In this article in our series How To Choose a Surfboard for you as a progressing surfer, we look at the tail of your surfboard
Your tail is the part of your surfboard most in contact with the wave. It's vital in performance surfing that when you get up on your board your back foot is stable, solid on your tail, that you are in control ready to perform.
Ideal foot positioning and board control comes from having the right tail setup, that both matches your personal characteristics and the wave conditions.
Square, round, pin, swallow, flyer, are all tail descriptions commonly known.
However these only cover your tail outline. What are the overlooked aspects that make an even bigger difference to your performance?
Where Does Your Tail Start?
Tail measurements start at the zero point at the back of your board, and move forward to the center
It may seem obvious that your tail is at the back end of your board.
However Shapers take measurements from the zero inch point, three, six, twelve and eighteen inch points from the back end your board to determine your tail characteristics. Width, thickness, rail and rocker at each of these points indicate how your board will perform. Not just the shape of your tail.
There's more area around the fins in a square tail design compared to pin tail. This gives you speed by distributing your weight across more of the wave, however your power and fin bite is also spread and reduced over this extra area. The Pin tail's smaller area gives you concentrated bite in the wave. These characteristics have a big impact on speed and control
Your tail is also important as this is where your fins are located.
Your rear fin in a Thruster setup is normally placed around three inches from the back of your board. The side fins start around the 11 inch point.
This means that between your different types of tails, such as square or pin, the area around your fins can be very different. More area gives more speed and is best for smaller waves. Less area gives more control and is best for powerful waves.
In your tail design you need to be able to place your back foot directly over your back fin. This gives you drive and control. Adding to this the right area, for smaller or more powerful waves, helps you do progressive power moves.
Where Do You Stand
Your back foot placement, in relation to your back fin and tail, is vital to your surfing progression
Where you stand is often determined by how you feel your board's tail is performing. For example if you're standing back and board is feeling slow you'll move forward. If your board feels fast you'll step back to crank a turn.
It takes time to move your feet, increasing the chance of an unbalance or slip. Having a surfboard where the tail setup keeps your foot movement to a minimum is the ideal.
Your board and tail should be designed so that placing your back foot over your back fin gives you a sweet spot of speed, drive and control. From this position at your tail, If you feel your board slowing you shift your weight forward, not move your feet and whole body.
This design feature is true for small to mid size wave boards, and can hold true up until large size gun surfboards.
All these boards are around the same width at the 18 inch point. Mixing it up with a fun board, like a fish, is fun, the extra area giving you speed. However the extra area will have a big impact on your performance surfing
Wider tails are good in smaller waves as they distribute your weight over a wider area of board, providing speed and glide. Whereas narrow tails are used in powerful and larger waves where you want bite.
Tail area isn't measured just at the end of your board. It's also affected by your tail width at the six, 12 inch and 18 inch marks. So a smart tail design matched to your personal characteristics can give you the best transition from width to narrowness.
Checking boards from a range of surfers provides a basis on which to gauge general tail widths and to check against the board you're riding now. Here's measurements for tails for smaller waves:
For a Smaller surfer:
Five inches wide at zero inches
Fourteen inches wide at the twelve inches
For a Larger surfer:
Seven and a half inches at zero inches
Sixteen inches plus at the twelve inches
Having too much area in your tail can reduce your ability to get your board on rail for progressive moves. Too wide a tail will also slide out in powerful surf.
Too narrow a tail will either cause your tail to sink and bog, a real problem in small waves. Or force you to move forward out of area from where you can turn your board for performance moves.
If you're experiencing these types of problems, you need to get your tail matched to your personal characteristics and the waves you're surfing.
Your tail width and area measurement needs should be worked out in relation to your personal characteristics, your weight and foot size. Getting this right gives you a constant from which to progress to perform in different conditions.
For example to maximise performance for your small wave board you add an inch width to your tail at the zero and twelve inch points.
For your Step Up in more powerful waves you reduce width by three quarters of an inch at the zero and twelve inch point.
Flyer & Hip
A flyer and hip allows maximum width in your tail area to be rapidly reduced for control. A hip is a more modern looking implementation while a flyer, like that in the image, brings a retro style to your surfing. Mix it up with artwork
A flyer and hip rapidly reduces the width and outline of your board. It normally starting around the same position as your front fins, so between eleven to fourteen inches from the tail.
It cuts the outline in by around an inch and the cut be sharp, gently rounded or in a hip, blending almost seamlessly with your outline.
Flyers allow you to have more area to give you speed and planing, then reduce that area going to the tail to give you control.
A flyer also gives a break point in your board's outline. This means it can help your turns. With a flyer you can do a short arc turn.
Flyers aren't seen on the World Tour but hips are on almost every board.
Thickness and Rail
Your tail thickness and rail shape work together.
