- For other meanings see Surfboard (disambiguation).
A surfboard is an elongated platform used in the sport of surfing. Surfboards are relatively light, but are strong enough to support an individual standing on them while riding a breaking wave. They were invented in ancient Hawaii, where they were known as papa he'e nalu in the Hawaiian language; they were usually made of wood from local trees, such as koa, and were often over 15 feet (5 m) in length and extremely heavy. Major advances over the years include the addition of one or more fins on the bottom rear of the board to improve directional stability, and numerous improvements in materials and shape.
Modern surfboards are made of polyurethane or polystyrene foam covered with layers of fiberglass, cloth and polyester or epoxy resin. The result is a light and strong surfboard that is buoyant and maneuverable. Recent developments in surfboard technology have included the use of carbon fiber. Each year, approximately 400,000 surfboards are manufactured. Longboards, as the name suggests, are longer (often 8 ft or 2.4 m or more), and are also thicker and wider, with a more rounded nose than a shortboard, making them stable and buoyant. Shortboards are shorter (5–7 ft or 1.5–2.1 m), thinner, and have a more pointed nose. They are not as wide as longboards and are typically more maneuverable.
Other variants include "guns" (big wave boards 7 to 12 feet (2.1 to 3.7 m) long and with a thin, needle-like appearance), longboard "guns", olos (wooden boards can exceed lengths of 24 feet (7.3 m)), fun-boards (combines elements of both shortboards and longboards and are generally midsized, usually 7 to 8 feet (2.1 to 2.4 m)), fish (short stubby boards under 6 feet (1.8 m) long), eggs (modern hybrid boards, usually 6 feet to 8 feet 6 inches (1.8–2.3 m) in length with a more rounded profile and tail shape), bonzers (surfboard with three or five fins with double concave channels), quads (reference to the number of fins this type of surfboard has, four), tow-boards, and hydrofoils.
Polyurethane (P.U) boards
Surfboards are usually constructed using polyurethane foam. They are made stronger with one or more small pieces of wood, called a stringer, going down the middle of the board. The foam is molded into a "blank", in the rough shape of a surfboard. Once the blanks have been made they are given to shapers. Shapers then cut, plane, and sand the board to its specifications. Finally, the board is covered in one or more layers of fibreglass cloth and resin. It is during this stage that the fins, or boxes for removable fins, are put on and the leash plug is installed. Another method of making boards is using epoxy resin and prolapse polystyrene foam, instead of polyester resin and polyurethane foam. In recent years, surfboards made out of balsa and a polystyrene core are becoming more popular. Even solid balsa surfboards are available.
Although foam boards are usually shaped by hand, the use of machines to shape them has become more popular over the years. Modern technology has made its way into surfboard production as well. Vacuum forming and modern sandwich construction techniques borrowed from other industries have become more common in the industry. Many surfers have switched to riding sandwich-construction, epoxy boards. These boards have become especially popular with beginner surfers as they provide, in most cases, a cheaper entry-level surfboard as well as a more durable and resistant one.
The history of using balsa as a material for surfboard making goes back to the Hawaiians, but became more popular in the late 1940s. Being light and strong, balsa wood was long considered a perfect material for surfboards. Shapers could not use this fragile wood to make entire surfboards until after WWII, when fiberglass was invented.
Balsa wood boards are lighter, more buoyant and easier to handle. These boards have some disadvantages; they are not as sturdy as solid redwood boards. They are currently favoured by surfers and collectors because they are more durable than a regular surfboard, environmentally friendly and have a beautiful appearance.
Hollow wooden boards
Hollow wooden surfboards are made of wood and epoxy, and are a reversion to using wood after the foam became dominant in the 1950s. Hollow wooden surfboards specifically have no foam in their construction. (Boards made with foam and wood are commonly known as compsands or veneer boards.) Various construction methods are used to hollow the inside of the surfboard and lighten the weight of the completed board. Generally a hollow wood surfboard is 30% to 300% heavier than a standard foam and resin surfboard. The main inspiration, apart from beauty, is that this is a more environmentally friendly method which uses fast-growing plantation wood such as Paulownia, Cedar, Spruce, Redwood, and of course Balsa.
