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Longboards in general range from 8'6" to 12'
depending on the purpose and person riding. An average board
would probably be in the 9'6" area, with anything under that
for the groms or super light people. General longboard for a
slightly bigger than average man: Length: 10' Thickness: 3-3 1/4
" Nose 18-19", Tail 15-16", Width about 23"
give or take a little.
I (6'3", 260 lbs) ride an 11' X 24" X
4" board but have also ridden a 10'6" X 23 1/2" X
3 3/4" board as well. The 10'6" worked well for me but
the 11 footer has allowed me to catch lots of waves in crowded
point break surf and I have learned to cross step and nose ride
it while I couldn't do either on the 10'6".
The exact dimensions are usually written along
the stringer somewhere or are at least somewhere on the price tag
in the surf shops. Remember the nose and tail measurements are
12" from either end.
Generally, the greater the size, the more stabile
and easier paddling, its going to be. So walking around on the
board and catching waves will be a lot easier though it will be
heavier and less manoeuvrable. Again, you have trade-offs
everywhere. You can also combine different features to compensate
like getting a lighter blank and glass job to keep the weight
down on a bigger board, downside is that it will ding much easier
and may not last long. Or getting a longer board but more rocker
to help with turning, downside being it may not paddle or nose
ride as easily. A good shaper will listen to you and blend all
dimensions of a board into something that works for you and the
places you surf.
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First things first, the blank is the basis of
every board, though the future holds alternatives to the classic
foam board made from closed cell polyurethane. Before the 1950's
wood was used, especially balsa and redwood and before that
Hawaiians used koa.
You can also get foam in different densities,
like 1 lb/cuft or 2 lb/cuft, which effects weight and
strength.Blanks in the US usually come from Clark Foam and are
made from the 'super blue' type blanks.
Ultra Lite - lightest and weakest, least dense
Super Lite - slightly heavier and stronger
Super Blue - what most shapers use unless told differently
Super Green or Classic - heaviest and strongest, most dense
Listed in order from weakest to strongest,
lightest to heaviest. You can't tell what kind of foam the board
is made from by the color of the foam (always white) or the color
of the glue line. You can get any color glue line you want when
you order the blank. Remember the denser foam is heavier and you
will sacrifice a little float and responsiveness in your turns.
I've found that you quickly get used to the extra weight and it
is easily compensated for and well worth it if you want a board
that lasts without delaminations (especially for bigger riders).
Using a superlite blank in a 10' board will save
about 1.5 lbs over using a superblue, or 2.5 lbs instead of a
supergreen. When you add the rider weight to the board weight,
you'll see that a pound or two is not that important, but the
durability of the board is!
Every blank is stamped with information by Clark
Foam explaining what type of blank it is. But usually you won't see
the blank until after the shaper's gotten ahold of it and shaved
all that information off. So usually only your shaper knows for
sure what blank was used. If you get a chance go to a shop that
sells blanks and take a look at one.
If you're shaping your own board, make sure it is
a first run blank, no air holes, very even in density throughout
the board. Rejects are considerably cheaper than first or second
grade blanks, and the finished board probably won't look as nice,
but functionally it will perform the same. Holes are found by
holding the blank in front of a strong light. Move the blank back
and fourth and note if small shadows or dark spots can be seen.
Holes appear as dark spots. The background light method is used
by manufacturers in initial grading. If you find a hole during
shaping, you can still shape around it, but will need to fill it
(if it's large) with foam dust during your initial glassing.
It is very important to get the proper sized
blank to avoid "overshaping." Blanks have a hard
"shell" towards the outside of the blank where the foam
has cured more than the inside of the blank. You want to retain
as much of this shell as possible to maintain the strong
integrity of the blank. If the shaper removes the shell, your
board will not last as long and will be more susceptible to
delaminations. A strong blank is the foundation and combined with
a good glass job, you'll get a solid long-lasting board.
A few years back, Clark Foam was reformulating
their chemistry to fit in with CA clean air standards. Thing is,
the blanks would 'outgas' for a while after being removed from
the mold. Sometimes, before they really understood how this was
happening, a blank would be shaped and glassed before the
outgassing had finished. This, in turn , would make for tiny,
almost microscopic flaws (hole) in the glass job as the gas went
through it. And, in use, the board would inhale and exhale a
little as it went from warm air to cold water, sucking in a
little water through the pinhole. You wound up with a board that
looked like it had freckles. Sooner or later, the whole board
started to suffer the effects...and major delams in odd places...
The moral of the story? Letting the resin cure on a new board is
really neither here nor there....but the blank itself needs to
cure a bit before it is glassed.
