each different surfboard design type has its own unique performance characteristics, strength, weaknesses, and history.
Some boards are better suited for certain surf conditions or surfing styles.
Picking the right board for the right conditions and the type of surfing you’re trying to achieve is key to enhancing and expanding your surfing experience. It’s all about experimentation.
Here’s a brief overview of some of the common types of surfboard shapes you’ll find out in the lineup or at your local surf shop.
What are the Different Types of Surfboards?
When a bunch of different surfboard design elements come together – nose, rocker, rails, tail, etc. – you start to see the bigger picture.
Here’s a quick disclaimer – surfboard design variation is endless. A small tweak on a mostly similar looking board can potentially make it feel totally different. But, when you’ve got a grasp on what certain general surfboard shapes and designs are best suited for, you’ll be better able to identify what you want out of your boards.
Longboards & Logs
Longboards, or logs, are probably one of the most easily-recognizable surfboard shapes. You’ll find them anywhere from 9’ -ish to 12’ ish – trading maneuverability with stability and drive as you go up in size.
Longboard surfboards are wide and thick throughout their outline, providing them with excellent paddle-power and stability.
A proper longboard really allows – and kind of requires – you to utilize the full length of the board.
The longboard is a perfect choice for small, clean waves and a must-have if you want to emulate some of style of flowing cross-steps and noseriding.
While a longboard is certainly more known for its flowy, smooth style and lines, really talented longboard surfers can get pretty radical with turns, carves, and cutbacks that are hard to wrap your head around if you’re new to logging.
Mini-Longboards & Mini-Mals
The mini-longboard or minimal (Mini-Malibu) is just what it sounds like – a slightly shrunken down version of a classic longboard.
Mini-longboard surfboards are typically found in the 8’ to 9’ range with the same general shape as a longboard, but with a little less width and thickness.
You’ll lose some of the walk-ability of the longboard, but you’ll gain more maneuverability and turning-capability and you’ll keep some of the great paddling power of a log.
A mini-longboard can be a good choice for both small waves and wave with some more critical sections that you might not what to tackle on a 10’ board.
Big Wave Gun
“It’s a fast gun. It’s built for speed, not hot-dogging.” – Chandler. North Shore, 1987.
That short quote from one of the greatest
Hollywood surf flicks movies of all times sums up the Gun pretty well.
Big Wave Guns are designed for high speed and control in huge surf. They’re longer with a high volume and a narrow nose and tail. The design allows for paddle power, speed, and taking steep drops in hollow, fast, and heavy surf.
Not a great choice outside of big waves.
The Funboard surfboard is typically marked by it’s higher volume – making it easier to catch a variety of waves. Size is typically in the 6’ to 8’ range with a wide variety of shapes.
You can find a funboard that looks more like a mini-longboard, a larger fish, an egg shape, or a mix of a bunch of things.
Whether you’re a total beginner or an experienced surfer, a funboard can definitely put smiles on your face.
The Fish surfboard was derived from kneeboards in San Diego. They’re short, wide, and flat with the iconic swallowtail or “fishtail” shape.
Fish definitely work great in small, mushy, and slow waves, but can go well in a variety of conditions. They’re fast and loose and really fun whether you want to just speed down the line, surf with a skatey feel, or even lay down some smooth carves.
The shortboard surfboards is synonymous with high performance surfing. This is what you’ll typically see in contests and flying through the air.
Shortboard typically fall under 6’5”ish and are often marked by a pointy nose, low volume, thin rails, and big rocker. Shortboards are super maneuverable, making them ideal for fast, critical sections and performance surfing.
Shortboards work best when the waves are good.
A groveler surfboard is designed for versatile surfing in small waves. They typically take the shape of shorter, wider, thicker shortboards and can be good for making sections and getting radical in weaker surf.
A Hybrid surfboard is a board the borrows design elements from two or more other common surfboard shapes.
Hybrids often combine elements of a shortboard with the thickness and wide tail of something like a fish or a mini-longboard.
Hybrids are another good choice for a wide variety of conditions – making paddling easy is weak surf, but still allowing for some snappier maneuvers.
Modern alaias are thin, finless solid wood surfboards typically in the 5’ to 9’ range.
They’re difficult to surf and best suited for really clean conditions.
Alaias are one of the purest form of surfcraft and can be shaped with only a few tools and materials by the backyard builder.
Stand Up Paddle Board (SUP)
Stand Up Paddle Boards have a variety of design elements themselves – ranging from surfy to flat water cruising.
The typical SUP is long, thick, and wide and is designed for standing upright near the center of the board and moving across the water with a paddle.
Planing & Displacement Hulls
Technically every surfboard is some sort of planing and displacement hull – planing on top of the water or displacing water as it moves forward through it. Below are two ends of the hull spectrum.
Planing Hulls – Simmons
Planing hulls are designed with a flat bottom are meant to plane on top of the water as the board gains speed down the wave.
Most surfboards would probably fall more towards the planing side of the spectrum of planing to displacement hull.
Bob Simmons, often considered the father of the modern surfboard, is often thought of when you start talking about planing hulls.
A Mini-Simmons surfboard is a good example or a flat, wide surfcraft that glides really quickly on the top of the water even in small, seemingly slow surf.
Displacement Hulls – Hot Curl
Displacement hulls are designed with a belly-bottom or convex that’s designed to plow through water and sit under the surface tapping into the energy inside the wave.
The bottom shape of a displacement hull sits low in the water and requires more of a front-footed surfing style. True displacement hulls, like the Hot Curl design pioneered by George Downing, don’t have a fin and are turned on rail.
Displacement hulls are typically good with clean, open-faced waves.