Understanding Types of Surfboards.

by on
in: Shapers & Boards, Other, Magazine

This is a quick and easy explanation for those who want to know what defines each major type of surfboard and what they are used for. We have tried to keep this as simple as possible, there are an infinite number of variations on a ‘type’ of surfboard so we are just dealing with the common categories.

Surfboards can be ‘loosely’ grouped into these different categories and bear in mind we have tried to keep the description concise and generic.


Other names : Mini Malibu, Funboard.

Length: 7’0” – 9’0”


Width, Thickness & Volume : Usually wide and thick to facilitate ease of paddling for great ‘wave catching’ ability and retaining a more stable outlook once riding the wave.

Tails : Can come with any type of tail, for a beginner you would look for a square or rounded square tail which increases initial speed into the wave and again greater ‘wave catching’ ability.

Rails : Any type are possible but for a beginner, 50/50 or ‘soft rails’ would be preferable and more forgiving. What you lose in performance you gain in ‘ease of use’.

Fins: Normally supplied with 2+1 which is a larger single fin with two trailing smaller fins and also the standard three fin (thruster) set up. Both of these setups will provide greater stability.

Nose: Minimals normally have a wide to very wide nose which will allow you to paddle further up the front of the board thus adding to the ‘wave-catching’ ability.

What we think about the Minimal - The learner board as it's kind of thought of, gets unreasonably bad press, it immediately conjures up images of surf schools and out of control tourists dropping in on your face. Being a mini version of a 'Mal' which is short for Malibu, or longboard as they are more widely known, is a safe buy, but make sure you get the correct variety. 


Being an old surfing romantic I prefer to think of these pioneer boards as transitional pieces of equipment. They are on the front line, being ridden by all sorts of people, being abused, run into the beach, snapped and dinged. Yet these were the boards that we all (apart from John John) started on. The boards that captivated us, that first gave us that feeling that we now do and would pursue blindly and forever. As a ‘thank you’ we (the surfing community) repay it with ‘beginner board’ label.

Saying that, these types of boards are perfect for beginners.  Their length, width and volume capacities can be tailored to combine the wave catching ability of the longboard, but without the cumbersome weight and the extra length, compared to the more manoeuvrable short-board, can give you more rocker (which means less nose dives).

As with all types of surfboard in the current climate there is a huge spectrum of boards shapes that fall withing the type ‘Minimal’. Just because it has this label don't assume it is a user friendly board. From single fins to quads, from Bonzers to fish tails, everyone is trying something different so my advice would be to stick to something that is simple and you know works for your first board.  



Other names: Retro Fish, Performance Fish, Twinny.

Length : 5’0 – 6’5

Thickness & Volume : The fish hold and conceals volume well, holding it all the way tot the rails and normally up and into the nose.

Tails: The fish comes with a fish tail

Rails: Can be any sort by generally comes with a boxier more forgiving rail

Fins: The classic setup for a fish is a twin fin. The fins would be keel fins and can be glassed on or removable.

Nose: The standard fish has a fuller nose to give it a little more volume up from helping you get into those fatter waves easier.

What we think about the fish :The fish is a shape that has been around since the Neanderthal man first scrapped his knuckles along the sand. It has been smashed around, turned inside out and remade a hundred different ways. Yet we still keep coming back to the same shape.


It's a shape that looks kind of like the ‘Retro Fish’ that people describe now. The basic characteristics are a large swallow tail giving it a larger tail footprint, fuller rails and nose and a bit more foam than you imagine is healthy under you chest and a keel twin fin set up.

The fish we are describing is built for speed, down the line fun and is traditionally has the reputation of being no good in decent waves. We ride fishes or their type a lot and we have to disagree with this statement. While we would not try and surf one at Teahupo'o or double overhead Pipe I, being a mortal, average surfer would not surf these waves at that size anyway. Our point is that for your average beachie or point a fish would do us as a go to everyday board.

To sum up, the fish is built to be a wave catching super fun board in small waves and puts a smile on faces all over the world. Fast and fun.



Other names : Log, Mabilbu, Mal

Length: 9’0” plus

Thichness & Volume: Traditionally the longboard has great volume and great width and is designed to trim on fat waves. (note: there are many different types)

Tails: The traditional longboard can have round, pin, square tail.

Rails: More rounded and forgiving

Fins: Single fin or 2+1 which is a larger single fin with two trailing smaller fins


Nose: Full and rounded for noseriding possibility, can have a scoop or step, again for noseriding.

What we think about longboards: Longboards are where it all started. Or are they. In fact longboards were the first type of commercial surfboard and were made out of balsa or redwood. These days there are many different types from low volume high performance longboards that surf like short-boards to the more retro 50’s and 60’s log that is super heavy and mainly for trimming or noseriding.