Foam breaks down when exposed to UV (sunlight)
turning yellow or brown. This can be avoided with resins that
have an added UV blocker or by pigmenting the resin an opaque
white color (see below for more on this).
A quick note on popouts as the question
seems to come up occasionally:
pop-out means popped out of a mold and then
glassed. No shaping involved and using cheap materials, the
customers they were aiming for were none too sophisticated. If
you can't build it well, build it strong. Lay on the glass HEAVY!
And fiberglass matt (nonwoven, sort of like felt) at that. They
go down the line fast for a reason: bloody little rocker in those
things. Don't turn too well though.
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Current experimentation from Patagonia and
Surftech revolves around using EPS or expanded polystyrene foam
which is open celled instead of the closed cell polyurethane that
Clark Foam uses. Most sailboards already use EPS foam but you can
also find closed cell polystyrene from some sources. A guy named
Stretch in Santa Cruz works with closed cell polystyrene.
Open cell foam like EPS allows water to flow
through the foam very easily, so if you ding a board it will suck
in lots of water if you don't get it to dry land soon. The foam
is also very sensitive to pressure/temperature changes so don't
leave these boards in your car or in the sun. Sailboards usually
have drain plugs which can be left open to allow air to flow
in/out for the temperature and pressure changes and closed once
the board is in the water. While closed cell foam (either
polystyrene or polyurethane) will not soak up water like open
celled foam, it will slowly soak up water and degrade (turn mushy
and yellow) while in contact with it.
Open cell polystyrene (EPS) and closed cell
polystyrene is much harder than Clark Foam (polyurethane) so you
can use a lower density (lighter) foam yet have the same or more
strength in the blank. Also, polyester resin (used on
polyurethane) melts right through polystyrene so you must use
epoxy on polystyrene blanks. Epoxy is much lighter than polyester
resin, however epoxy is very messy and causes really bad allergic
reactions after several uses. So if you are going to use epoxy,
you must wear full bunny suits or risk a really bad rash.
Lastly, polystyrene foam is much harder to shape
than polyurethane foam because it is so hard, therefore it takes
the shaper much more time to create a board. Surftech has worked
around this by machine shaping its boards. Either way (machine or
hand shaped) makes the board more expensive as it takes an
expensive machine or more time to shape. Also, epoxy is much more
expensive (like 3-4X) than using polyester resin which also
raises the cost of a styrene/epoxy board.
The jury is still out on whether or not
polystyrene/epoxy boards are suited for surfing. The sailboarding
industry has embraced it full force and its worked well for them.
The surfboard industry tried it in the 80's and quickly abandoned
it and now Patagonia and Surftech are trying to revive it though
they haven't been around long enough to prove anything. It may
just be that surfers don't like the higher expense of the boards,
plus the stiffer flex patterns of the board plus its always fun
to get a new board!
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Basically, rocker is the curve along the bottom of the board.
The newer blanks from Clark Foam have natural
rocker built into the boards and generally the board doesn't need
to be shaped down (see above comments on over-shaping) as much as
the older-generation of blanks. Rocker is placed in a blank when
the stringer is glued in. The blank is cut in half, insert the
stringer and glue it back together.
Natural rocker simply means the rocker that the
blank has in it without any adjustments, that is, the rocker that
the shaper designed into the "plug" that made the mold
at Clark Foam. All Clark Foam is blown using moulds and the moulds
were made by the better shapers from Southern California (where
Clark Foam is HQ'd). Clarks blanks are all named and usually
contain an initial which indicates who made the mold. For
example, the 10-1Y blank is from Yater, 9-10H is from Rich
Harbour, 9-8S is from Bill Stewart, 9-4B is from Bruce Jones and
Clark Foam has literally hundreds of rockers
available for the most popular blanks, some available to
everyone, some for certain shapers only. Look at a Clark Foam
catalog and the "Clark Foam Extended Rocker Catalog"
available at shops where you can order blanks like Monterey Bay
Fiberglass on 17th Ave. There is also a partial version on-line at
Bruce Jones Surf Shop.
What rocker does, one by one.
- Nose rocker-more makes a board resistant to nosediving;
pearling. Less makes a board go faster and stall less,
easier paddling as the board glides through the water,
not pushing the water, better noseriding,
- Rocker all the way through; generally slows it all down
some, but makes a board turn well
- Tail rocker; makes a board turn real well, easier drops
into the wave for a speedier entry, and also aids in
noseriding...but pays a large speed penalty due to drag
both while riding and paddling
The best is a combination of all. Modern boards need to be able
to turn to get speed, so tail rocker is important, and it's not
exactly true that "flatter is faster" on a wave, maybe
on flat water with a sailboard, but not on a wave.