For small waves more thickness in your tail carried through to your rail gives you float over mushy sections so you don't sink or bog when there's not much power. Extra thickness will give you something to drive from to generate your own speed.
In more powerful waves you can refine the thickness so your thinner tail will bite into the wave face.
You want your thickness to be relatively constant giving consistency to your tail feel. Refinement may mean only thinning the rail while leaving thickness in the middle of your tail unchanged from board to board.
Rail shape is a whole topic and will be discussed in more detail in another article.
A small selection of the major surfboard tail types
Tail outlines, while having functionality in their shape, do tend to go through stages of popularity, often influenced by successful surfers.
Kelly Slater rode rounded pins and rounded squares, both tail shapes subsequently gaining popularity. Five time World Champion Mark Richards is famous for his twin fin with swallow tail. John John Florence surfed tucked in squares even on his Step Up boards resisting going to pin tails.
These tail outlines offer characteristics for your surfing, that are generalised below.
Square Tails & Rounded Tucked in Squares
Square tails can be wide, rounded on the edges, or tucked in. They have a straight rear back end. They provide the most area from which to get speed and jam your turns, but can tend to skate or wash out if too wide for the power of the wave.
Adding an apex to the rear of the square tail can create a diamond tail. This apex can be quite extended or subtle.
Adding a subtle diamond to a square tail can remove the tendency of the square to skate or wash out.
Rounding the square off completely creates a tail known for its smooth surfing characteristics. Round tails work well in small to mid size waves.
Rounded Pin & Pin
These tails reduce area the most and are common for powerful waves. They can be wider or super narrow, so offer versatility regards handling different wave types. However they tend not to be as lively as the square tail options.
A swallow is like a square tail with a triangle cut out of the back. In this way you still get area up to where the triangle cuts in. Where the triangle cuts in gives your tail release.
The swallow can also be seen to be like two small pin tails giving you bite when surfing left or right on a wave. The swallow pins giving you hold.
The swallow tail provides both area for speed then bite for control. Five times World Champion Mark Richards rode swallow tails extensively.
Rocker & Vee
The tail at the top has considerable tail rocker. This will aid turning, and work well in sucky powerful waves helping with top-to-bottom vertical surfing. The tail at the bottom has flatter tail rocker and will provide speed in smaller and fuller waves but surf flatter. Tail rocker, as all rocker, dramatically changes your board's and your surfing characteristics
Rocker is very important. It is the one attribute of your tail that can ruin or make your board great.
It is also the hardest to visually determine.
Tail rocker is the amount your tail curves up from the flat. A rough way to determine tail rocker when checking boards is to place them on the floor side by side, with fins removed. You can see the difference in tail height above the flat.
Vee can provide a similar result to rocker, helping with bigger turns. This view from the tail of the board looking forward shows how from the centre of the board the bottom slopes upwards towards your rails making a vee
Vee is where your board bottom slopes laterally up towards the rails. Vee is a way to give rocker to your rails, assisting turns, while keeping your center rocker flat and fast.
Rocker is more widely used than Vee. Rocker attributes you can customise are:
The flatter your tail rocker generally the faster your board will go. The tradeoff is that your board won't turn as easily from the tail.
More tail rocker generally makes your board not as fast but it will turn more easily so you can do more high performance manoeuvres.
Rocker has a special dynamic that's not so easily put into a formula.
There are special rocker curves that give your board speed and liveliness and great turning. These are hard to reproduce.
Just flattening your tail rocker may not add speed and can ruin the overall rocker and flow of your board slowing you down. Similarly increasing tail rocker can create a board that has no forward direction and won't carve on the wave.
Bringing It All Together?
The right tail setup gives you speed and bite to handle critical waves
What tail setup should you use?
All the tail characteristics discussed above work in conjunction with each other and with your personal characteristics.
Where to start?
There's a solid foundation of examples you can check such as your favourite surfers on the World Tour. Choose one who approximates your personal characteristics. Check the tail they're riding on their different boards for small to larger waves.
For day to day surfing at your local break, one of the key things you need is speed. A wider tail, that's not too wide, that you can still plant your foot on and drive, is a good choice.
Then work on the rocker so you can be as dynamic as possible, going top to bottom, while still maintaining your speed.
As a progressing surfer you should be aiming to do big manoeuvres on the wave wherever possible and not just go straight and fast. Getting your tail rocker right will allow you to get the maximum manoeuvrability.
Progressing you'll find you will likely have several boards for small to bigger waves, with a mix of wider to narrower tails.
This will be your go to quiver.
Next step in your progression is more boards to handle the variety within those conditions. For example a tail to handle small and fat and another to handle small and sucky waves.
Each refinement will maximise your performance in different conditions.
Tailoring tail and board design to your personal characteristics to progress your performance is what SURFit is all about.