You might think you’re ready to hit the waves, but knowing which board to use might be the difference between shredding a wave perfectly or wiping out. Surfboards come in as many shapes and sizes as the surfer’s riding them.
Beginners can be forgiven for getting lost in the wilderness of bewilderingly varied shapes and names, but if you want to understand this sport, you better know your types of surfboards.
A little bit of knowledge can open up a vast realm of possibilities. The right board makes a surfer well prepared to rip on any break, no matter how big or small.
Here’s a guide to the essential types of surfboards and the kinds of waves they are best for.
The most classic of surfboard shapes, longboards are also called logs. The nickname comes from it’s long, wide shape. The nickname, however, is also quite literal. If your dad or grandfather has one in the garage, it’s most likely made of solid wood.
Today, these types of surfboards are constructed of super light epoxy or fiberglass, like all boards. The old, long, smooth shape, however, whose path to perfection began hundreds of years ago, hasn’t changed much, and probably never will.
Its length, width and easy curves make for effortless wave-catching and control on tiny to head-high surf. The extra weight requires more muscle to paddle around, but nothing is smoother than a longboard on glassy-green surf.
These are the sleek and super-thin types of surfboards on which high-performance surfing is built. Shortboards are notoriously difficult to paddle, difficult to catch waves with and difficult to control. Under the feet of the right rider, however, nothing rips like a shortboard.
For this reason, most newbies aspire to one day ride a shortboard. Don’t make the mistake of jumping on one too soon, though. It’s better to learn to drive before taking a Lamborghini out for a spin.
Shortboards, besides being hardly taller than the rider, are pointy and narrow at shoulder height, which makes turning a snap, but also dramatically reduces stability.
Shortboards excel on powerful, tubed waves, but not on weak, mushy, small waves. Talented surfers can handle anything with these boards.
A gun board is a long and narrow weapon highly specialized to conquer big waves. The old saying goes, “when surf breaks big, break out the big gun.” You won’t see these long, pointy surfboard types anywhere but at big-wave spots like Waimea or Mavericks.
At those breaks, you won’t see anything other than gun boards. Guns hold a straight line like a thoroughbred horse charging down the track, and their length allows them to skate over lumps that, at high speeds, would otherwise put a quick end to a ride.
Step Up Boards
As with other surfboard names, this one is straightforward: when you’re stepping up your game from waist-high surf to head-high or higher surf, this is your board of choice. Step up boards bear much resemblance to big-wave boards known as guns, though they are a little smaller.
Like guns, these are made to hold a straight line down the face of a big wave, not perform fancy tricks like cutbacks or roundhouses. If you’re riding a step up, you have mastered the basics of the sport, and are soon ready to take on some of the world’s most formidable breaks.
The operative feature of fish boards is the double-pointed tail, shaped like a fish’s fin. The added surface area means extra push from the wave for easier takeoffs, an advantage over pintail and squashtail shapes popular on sporty shortboards.
Along with that, fish shapes are generally wide, providing stability in the ride and when shifting from one edge to another. Fish boards were an object of surf shapers’ fascination in the 70s and 80s, though the trend mostly died out after that era.
Since modern shapers have began applying newer designs and materials to the shape, the fish has undergone a resurgence. Because they own their silhouette to the shapers of yore, surfers often refer to them as “retro,” even though they’re among the most commonly used surfboard types today.
When surf is weak and small, a fish will find waves with the utmost ease.
These hybrid boards take their smooth curves and stable shapes from longboards, but their overall size is smaller. Unlike riding a longboard, funboard riders won’t use the fancy cross steps needed on logs. These types of surfboards are fat, buoyant and easy to catch waves on.
Most riders, however, are happy to move to sleeker surfboard types when their ability permits. Funboards are great on waves up to shoulder height—any bigger and their shortcomings quickly stand out.
The rounded curves and width of egg boards hold many of the same advantages as longboards: they make wave-catching a breeze, they are as stable as supertankers and as forgiving as gentle beach breaks.
For these reasons, egg boards are beloved by beginners and those looking for the smoothness of a longboard ride with a touch more maneuverability.
All in all, eggs are friendly and seem to catch waves on their own, but surfers looking to eventually carve ultra-tight turns on a shortboard will find them restrictive.
Like longboards, these surfboard types are useful in a wide variety of surf, but don’t do well in tight tubes where narrow shortboards are the tool of choice.