The standard "Clark Foam" method of measuring rocker:
The board is bottom up on shaping racks (or something), you
measure the center point along the stringer, that is center from
nose to tail, so on a 6' board it would be 3' from each end. Then
you would hold a long straight edge along the stringer, tangent
to the mid point mark, and measure the gaps at the nose and tail.
So a typical short board might have 5.5" of nose rocker and
2.5" of tail rocker, and on a longboard maybe 5" of
nose rocker and 3" of tail rocker. You can take measurements
anywhere along this line to get a more precise reproduction.
Or you can be more precise and make or get a
"rocker stick", a tool that most shapers have, it is a
way of holding a long flexible fiberglass batten in place so one
can trace the curve onto a template.
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Lightness is important, but so is strength.
Typically, you will get a 1/8" spruce stringer on a Clark
blank unless specially ordered. Basswood (stronger), Cedar
(weaker), balsa and redwood are also available. See Bruce Jones
discussion of selected wood species bending strengths and
stiffness for more detail.
A thicker stringer (up to 3/8") or two
stringers glued together like plywood or multiple stringers will
weigh a little more, but will definitely add strength and will
also stiffen the board up whether good or bad. Strong stringers
will give you the freedom to not worry about breaking your board,
but they also decrease flex which can affect performance and the
feel of the board.
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There are many glassing options with different
types of glass having different strengths and weights/densities.
A typical longboard will come with a 6 oz bottom
and one 6 oz and one 4 or 6 oz top and maybe another 4oz or 6 oz
deck patch (extending 2/3 of the board) to cover the tail area
where you spend most of your time on the board. This trend of
light boards came from the manufacturers though. They like this,
because its cheaper to make these boards (less materials used)
and you're going to be coming back in for a new one real soon
once this one delams and dings. Get a heavy glass job and your
board will last longer. My board has a full layer (top and bottom
) of 7.5oz cloth with another layer of 6oz, plus a 6oz 3/4 length
"E" cloth is most commonly used in
either 4 or 6 oz weights. "S" cloth is a 1/3 stronger
and is twice as expensive. "E" cloth
('electric'....don't ask me why) is a borosilicate glass while
"S" is a magnesia-alumina-silicate glass. You can also
use several layers of glass to increase strength though everyone
has an opinion about how much of a difference " E" vs "S" and multiple layers makes in
the strength of a board. You may just be adding lots of weight
without the benefit of added strength. This area needs more
There is also type of fiberglass
cloth treatment called Volan that's typically used on
"classic" styled longboards. It's got a bigger weave
coming in heavier than more normal glass, and so the weave is
still visible after lamination, whereas newer types of glass are
typically invisible after lamination. However, the most
distinctive feature of Volan is the greenish hue of the finish ,
whereas other fiberglass cloth is simply clear. Volan comes in
7.5 oz, 8 oz. and 10 oz. weights so its stronger and heavier.
Here's what a volan glassed board looks like, notice the green
hue, also classic balsa stringer, tail block and laminated wood
fin by Bruce Jones:
Polyester resin is typically used
to wet out the fiberglass cloth (more on this below). The ratio
of resin to cloth is also very important and will greatly affect
the strength and weight of your board. Basically, you want enough
resin to fully wet out (cover) the glass but no more. More resin
during the glass lamination does not make it stronger.
From a little research done by Doc a couple of
years back, the strongest laminations are around a 60/40
ratio -cloth/resin, by weight. This is difficult to do without
vacuum bagging and high-tech tooling. With a squeegee, as is usual
in surfboards, a practiced glasser can get about 50/50. More
resin makes for a stiffer layer, more resistant to pressure. The
pressure we all measure when checking out a new board in the
shop; the old 'can I squash it with my thumbs' test, however the
stiffness or elasticity (ability to reform its shape) may not be
Vacuum bagging is too complex to go into details
here, but basically when the board is glassed, it is wrapped in
some type of impermeable material and then all the air is sucked
out (creating a vacuum) which then applies pressure to the glass
squeezing the resin into the cloth and into the foam creating a
very strong bond, but this technique requires lots of equipment
and skill and time. For more info go to Vacuum Bagging Techniques and Equipment from Fiberglast.
Definition: Feathering the glass means sanding
the glass at ~30 degree angle to create a sort of beveled edge.
Lots of composite info at Fiberglast under the info center.
Epoxy resin works with any kind of foam,
Polyester resin eats polystyrene (EPS) foam, use it with
polyurethane foam only.
