The tail of a surfboard is an important aspect of its overall design. The tail marks the exit point for water flowing around the bottom of your board and affects the speed, hold, and turning characteristics of your surfboard.
Common Surfboard Tail Designs
Below is a breakdown of some of the common tail shapes and some of their main characteristics.
Asymmetrical tails and surfboards are designed with frontside and backside surfing in mind.
Turning on your backside is performed differently than your fronthand. A backside turn requires more of a pivoting motion, whereas a frontside turn involves more leaning. Maybe that’s not a great description, but the bottom line is that different turns are accomplished differently – why not use a tail shape that caters to each direction?
The toe side rail/tail of an asymmetrical board is typically longer and straighter for power and projection, while the heel side is pulled in to allow for tighter, quicker turns.
Carl Ekstrom pioneered asymmetric surfboard design in the ‘60s.
Fishtail – Swallow Tail
The swallow tail, found on everything from retro fishes to high-performance surfboards and big wave guns, is one of the more versatile tail shapes.
The swallow tail combines both speed and hold by releasing water directly off the rail, while creating some hold and control through the dual “pin-tails.”
The overall width of the tail area and the size of the swallowtail cutout will have an effect on how the board performs.
The wider and larger a swallow tail, the slower the board will be when going from rail to rail. But, a design like this will feel super fast even in small, mushy waves.
A tighter, narrower swallow tail will provide speed and control in faster, hollow surf.
The pintail is found on many big wave surfboards and surfboards used in fast, barreling surf.
The pintail design helps give the board control and hold, making maneuvering and keeping solid lines in big, fast surf easier.
The small surface area of the pintail fits better into steeper faces where other tail shapes may feel like they get caught up.
A roundtail is a slight variation of the pintail with a wider area and more width.
The added area creates more lift, which makes the roundtail easier to turn than the pin. It’s still a good choice for big, fast waves, but allows for some better wider-radius turning ability.
The squaretail, which ends in a straight line at the end of the board, is a fast tail shape. Water moves directly off each rail and behind the surfboard quickly.
Square tails excel in quick, sharp maneuvers and can be good for punchy, sectioning beach break or waves where there’s not a lot of time to go from rail to rail. When you do surf rail to rail with a square tail, it may feel a bit jerky.
A squashtail is a slightly rounded version of the square tail that has some of the same quickness and looseness with a bit of added hold and a smoother transition from rail to rail.
The squashtail is a pretty common tail shape that goes well in a variety of waves.
Tails Outside a Vacuum
Just like any single component on your surfboard, the tail doesn’t exist in a vacuum.
The tail is the exit point for water after it has already interacted with the rest of your board. A good surfboard will have design elements that work together and compliment each other.
For example, tail shape is going to have a large influence over what kind of fins will work well on a certain board.
All that said, if a certain board isn’t working well on a certain kind of wave for you, take a look at the tail. Maybe it’s time to try something new?