The tail is a feature of the surfboard that probably doesn’t receive enough attention. You will have undoubtedly noticed that not all surfboards look the same and that one of the premier design variations is how the back of the board, the tail, is shaped. Next time you go out board hunting you may want to pay a bit more attention to the tail because it might affect your surfing more than you think.
The squash tail is undoubtedly the most popular tail shape in the modern day surf world. From performance shortboards to some classic longboards you will see plenty of these out in the water. The curving edges arriving at a flat tail release the water very quickly which in turn gives the board more drive and speed.
The squash tail is extremely versatile, fast and reacts well to the surfer. The only trade off might be the board’s lack of traction which is, for instance, what you might need when riding very large waves where the speed is already generated by the wave itself.
Next time you head out into the lineup, keep an eye out for one of these, they’re most likely all around you.
The pin tail design was one of the first ‘modern’ surfboard designs as shapers began to move away from round tail longboards to performance shortboards. In the 1960s the pin tail was founded and pioneered by the likes of George Greenough, Bob McTavish and especially Gerry Lopez.
The pin tail creates much drag in the water because of how the water wraps around the back contour of the board. This means that they have become more redundant in your everyday conditions since squash tail surfboards are faster and more maneuverable.
They are however, very useful and in fact the preferred choice for many in big wave conditions. There, one’s speed is almost entirely generated by the wave itself, so surfers actually need a surfboard that can provide maximum control and hold in the wave. Though you’re unlikely to see one of these boards at your local break, next time you look up a video of someone surfing Jaws or Nazaré, have a look at what they’re riding.
The characteristics of round tail surfboards fall somewhere between those of squash tail and pin tail surfboards. They have more volume than the typical pin tail which allows the board to dig into the wave to draw out longer carves where the board can cleanly hold an edge.
Yet at the same time round tails are still not quite as maneuverable as their squash tail counterparts. This translates to their inability to perform sharp fast turns in the water, which forces you to take a slower more relaxed style of surfing.
There are other variations of this type of tail such as the diamond tail which gives the board more ability to make sharper turns, or the rounded pin tail which as you might be able to imagine allows you to draw more rigid lines.
It was initially called the double pin by its inventors, the swallow tail has an unmistakable, almost upside down ‘V’ design. The width between the two points of the swallow tail allow for far more speed and power over weak waves than a standard pin tail could provide.
Though typically thought of as summer boards for mushy waves, swallow tail boards are excellent options for some larger barreling waves too. The dual pin tail design helps the board bite into the face of the wave maintaining that rigid control that typical pin tails have.
However, because of its pin tail like structure, the board is not quite as agile and it is often quite difficult to transition from rail to rail to carve or make a turn.
Undoubtedly the most unique of the surfboard designs, the asymmetric tail just looks strange. They break the unwritten rules of symmetry that have been in place since the origins of the sport. Practically every surfer from the ancient Polynesians to your holiday beginner has surfed a symmetrical board, yet when you consider the physics, it actually makes perfect sense.
Typically when you surf, you feel more comfortable on your frontside, when you balance on your toes and have your back to the beach. When you surf backside however, your range of movement is limited since you have to balance on your heels which we don’t have as much control over.
The idea behind the asymmetric tail is that the board remains the same on your frontside but is shortened and curves in more on your backhand side. This, in theory, gives you far more freedom on your backhand side and should allow you to complete far smoother turns.
There are however, many weird and wonderful asymmetrical shapes that I really cannot explain, so you’d have to go ask the people who made them.