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A resin is a material, generally a polymer, that
has an indefinite and often high molecular weight and a softening
or melting range and exhibits a tendency to flow when it is
subjected to stress. Resins are used to bind together the
reinforcement material in composites. Basically its the glue that
sticks the glass to the blank of a surfboard, however its not a
chemical bond, rather a physical bond between the foam and resin.
There are different types of
resins including sanding resin, laminating resin and glossing or
finish resin. They are a lot alike, but the biggest
difference is that sanding and glossing resins contain a styrene
wax. The wax in the resin will rise to the surface
during curing, protecting the resins surface from the inhibiting
action of air. Without the wax, the resin would remain tacky even
when applied in thin coats and fully cured. You must sand
off the wax layer before painting or adding another layer of
sanding or glossing resin. The glossing or finish resin is the
same as sanding resin (resin with wax) but it is also thinned
with some added acetone or styrene which helps the resin flow
The process for glassing a board
is begun with a finished blank. Glass is "laid-up" or
is cut and put on to the blank and then laminated on with resin.
The rails are usually overlapped to provide added protection.
Once the resin has "gone-off" or hardened (though still
tacky), the hotcoat (has a drop or two more MEKP) is added which
covers the weave of the glass and finally the gloss or finish
coat is put on. And there's sanding in between and after the hot
and gloss coats. Lastly, the board can be polished.
Now, you can't get surfboard resin at a hardware
store or a marine store. What you'll get there is known as 'boat
resin ". It is usually a waxed resin and it goes off reddish
brown and brittle. Surfboard resin goes off water-clear and
Ding repairs are usually done using sanding resin. Resin needs
some help to cure unless you want to wait a long while. To speed
of the curing you use a catalyst, which is generally MEKP: Methyl
Ethyl Ketone Peroxide, which has a material toxicity sheet about
six pages long and stings like hell when I get it underneath a
fingernail. It breaks down with age, heat and sunlight, so don't
store it on the windowsill and always get fresh catalyst when you
When resin cures it forms bonds, longer bonds form if the
resin cures slow, and the longer the bonds the stronger the
resin. So basically, you want the resin to cure as slowly as
possible. This is controlled by the amount of MEKP you use. Read
the back of the resin can for more info as the amount varies
depending on the amount of resin used, the temperature and the
humidity. Use more catalyst with more resin, if it's colder or if
its more humid. Also, coloring agents or fillers (cabosil,
aerosil, microballons, q-cell) added to the resin will slow down
the reaction so more MEKP is needed but not much (couple drops
more). The filler will help space out the resin creating a
lighter ding repair.
Lots of composite info at Fiberglast under the info center.
For repairing boards: Fiberglass repair and ding repair FAQ and
The Complete Surfing Guide for Coaches - Repairs
Epoxy works with any kind of foam, Polyester
resin eats polystyrene (EPS) foam, use it with polyurethane foam only.
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Some shapers are now working with an epoxy resin
for its added strength and lightness. Epoxy is a lot stiffer than
polyester resin and about 3-4 times the cost of polyester resin
and it is only as good as the material that goes with it, like
"S" glass, Carbon or Kevlar to get the full mechanical
strength value. Also, epoxy causes serious allergic reactions and
they get worse each time you work with the material so protection
must always be worn.
Surftech is now using the EPS foam/Epoxy combo by
taking a polystyrene blank, then applying epoxy resin, fiberglass
cloth, then wood veneer or PVC, then polyester resin alone (on
wood) or vinyl paint (on PVC). The PVC or wood veneer layer
effectively creates a composite sandwich. This is called
divinycell and it created a very strong board, however the jury
is still out on long-term durability against dings and delamination.
These boards are extremely solid, however, the
dynamics of these boards are different: they are more rigid and
react very quickly. Walking on the board is a little more
difficult; they are also much harder to surf in bumpy conditions
than polyester boards which flex and absorb some of the shock.
Definitely, try one of these boards out before buying one.
According to Bruce Jones, of the two
manufacturers currently using EPS, one has tons of money
(Patagonia) and doesn't care about the outcome, the other failed
in the sailboard business (Surftech) and is trying it again in
the surfboard business.
Info from Doc:
Epoxy continues to cure for quite a while after it's hardened.
The stuff also goes yellow over time, which is (according to the
makers of at least one epoxy board line) due to the continued
curing of the epoxy. While it cures it gives off certain compounds
that some people react too strongly. It also breaks down rather
badly in sunlight unless some sort of sunscreen is mixed in. I'm
not making this up, check out Patagonia's spec sheets at http://ww.patagonia.com .
Really rather enlightening.