The current methods descended from the 1930s Tom Blake paddleboarding method, which favors a central stringer, with individually shaped transverse ribs, covered with a skin and lastly, rails which are then shaped. A modern interpretation of Tom Blakes work is the perimeter stringer method used by some manufacturers, utilizing laminated rails as stringers, which are connected with a series of plywood ribs. This skeleton is subsequently sheathed with 5mm-thick wood strips, creating a fast hollow board with better flex properties.
The parallel profile system developed by Roy Stewart is developed from cold molded (double diagonal) boat building, and uses at least four layers laminated over a male mold into a curved blank, including enough wood for rails, which are then shaped. The chambering method follows a system whereby planks of paulownia are selected and the rocker of the board is cut into each. The planks are then chambered to reduce weight, and then are bonded together to form a hollow, or "chambered" blank which is then shaped.
Many types of boards are made using any of the different construction methods, the variation of type dependent in some cases on the use for which the board is designed.
Since the late 1960s, when Gordon Clark found the optimum formulation of urethane foam, many of the surfboards in common use have been of the shortboard variety between 6 feet and 7 feet in length, with a pointed nose and a rounded or squarish tail, typically with three skegs (fins) but sometimes with two or as many as five. Surfers generally find a shortboard very quick to maneuver compared with other types of surfboards, but because of a lack of flotation due to the smaller size, harder to catch waves with, often requiring steeper, larger and more powerful waves and very late takeoffs, where the surfer catches the wave at the critical moment before it breaks.
A bonzer is a variety of surfboard created by the Campbell Brothers with three or five fins with double concave channels. The manufacturer claims that these channels create a venturi effect which guides the water off of the surface of the board through a narrowed passage.
Modern hybrid boards are usually 6 feet to 8 feet 6 inches (1.8–2.3 m) in length with a more rounded profile and tail shape. Surfed in smaller waves with any fin set up. They are more about having fun than high performance or tricks. They can be easier to ride for beginning surfers and generally perform well in surfing conditions where the more traditional long and short boards might not.
Usually a short stubby board under 6 feet (1.8 m) in length developed from kneeboards in the 1970s by Steve Lis. Other prominent Fish shapers include Rich Pavel, Skip Frye, Larry Mabile and Steve Brom. Primarily a twin fin set up with a swallow tail shape and popular in smaller waves, the Fish enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in the early 2000s after legendary surfer Tom Curren rode one during an ASP event at Hossegor. Note, any type of board (such as shortboard or mini-longboard) can have a fish tail, and these are commonly referred to as a "fish", but they lack the other properties of a traditional, or "retro", fish as listed here.
The funboard combines elements of both shortboards and longboards and are generally midsized, usually 7 to 8 feet (2.1 to 2.4 m). The funboard's design allows waves to be caught more easily than a shortboard, yet with a shape that makes it more maneuverable than a longboard; hence it is a popular type of surfboard, especially among beginners, or those transitioning from longboarding to the more difficult shortboarding. This makes it the best design in most people's view due to the combination of the speed of a longboard and the maneuverability of a shortboard.
Big wave boards of length 7 to 12 feet (2.1 to 3.7 m). Thin, needle-like template with single, quad (4 fin), or thruster (3 fin) fin set up. It usually looks like a shortboard but at a longboard size. Used at such big waves spots as Waimea Bay and Mavericks.
The longboard, not to be confused with the skateboard variation of Longboarding, is primarily a single finned surfboard with large rounded nose and length of 9 to 12 feet (2.7 to 3.7 m). Noseriders are a class of longboards which enable the rider to walk to the tip and nose ride. Also called a "Mal", which is a shortened version of Malibu, one of, if not the most popular longboard wave.
