The surfboard’s rail refers to the sides of the board. While the top-down view of the rail lines give you the overall template or outline of the surfboard, the side-view of the rail reveals a variety of rail shapes.
Rails affect speed, turning, buoyancy, and maneuverability.
Different Types of Rail Shapes
The first major distinction between rail shapes is between hard rails and soft rails.
- Soft rails: Soft rails are rounded with gradual transitions and smooth edges. Soft rails tend to result in a board with more stability and buoyancy, while sacrificing maneuverability. Most early surfboards featured soft rails.
- Hard rails: Hard rails have sharper changes in curves. They allow you to dig the rail into the wave more easily and change direction quickly. Harder rails work well for hold, control, and speed in fast, steep waves, while sacrificing some stability and buoyancy.
Rail shapes can vary greatly within the categories of hard and soft, but some common rail designs include:
- 50/50 rails: where the mid-point of the rail curve is in the center of the rail.
- 60/40 rails: where the mid-point of the rail is towards the bottom.
- 80/20 rails: where the mid-point of the rail is even more towards the bottom.
- Pinched rails: where the thickness tappers thin at the edges.
- Stepped or channeled rails: where steps and water channels are shaped into the rail line, which can give a locking-in or gearing-up feeling as the surfer makes adjustments on the wave.
As a general rule of thumb, the softer or rounder the rail, the more stable and buoyant the board will be. The harder and sharper the rail, the more maneuverable and fast the board will be.