As to whether or not epoxy is stronger than polyester, depends
on the epoxy (and the polyester-many different kinds and
formulations are available), the type of cloth it is used with
(glass, Kevlar, carbon fiber) and so on. Lots of variables.
Epoxy (room temperature cure types, as commonly used in boats
and boards) breaks down at lower temperatures than polyester
(some common epoxies break down and go soft at 120 degrees F) and
reacts/breaks down more quickly in UV light. Some epoxy resins
have UV protection built in, true, but how that affects the
strength and other factors is something you'd have to get from
the spec sheets for that particular resin. One UV resistant type
is System Three's SB112 (or 113) sailboard/surfboard resin. You
can also just pigment the epoxy and opaque what to protect it
Now, I know somebody is going to say 'but Brand X has
this type 123B resin that doesn't do that'. Okay, fine, it doesn't.
Epoxy works with Cabosil and other fillers as well as
Polyester, but you are stuck with (sorry about that choice of
words) the Part A (resin) to Part B (hardener) mix, which dries
slowly. Up to 24 hours to get it workable/sandable.
You can't mix the stuff from different brands of epoxy or
different types within a brand. If you use epoxy in a wide range
of temperatures, it may pay you to use an epoxy that has slow,
medium and fast hardeners. This gets kinda pricy.
Epoxy works with any kind of foam, Polyester eats polystyrene
foam, use it with polyurethane foam only.
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Terms (thanks to Doc for words and drawings):
Round rail - like it says, round, like a half circle.
Egg rails - like round rails, except drawn out a
bit so they bite in some and help you hold an edge on a wave.
50/50 rails - drawn out even more, with the
'point' in the middle of the rail, about halfway from deck to bottom like this.
60/40 rails - same as 50/50s, but the 'point
is just a skosh lower down towards the bottom.
Down rails - the 'edge' of the board, is right
at the bottom. The rest of the board eases over to it.
Rolled rails- they are down rails, but kinda rolled under.
Soft rail - has a radius of at least half an inch
Hard rail - may have a radius of 1/8 inch or less.
Down rails bite in good, hold well and are fast. They also
turn like a bandit. But down rails are either hard or soft which
refers to the radius of the curve.
Rolled rails will hold okay, but will also behave like a
really round rail. This means the board can be looser with the
weight shifted forward.
Soft rails allow you to ease out a turn, make a little
controlled slippage if you want while hard rails bite in, hard,
and can cause a few problems like "catching a rail".
You wouldn't want an all-hard downrailed board. Usually, it's
more like this, from nose to tail- round to rolled (see the next
bit) to hard down rails.
Or even more complicated - hard, down rails right at the first
foot of nose, for lift as you take off, easing to a very soft low
but not down rail about midway so that the main edge at the
middle of the board will 'swoosh' a bit (love that high-tech
terminology) and then easing down and getting harder towards the
tail for a positive bite when you want to hold an edge going
across a steep part of the wave or turn.
A hard rail is usually also a down rail.
Thinner rails pierce the water and hold you in there, while
thicker rails won't get hung up in transitions.
Generally, sharper and lower rail line designs
give decisive control when riding fast on the back third of the
board, shortboard style, but are more difficult and less
forgiving than soft rails. Sharper rails are also needed if
sweeping turns are done using more rail than fin (like when a
surfer positions himself towards the middle of the board, rather
than at the back of the board over the fins) or the board will
bog down. For a beginner a hard rail in the tail is ok as long as
it gradually softens in the middle and front two-thirds of the
A soft rounded rail allows the surfer to
completely exploit his fin's turning radius. Since torque is
equal to force times distance, non-biting rails allow turning
from near the tail to be fast and effortless in smaller surf.
Tricks and many higher scoring contest maneuvers are also easier
to perform with soft rails. The chief problem with soft rails in
faster waves is speed. Since more actual rail contact is made
with the wave face on large or quick breaking waves, soft rails
will create more friction and thus more drag.
Thin rails also have "tuck", meaning
the sharper part of the edge is near the bottom.Many board
designs have a softer rail in the front, and slowly curve to a
harder, tucked rail in the rear. The softer front can be a little
more forgiving while turning while a hard rail will sometimes
"bite" the side of a wave when turning in a tight spot
One of the most important speed considerations is
rail shape since to make the board break free and plane a hard
encourage water release and fast planing and high top end speeds.
The problem is hard rails are not that loose and want to turn
only in the arc supplied by the combination of the rocker and
Back to the Top
Beginners should avoid complex bottoms with
concave or double concave tails or a tail with a heavy
"V" in it. A flat bottom in the tail is fine. Wings,
textured bottoms, concaves or channels are high performance
features that may cause you problems while learning and have not
proven to be lasting significant design improvements.