Longboards (also known as Malibu boards) range 8 to 14 feet (2.4 to 4.3 m) long, or 3 feet (0.91 m) taller than the rider in overall length. Its advantage is its substantial buoyancy and planing surface, which enables most surfers using it to ride waves generally deemed too small to propel a shortboard, as well as anything else. Longboards are universally common among both beginners and skilled surfers alike. The main reason why longboards are more suitable for beginners is because of the board's size and frequency of catching waves. In the proper conditions, a skilled surfer can ride a wave standing on the nose of a longboard, and put his toes over the nose's edge. By literally putting his "toes on the nose" the surfer can "hang ten".
Longboards are the original, and very first variety of board used in standup surfing. Ever since the sixth-century the ancient Hawaiians have used 8-to-30-foot (2.4 to 9.1 m) solid wooden boards when practicing their ancient art of Hoe he'e nalu. Surfing was brought to the Hawaiian Islands by Polynesians and has since become popular worldwide. The ancient boards were carved and fashioned out of solid wood, reaching lengths of 10 to 14 feet (3.0 to 4.3 m) long and weighing as much as 150 pounds (68 kg). Both men and women, royalty and commoners surfed. But the longest of boards (the Olo) was reserved for royalty. During the 19th century, some extreme western missionaries actively discouraged surfing, viewing it as sinful. Surfing almost died out completely. In recent times replicas have been made of Olo's and alaia's by experienced surfers and shapers wishing to explore the roots of the sport.
By the early 20th century, only a handful of people surfed, mostly at Waikiki. But there, it started to grow again. Beginning in 1912, Duke Kahanamoku, a Hawaiian Olympic swimmer in the early 1900s, brought surfing to mainland United States and Australia. Because of this, Duke is considered the "Father of Modern Surfing". From that point on, surfing became an integral part of the California beach lifestyle. In Malibu (in Los Angeles county), the beach was so popular amongst the early surfers that it lent its name to the type of longboard, the Malibu Surfboard. In the 1920s boards made of plywood or planking called Hollowboards came into use. These were typically 15 to 20 feet (4.6 to 6.1 m) in length and very light. During the 1950s, the surf trend took off dramatically as it obtained a substantial amount of popularity as a sport. The design and material of longboards in the 1950s changed from using solid wood, to balsa wood. The length of the boards still remained the same at an average of 10.5 feet, and had then become widely produced.
It was not until the late 1950s and early 1960s when the surfboard design had closely evolved into today's modern longboard. The introduction of polyurethane foam and fiberglass became the technological leap in design. In the 1960s, the longboard continued to remain popular as its material changed from balsa wood to fiberglass and polyurethane foam. In the 1960s, the introduction of the shortboard, averaging 6 feet 6 inches (1.98 m), allowed surfers to make tighter turns, quicker maneuvers, and achieve faster speeds, thus radically changing the way people surfed. This "shortboard revolution" nearly made longboards obsolete for all practical purposes. But in the early 1990s, the longboard returned, integrating a number of the design features invented during the shortboard revolution. Surfers rediscovered the grace and poise – the "glide" – of the longboard, and the fun of classic maneuvers that are not possible on a shortboard. In some circles the battle between longboards and shortboards continues. But many surfers live by a philosophy of finding the joy of surfing a mix of boards and surfing styles to suit the waves of the day.
The modern longboard has undergone many changes since its earlier models in the past. Today's longboard is much lighter than its predecessors. Its polyurethane foam and fiberglass design allows less drag on waves. Today's longboards are typically 9 to 10 feet (2.7 to 3.0 m) long, although some ride boards up to 12 feet (3.7 m) in length. Additionally, there is a revival of stand-up paddle-based surfing with boards up to 14 feet (4.3 m) in length (for stability). The classic single-fin longboard retains much of its classic design including a single fin, weight, and considerable buoyancy. A longboard with a single fin allows the board to pivot turn in order to remain in the curl of the wave. Due to recent advances in technology, the longboard has expanded its family into different variations of the classic longboard.
An updated version of the classic longboard, the Tri-fin (also known as Thruster) longboard is featured with three fins underneath the tail rather than the traditional single fin. The Tri-fin's additional two fins on the board allows riders better turning capabilities as well as greater thrust than classic longboards did back in the 1950s. The tri-fin's design incorporates the glide of a longboard and the performance of a shortboard into a single layout.
