Surfboard Tail Shapes

When it comes down to it the tail of the surfboard is really the business end. This is where most of your steering, drive, acceleration and performance will come from. The tail is so important consider this. If you took your favorite standard shape board and cut the first six inches off of the nose guess what would happen. Nothing. That’s right, the first 6 inches really have no effect on how a board is going to ride. Now try to imagine doing the same thing with the back half and you instantly just got a completely different board with all new characteristic. In my experience most people seem to choose the tail of their board purely on ascetics and don’t take into consideration how they want to ride the board, or what conditions they will be using it in. I’ve tried to put together a little guide here to help people understand what’s going on back there under their rear foot.

A few key things to remember though when choosing what tail you want on your board are as follows. Angles = release, creating more sharp, pivotal turns. Round = hold + smooth turns. Different shapes will change the amount of surface area your board has and how much is in contact with the water, which is what will gives you either acceleration or more control. The wider that the tail is the looser the board will feel and the more narrow it is will cause it to hold its line more. While these are not all of the variations and options out there these are the most common that people come across. Now on to the different options out there.

Squash Tail – This is the most common board that you will come across now a days for small to medium size waves. They average around 10.5 inches wide 6 inches up from the tail. On a squash tail the corners have been rounded off to smooth the transition from rail line to end of the board. Because of these corners these tails have a quick release and make sharp loose turns. Think of the corners as a pivot point for the board to turn off of. If you are looking to do more top to bottom, up and down surfing on the wave the squash tail is a good choice for you. The other thing that you are gaining with a squash tail is more surface area on your board. This will add more lift to the board, which helps with planning and maintaining speed. Boards with a squash tail will tend to be fast but have less control then other shapes.


Round tail/ thumb tail – There is not a ton of difference between the round tail and thumb tail other then one being a little more pulled in causing it to have less surface area. Again surface area equals lift, which is speed and acceleration, so boards that are suited for better more powerful waves will tend to have more of a round tail that is pulled in where as board that are more suited for mushy weaker waves will have a wider thumb tail. Boards with these types of tails will not be as loose as a squash tail and will draw out smooth round turns. They will hold their line better and also will work better in a barrel. Imagine the curve of a wave at is most critical part and now imagine the round tail. They are most likely a similar shape so you can see how the would fit together nicely and the board would want to ride in the pocket of the wave.


Pin Tail – This is the tail that you will find on most step up or larger wave boards. This tail will provide maximum traction and hold but will not generate much speed because of its low surface area. This tail is used in surf where you want to be able to hold your line and the wave has enough force to give you speed so the board does not have to. Because the tail has such low surface area when you put your weight back on it you will sink the tail into the water more then other tail shapes. Water likes to hug onto curves and will follow them until a break. With the pin tail when you sink your rail in the water will have maximum flow with your rail line again creating more hold with little to no release. While these boards are not ideal for small waves they excel in heavy surf and specifically people looking to ride large barrels.


Swallow Tail – This is a hybrid tail shape that comes in many variations. If you look at each tip individually they resemble two mini pin tails but because they are spread out can allow the shaper to have a wider tail and more surface area. Again this surface area will help the board create speed but because of the long rail line and sharp points the board will still have bite to it and not be loose and squirrely. One thing to keep in mind when looking at swallow tails is that the wider more pronounced that the tail is the harder that the board will be to roll rail to rail. With a more narrow swallow that board will be able to switch rails much easier. Also be careful putting these down on their tails standing up. Swallow tails love to have their tips broken!

swallow 2

Diamond tail – This is another hybrid tail that is combining a rounded pin and a squash tail. With this tail a shaper is able to maintain surface area in the board, which will result in more speed for you but also shortens the rail line of the board. A surfboard can only turn as tight as its rail line so by taking some of that off the shaper can make these boards turn a little more tight and pivotal. Because of the way that bottom contours must blend together with the boards tail the diamond is a good choice for a board that has a lot of Vee in the tail.


Winged in Tail – These are when you see an abrupt stop to the boards rail line and then the tail starts from there in a smaller line. These tails are good for very wide boards that shapers are trying to leave a lot of volume in but by stopping the rail line and pulling in the tail from there they can maintain a lot of maneuverability. This break in the rail also acts as a pivot point for the board to turn off of so when leaned onto its side will break up the water and allow the board to project where you want it to go.


Unfortunately most surfers want one board that is good for everything. I just don’t think that this is a realistic expectation. There isn’t a one size fits all board out there so being informed about what is under your feet is the best way to get the most out of your session. So when I go to surf I always check the forecast in advance and see what kind of conditions that I am going to be dealing with. If it is small and not a lot of power, I will be looking for a wider tail for the lift and acceleration. Probably either a squash or a diamond tail would be my go to. If I am going to go somewhere with a longer wave like a point break where you have plenty of time to set up and really draw out turns I choose a thumb tail. When the waves are starting to get really good and it’s a mix of powerful waves and some barrels a round tail is my tail of choice. Finally when the waves are getting really large and your really just hanging on and going straight looking for a barrel the pintail is going to be the best option.

Hopefully you were able to get something of value out of this article and now have a little better understanding of what is going on with your surfboard. If you have any other questions please feel free to drop by the shop and ask away. We are here to help and in general just love some friendly conversation about surfboards!

2 Responses to “Surfboard Tail Shapes

  • Quivers,

    Thanks for explaining the tail differences and using pictures, and summarizing at the end what the wave conditions would be for what tail deisgn. I went from a 7’4″ that was 23″ wide with a double winged swallow tail down to a 7’0″ egg with almost same width (22″) but with a rounded pin and I think I prefered the swallow tail. Surfing flat faced waves in San Diego mostly and I am always complaining to my friends that my board feels slow. It also seems to slip on steeper faces but I have been running a quad set-up for a while now even on bigger days. Hope Quivers is doing well and San Diego would love one. Thanks.


    • Thanks for reading Loren. Let me know if there are any other topics that you are interested in and would like us to cover! Hopefully we will be in San Diego soon!

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