Nose concaves are designed to provide lift so
that you can nose ride longer. Concaves towards the tail of the
board also generates lift, but in the tail it helps the board
plane earlier thus getting up and riding earlier on the wave. So
concaves just add surface area to the part of the board that is
in constant contact with the water for early planing. Besides
lift, concaves also create drag slowing the board down.
Channels towards the tail of boards basically
attempt to increase the speed of the board using the Venturi
effect and other physics theories beyond my scope.
Lots of "V" in the tail will help cut
through chop especially on big wave boards and it may affect
Essentially, if you find something that works for
you, go with it, otherwise stay with a basic bottom.
Back to the Top
The flat or concave bottom nose design has proven
to be a pretty good design feature for riding the nose but it
doesn't have to be extreme to help. As far as getting on the
nose, a wider nose will generally give you more float and
stability when you are up there. There is also a feature called
the step deck which helps with nose riding by flattening out the
rocker when you move forward on the board.
Wider noses do help with nose riding, but with so
much weight upfront they can hinder turning and entry into
steeper waves by increasing the chances of pearling.
The step deck attempts to overcome this by
removing weight from the nose. The concept maintains bottom
contour and shape but chops off a section from the top of the
board thus reducing the nose's swing weight and the nose will
actually flex down ward effectively reducing the nose rocker of
the board. Here's an exaggerated side view:
Back to the Top
The major difference in tails is the width or
volume. A wider tail with rocker catches waves easier, because it
lifts up with the wave, and provides a quicker plane and start.
Narrower tails give more control and holding power especially in
steeper waves, but can drag in smaller weaker surf.
The two basic tail shapes are pintails and square
tails. Everything else is a variation on these. Round tails,
rounded pins, swallow tails and diamond tails are just designs
that try to go in between.
Pintails are very pointy and you will see guns
that are extreme examples of this design but you will also see
them on longboards. People who prefer them claim that they get
very smooth turns and cutbacks and also much more hold in
steeper/hollower and bigger waves. Again pin tails will get in
the way on smaller, mushier surf.
Square or squash tails are flat at the back, like
someone cut off the last 2-3 inches of the pintail. People say
they give a squarer turn. The squash tail design is related to
shortboard design, and refers to the widest part of the board
being near the tail. The old Malibu Pig longboards were kind of
like that but today most longboards are widest near the middle of
Square-squash-round-rounded pin-pin tails are
foremost a progression from most to least tail volume and planing
area. The more volume and planing surface you have back there,
the more there is to push against to do fast, precision flicky
turns. Vice-versa, the less you've got, the more you'll need to
turn from the rails.
Back to the Top
Fins are a greatly unexplored area with lots of
potential to change surfboard performance and evolution. You have
cant, toe-in, rake, aspect ration, cutaways, and curved fins to
The current explosion of FCS and O'Fishl and
other removable fin systems has lead much of the innovation in
fin design. With these systems, fins can be easily swapped in and
out with a screw or snap allowing surfers to try lots of
different fin combinations whereas traditionally you would have
to reglass the fins on the board.
Longboards have traditionally been single fins,
but many modern boards are tri-fins with a large middle fin and
two small side fins. When ordering a board, the most versatile
setup is two side boxes for the small fins and a large box in the
middle. This way you can switch around if need be to a smaller or
larger middle fin with or without sidefins, or switch to only a
single center fin.
A long fin helps keep the board from spinning out
or side slipping as well, but it will also effect the looseness
during turns. 8-10" will probably do fine for a single fin
and tri-fin can go from 4-8" center fins with 3-4" side
fins. How to measure the length of a fin? The fin makers measure
using the length perpendicular to the bottom of the board.
A lot of fin area will stabilize the board, but
it will limit the looseness of the turns.
Cutaway fins are relatively narrow at the base
compared to the tip of the fin and are far looser than full fins.
The shorter the fin, the less drag in turns, as well but at some
point you risk spinouts especially when noseriding. High turns on
a steep wave will cause the fin to pop out of the water resulting
in a spin out too. Though if you can hold on and save a spin out,
you'll look like a pro surfer and can eventually work these into
360's or helicopters.
The placement of the fins will effect turns a
lot. It has a lot to do with the idea of a "sweet
spot," like on a tennis racquet. There will be a spot where
you place your back foot that gives you the best turning
responses. A big spot is best because you don't have to be in the
perfect spot to get the responsiveness you want to have. Subtle
changes (1/4") in fin position can make a big difference.