The 2+1 longboard is the most versatile board of the longboard family, offering greater maneuverability. Sometimes referred as a "single-fin with training wheels", the 2+1's fins actually takes the features of the classic longboard and the Tri-fin. The fins of the 2+1 takes the rigid stability of a classic longboard, and fuses with the strength and drive of a Tri-fin.
The mini tanker is basically a shortened longboard shape that utilizes the same longboard design elements and enhanced maneuverability due to the shorter shape. These boards are normally ridden by women and children which provide smaller individuals with much more control than your traditional 9 foot longboard.
Named after Malibu, California, this racy longboard shape is a little narrower than most, with slightly pulled in nose and tail sections for extra maneuverability on Mailbu's famous right hand point. This classic shape has been ridden and praised by experienced surfers for its maneuverability and performance. Classic tricks that can be performed on a Malibu are "Hang Fives" and "Hang tens" whereby the surfer walks to the nose of the board and hangs 5 or 10 toes over the nose, the "soul arch", drop knee turns, head dips, switch stance maneuvers, and so on.
Originally reserved for royalty due to its size and weight, these wooden boards can exceed lengths of 24 feet (7.3 m) and reach weights up to 200 pounds (91 kg).
A "Quad" (reference to the number of fins this type of surfboard has, four) are quick down the line but tend to lose drive through turns.
The surface of the board that rests on the water.
Modern surfboards often contain multiple contours on the bottom of the board, termed concaves. These concaves have different uses and vary among different types of surfboards. Most concaves on the modern shortboard begin about twelve inches (300 mm) back from the nose of the board on the bottom and then carry out through the middle to the tail of the surfboard. The purpose of concave is to direct water through the fins of the surfboard. Surfboard shapers can experiment with concaves to create different drive and response characteristics on each individual surfboard.
Some older and more traditional surfboards along with many modern boards that take inspiration from these older boards utilize a convex rather than concave design on the bottom of the surfboard. These boards displace water and sit lower in the wave than a surfboard with a concave bottom.
The surface of the board that the surfer stands on. Surfwax is applied to this surface. Wax comes in different degrees of hardness allowing its application in differing water temperatures.
The surfboard fin is a stabilizing rudder fixed to the rear of the surfboard to prevent it from sliding sideways. In the early days, surfers would stabilize the board by hanging the toes of their back foot over the edge of the board and would steer by putting their foot in the water. The innovation of a skeg in 1936 — by either or both of Woody "Spider" Brown or Tom Blake — revolutionized surfing, allowing surfers to direct the board's momentum and providing more balance whilst turning.
The template of the modern surfboard fin was developed by George Greenough in the 1960s. The single fin changed little until the late 70s, when a second was added and popularised by Australian Mark Richards. In October 1980, after seeing a twin fin surfboard with a "trigger point" fin Simon Anderson had the idea for a new, equal size, version of the existing three fin prototypes which was later dubbed the "thruster". He created a prototype and 30 years later his "thruster" design is still the most popular fin design for surfboards.
In the early 90s removable fin systems were developed and embraced. This provides a standardized system that allows fins to be easily removed or replaced, utilizing set screws to hold the fins in place. These systems provided surfers with the ability to alter the riding characteristics of a surfboard, by changing the size and shape of fins used. This innovation opened the market to a range of fin designs, including single foiled fins, concave inside surfaces, and curved fins. Another variation of fin was later designed in the time frame known as the soul fin, a sleek bendable attachment.
Tunnel fins were invented in the 60's by Richard Deese, and were found on longboards by multiple manufacturers of that era, including Dewey Weber. Bob Bolen, A.K.A. 'the Greek', patented the "Turbo Tunnel" in the late 1990s. Since the mid 90s half tunnel fins have mainly been used on very long hollow wooden surfboards.