The myth that they are for beginners or are easier to ride, I would have to dispel right here and now, learning how to ride one takes a great deal of patience and can be quite painful. There is the saying ‘with great volume comes great responsibility.’ meaning if you paddle the thing out then you are responsible for what it does or who it hurts.

Where the beginner reputation comes from is that you don’t need much power in a wave to get trimming so ‘catching’ a wave is easier but then turning or any kind of manoeuvre is hugely more difficult. Mastering the board requires a lot of movement in every direction.



Length: 7’ - 12’

Thickness & Volume: Traditional guns have a narrowness relative to their length and thickness. Their primary function is to paddle as fast as possible to match the speed of the wave.

Tails: Pin for better hold

Rail: The softer rail is preferred on a gun as it retains more interaction with the face of the wave.

Fins: Large thruster (three) fins for greater control at speed.

Nose: A slim, pinched nose is preferred on the gun which provides less interference and chance of catching a rail at great speeds. The faster the better.

What we think about guns: These are a type of surfboard that is needed when paddling into larger, faster and more powerful waves. They are a tool for a job, of course there are many different variations. It stands to reason the bigger the wave that you want to surf, the bigger the board must be.

The gun is the rarest type of surfboard on the market today. (Interesting fact)



Length: 5’0 – 7’0

Thickness & Volume : In general the shortboard is narrow and thin compared to it’s length. Because of this the boards are lighter and easier to surf in a more ‘progressive’ manner.

Tails: Square, round, bat, moon, diamond, fish, step etc

Rail: Any rail type

Fins: Thruster, twin, quad

Nose: Pinched and thin.

What we think about shortboards: The shortboard revolution came about in the early 70’s with the emergence of ‘high performance’ surfing. The smaller, lighter and more manoeuvrable boards made it possible to ascertain a more radical approach. Narrower template outlines make the rail to rail transition quicker and make for a more responsive feel.

The narrow template also helps to thread a thin line through barrels and also facilitates greater ease in ‘duck diving’.

Simon Anderson’s discovery of the thruster (three fin) setup was applied to the conventional shortboard and was thought to help this become the most popular of all surfboard types.



Length: 5’ - 9’

Thickness & Volume: Traditionally most people would think of a hybrid as a fatter short-board with more volume. The reality is it could be anything, hence the name.

Tails: Fish, pin, vee, square, rounded square, squash, bat, moon, diamond.

Rail: Soft, hard, 50/50, 60/40 etc (any rail)

Fins: Any fin setup is possible. Single, twin, thruster, quad, 2+1, Bonzer or 4+1

Nose: Normally though of as having a fatter nose than a short-board.


What we think about Hybrids: Hybrids in today's surfing world represent anything that will not fit in a box already labelled but with new board types or old ones being resurrected it does get confusing.

Here is the older and general thought on what makes a hybrid. If you think of a shortboard which has a fish tail and is slightly wider in the waist and maybe more volume. It’s a board type that retains the need to 'be surfed' like a shortboard but with a greater paddle and down the line speed. Like a fish it would sacrifice control for the speed.

The reality is that in the modern surfing world it very much depends on your perspective as to what you would mean when mentioning a hybrid.


Conclusion: Again we would like to put the emphasis on the fact that these are general terms and explanations to help those who are trying to understand the factual differences. As I have said there are many different types of surfboard. There are designs that have been lost and revived, mixed with new ideas that are experimented with successfully or not. What we have covered is a general guide to the most popular and most available surfboards.

There is a massive world of weird, wonderful and frankly stunning alternative designs out there. If you are interested and would appreciate a more in depth look at some of these, drop us a line on the comments, social media or a good old fashioned email and we will oblige in kind. The truth is out there and it might not be pointy.

A load of different coloured surfboards.

A load of different coloured surfboards.

A beautiful yellow single fin.

A beautiful yellow single fin.

Turning for the set on a gloomy day.

Turning for the set on a gloomy day.

A different take on a Hybrid.

A different take on a Hybrid.

The Slip In by designer Thomas Meyerhoffer.

The guys from Northern Dawn Surfboards made this take on a Lis Fish.

The guys from Northern Dawn Surfboards made this take on a Lis Fish.

Featuring a generic shape of the modern shortboard.

Featuring a generic shape of the modern shortboard.

This one is my Matt Biolis form Lost Surfboards.

There are so many different boards out there.

There are so many different boards out there.

Why not try them all?

An Al Merrick Hybrid. Shorter and fatter than a normal shortboard.

An Al Merrick Hybrid. Shorter and fatter than a normal shortboard.

Shane Dorian and his gun.

Shane Dorian and his gun.

Shane is probably the most successful big wave surfer.

Another beautiful fish.

Another beautiful fish.

An old and trusty longboard.

An old and trusty longboard.

Waiting for the next set. Some warm water thinking.

Waiting for the next set. Some warm water thinking.

Get the Weekly Low Down