Moving the middle fin forward in the box will help with trim
speed and help loosen up the board. Unless you put it so far
forward that you must do more rail turns (on the softer part of
the rail) than fin turns and the board may also spin out more
often. Moving the fin back will increase stability to help with
Most single fins are placed a little farther back
than the middle fin on a tri-fin setup. The reason being it's the
only fin you've got and if it is spinning out on turns or while
you're on the nose you generally lose control. On three fin
longboards, the more you move the fin towards the side fins, the
looser the board will be (for small waves), towards the back the
more it will hold in and draw out your turn (for bigger waves).
Using a big retro fin with side fins may be counter productive,
as you would have too much total fin area, more than you need,
and thus causing needless drag
If your into nose-riding, go with a big middle
fin only. Side fins create wobble when you're up on the nose, and
this is even more the case when you have a low-aspect center fin
like in a standard thruster setup with three fins of equal size.
The longer and higher-aspect ratio and farther back in the box
your center fin is, the more it will anchor the tail of your
board in the curl of the wave.
The side fins work because they are toed-in which
causes drag, which causes tail lift getting you into the wave
earlier. They also loosen up a board by putting higher pressure
on the outside edge of the fin and helps keep the board from
tracking (heading straight in), and makes boards react quickly
and appropriately to direction changes. All this lift and drag
causes the board to be slower and more difficult to noseride
though helicopters and 360's will be easier as the tail will want
to release from the wave.
The side fins on many longboards are angled very
little, which means they act just like increased area on the
center fin would. In fact, many longboard side fins seem to be a
fashion accessory, and do nothing to improve the performance of
the board that a larger center fin wouldn't do. Notice also that
the side fins on big guns are nearly parallel to the center
fin-they're strictly for straight ahead stability, not
accelerating in turns. So make sure you're getting what you want
from the shaper and not just some fashion fad.
Back to the Top
Twinzers, quads and twins are progressively
faster than thrusters but are rarely used on longboards.
A twinzer has 4 fins, with two fins toed in on
each side. Generally speaking, a twinzer is much looser than a
thruster. The twinzer set up has a lot less drag than the
thruster set up, and this becomes especially evident in bottom
turns. When you first switch to a twinzer from a thruster, the
bottom turn happens so fast it screws up your timing. You're out
of your bottom turn before you've figured out what you're gonna
do next. They are not too common, but some people swear by them.
Wil Jobson is probably the best known twinzer shaper in Santa
Cruz currently working under the Pearson Arrow label.
Twinfins have one fin on each side but have a
natural tendency to get stuck in a straight line if you are not
always turning. This is called 'tracking'. You can counter this
problem by adding a center fin making it a trifin or thruster or
by adding two fins to the outside of the twins like a twinzer.
Some people have spinout problems with the
twinzer which can be solved by adding a small trailing fin in the
center making it a five fin board. Another 5 fin variant is the
bonzer which has a long center fin and 2 side fins on each side
(usually shaped like half circles). The fin placement on twinzers
on bonzers is crucial and not many shapers have mastered it.
Back to the Top
The trim point of a board is usually up near the
nose somewhere. Being around this trim spot allows you to control
the throttle. Going past the max trim point (like hanging 5 or
10) will stall the board, slowing it down so you can stay in the
pocket. If you start falling behind the curl, simply take a step
or two back to the trim spot and the board should take off.
By fading forward and back on your board one can
have a hell of a lot of fun on long point breaks, and never have
to do a cutback. Minor redirections can generally be done near
the nose, as can climbing and dropping but only if the fin is
well locked into the pocket and not side slipping.
It seems like the most common means of improving
noseriding performance is to widen and flatten the nose producing
more surface planing area. A subtle difference was to turn down
the rails in the nose creating more surface area.
The downside with a wider/thicker nose is the
added weight and more rail in the front of the board. So
designers began making more kick in the nose, and more responsive
tail/fin/turning designs. The problem then became one where the
kick was pushing too much water and slowing the board down and
making paddling difficult. This spawned the step-deck, which
flattens a little while the rider is on the nose and takes some
of the weight out of the nose.
There is also the concave nose which has evolved
in two directions now. The first, traditional one, is the
teardrop or oval concave spot under the nose that produces some
turbulence and increases float hydro-dynamically. The second,
more recent development is the long blended concave, which does
something completely different. This second form is meant to
flatten the planing surface on the bottom front half of the
board, reducing drag, while retaining the kick through the rails.
Ultimately though, the best way to get on the
nose and stay there is to be a small skinny person :)
Back to the Top
A tailblock does nothing for performance, but it
does have two purposes. One is style, it was an essential part of
every decent squaretail in the 60's. It does add a little weight
but it also makes the tail less vulnerable to fractures and rock
holes punched into the tail while your are handling the board.