Bullet Fins were invented in the 2005 by Ron Pettibone to increase surfboard hull planing and rail-to-rail transition speed. The patent-pending fins are based on 50 years of hydrodynamic research on the bulbous bow hull design. Just as with the bow of a ship, the traditional surfboard fin creates a wave as it displaces the water in its path. The resulting turbulence places drag on the surfboard. The bulb of the Bullet Fin reduces this drag by creating a new (primary) fin wave in front of the original (secondary) wave. This new bulb wave is designed to be nearly 180 degrees out of phase with the original fin wave to subtract its turbulence thus reducing fin drag.
Winged fins are another type of surfboard fin, the genesis of which was America's Cup sailboat design. The Starfin was designed in the 1980s by the America's Cup yacht designer, Ben Lexcen, who had designed the winged keel for the America's Cup boat, Australia II. The small thruster-sized fin, the RedTip 3D is manufactured by FCS.
Fins with winglets—tiny wings—were invented in 2005. The purpose of winglets, as in airplane design, is to increase lift (horizontal turning force in the case of surfboard fins) while reducing drag, by reducing the fin-tip vortex.
Fins with a camber have an asymmetrical profile. In windsurfing camber is used to increase the lift to drag ratio of the fin and to minimise cavitation and the risk of spin-out. In particular windsurfers trying to improve speed records use camber fins, as the maximum performance is required on one down-wind course direction. As the camber is fixed to one side, performance when sailing in one direction is improved but performance in the other way is deteriorated.
Fins with self-adjusting camber offer the improved qualities in both port side and starboard side sailing directions.
A surfboard leash or leg rope is the cord that attaches a surfboard to the surfer. It prevents the surfboard from being swept away by waves and stops runaway surfboards from hitting other surfers and swimmers. Modern leashes comprise a urethane cord where one end has a band with a velcro strap attached to the surfer's trailing foot, and the opposite has a velcro strap attached to the tail end of the surfboard.
Prior to leashes' introduction in 1971, surfers who fell off their boards had to swim to retrieve them with runaway boards being an inconvenience to the surfer and a danger to other surfers. Santa Cruz resident Pat O'Neill is credited with popularizing the surf leash. His initial designs consisted of surgical cord attached to a board with a suction cup. At the 1971 Malibu international surfing competition, Pat offered leashes to his competitors in the event. Consequently he was disqualified from the event for wearing his leash, dubbed a kook cord by those at the event. However, over the next year, the leash became a ubiquitous tool in the surfing world.
Jack O'Neill lost his left eye in a surf leash accident as the surgical tubing used in the early designs allowed the leash to overstretch, causing the surfboard to fly back towards the surfer. Subsequent cords were made with less elastic materials such as bungee cords.
Ultimately, urethane was the material of choice for leashes. The urethane design was patented by David Hattrick (Australian Patent 505,451 issued September 5, 1977). However, he built the prototype in 1972 while surfing an isolated surf break called Cactus in the Great Australian Bight. Necessity was the mother of invention as one of the largest breeding grounds for white pointer sharks was nearby. He then settled in the Margaret River area of Western Australian initially making leg ropes of this design for surfing friends. Later in the 70's, he established Pipe Lines surfing products and developed a design that could be patented. This design also won an Australian Design Award in 1979.
Leashes are still the source of some contention in surfing today as, although they are now accepted as mandatory equipment for shortboarders, many longboarders refuse to wear them, claiming it interferes with their ability to walk up and down the board. At crowded surf spots with large waves, it is argued that the freedom of not wearing a leash is secondary to the safety of others.
Also known as a "leash plug", is an indentation in the deck of the board close to the tail that contains a small metal bar that a short cord can be girth hitched to for attaching a leash.
The front tip of the board. This can be pointed or rounded.
The edges of the board. A rounded rail is called "soft", while a more squared off rail is called "hard", and rails that are in between are considered 50/50.
This refers to how much curve the bottom of the board has from nose to tail. Increasing the rocker helps improve a board's performance when it is used in and around tighter curves on the wave face while flattening the curves of the board help it to handle better on flatter sections of water.
A thin piece of wood running from nose to tail that increases the strength of the board. Boards have different amount of stringers and some have no stringers.
The shape of the tail affects how a board responds. Tail shapes vary from square, pin, squash, swallow, diamond, and so on—each one in turn having its own family of smaller variants.
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