Back to the Top
Steve 'da Hulk Hull's take:
Gloss and polish are for looks mostly. Without the gloss coat the
board has a dull, light sanded texture. High performance pro's
often choose not to gloss and save an ounce or two of weight.
They also get dirty and ugly real fast though. I would choose a
stronger grade of cloth over a pretty finish if I had to choose.
As would I...but I think the gloss adds a bit of
'non-permeability' to a board and maybe some life. The
pros...throw away their boards often and the original non-glossed
boards were for pros who were unwilling to wait for their boards
to be glossed. Weight savings....ah, minor. The acetate/acrylic
imitation glosses that are sprayed on instead, they don't work
with epoxy at all and don't always work with poly resins.
Back to the Top
This is where your personal creativity can shine
through as long as the shaper has a good airbrusher or paint man.
These are acrylic paints sprayed right on the foam. The paint
does actually serve to protect the foam from the damaging UV rays
of the sun which break down the foam and cause it to yellow or
However, black decals or darker airbrushes, make
for some truly awful delams in strange places. Stick with solid,
light colors if you must have them at all. Easy to fix. Fade
airbrushed areas are impossible to color match when doing ding
Doc adds that airbrushing may compromise the
quality of the glass adhesion...after all, a pigment and some
sort of vehicle, be it acrylic, watercolor, whatever, is being
sprayed into the crevices and such of the foam, which in turn
makes a bit of a barrier coat which the resin can't penetrate and
thus it doesn't stick as well.
The way resin sticks to a blank, you see, is
'mechanical', not chemical...there is no chemical bond formed
between the resin and the blank as there is between, oh, the
laminating coat and the hot coat where there actually are some
molecular bonds formed making it, for all intents and purposes,
one solid coat of resin. (this is the reason laminating resin is
used, by the way: while it doesn't completely cure without
sanding resin on top of it, making a real pain to work with, the
subsequent laminations can bond to it in a way that several
layers of sanding resin won't). But airbrushing and anything else
that fills crevices and tiny open cells in the underlying foam
has to make the resin less able to get in there and hold the
lamination of fiberglass on to the board.
You can also have your board pigmented, which
goes on right on top of the sand job, under the gloss coat,
although this is an art only a few workers can do, so it could
cost more depending on how intricate you get. A
tailblock/stringers will not show through any color work done in
the glass that happens to go over it!
You should also have them put some design or the
shaper's logo/decal on the deck somewhere. Though the board is
great for advertisement (as long as it came out good and you surf
it well), we unconsciously pick up cues about where we are on the
board, both by feel and vision. A decal on the deck helps you
keep track of where your balance point is when you paddle, where
the sweet spot is for turns, and where you are on the board when
you start walking to the nose. It can be anywhere as long as you
can see it. Most put them about 2/3-3/4 of the way toward the
nose. I put mine right in front of my head as I'm laying on the
board in a paddle position, so that when I spin for a wave and
start paddling I know if I'm in the right position.
Back to the Top
Your also going to need a leash, wax or deck grip
and maybe a nose guard. Down the line you will most likely need a
ding repair kit, multiple fins to experiment with, a wax comb,
sunscreen, wetsuit, booties, gloves, hood, and a tub to carry
everything in. Of course, these all depend on where you're
Back to the Top
There is a great how-to video series on the
market called "Shaping 101" and "Glassing
101". The shaper (John Carper - of JC Hawaii surfboards)
gives good instructions on the materials, tools and how-to of
surfboard construction and glassing. You can get them from:
How to build surfboards and related water sport equipment,
Originally published in 1963 under the title Surfboard Builder's
Manual. Last reprinted in 1994 in an English/Japanese version.
While it leans more towards short boards in the pictures the
information is classic. Shouldn't be hard to find in Santa Cruz.
Stephen M. Shaw
733 (maybe 773) Bishop Street Ste. 170-479
Honolulu, HI 96813, USA
You see ads for this book in one of the surfer magazines once in
The book states it can be ordered from (11 Dollars American plus
shipping and handling)
417 Dewey Boulevard
San Francisco, CA 94116,
COMPLETE SURFING GUIDE FOR COACHES
Dr. Bruce Gabrielson
Covers Judging, Coaching, Learning, Shaping, Glassing and Repairs
Go to his website to order or via mail
PO Box 550
Chesapeake Beach, MD 20732
$25 includes postage
MAUI BOARDBUILDING AND REPAIR
by Bill Walters
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