Three ‘s Company:
The Triad Quiver For Everyman
Most surfers don’t house enormous board quivers. The only people lucky enough to enjoy an endless supply of surfboards are usually the pros, and maybe the occasional surfing investment banker. The majority of us just keep a few boards in rotation that cater to a diverse range of potential surf conditions and performance styles. Selecting the right sticks is no easy task, but there is a certain science to it.
Three boards is a realistic number to shoot for when building an ideal mini quiver. From there, a rider must evaluate his ability level as well as his geographic location. For example: novices often gravitate toward slightly thicker and wider boards, and shapes vary slightly for the East and West Coasts—even more dramatically for those dwelling in Hawai‘i or other power swell magnets. “There are so many variables with surfboards and equipment,” says Matt Kechele of Kechele Surfboards in Melbourne, Florida. “What some consider a fun board,
others might see completely different.”
But Kechele and other esteemed boardmakers offer similar views on building a practical trio. “The average surfer uses the normal shortboard as their staple board,” says Steve Boysen of SB Surfboards in Oceanside, California. “Then they’ll have a step-up that’s two or three inches bigger than their regular shortboard for when it’s overhead and heavier. And lastly, they’ll usually have a fish shape that’s good for small waves—waist-high or smaller. That’s the most common setup I see that covers most conditions.”
Aside from the standard shortboard, there’s plenty of wiggle room for personal preference in the smalland big-wave slots. Some may opt for a traditional longboard or a midsized egg shape instead of a fish. The same also applies to the bigger wave board depending on how hard you want to charge. Boysen says he has noticed a trend, though—big-wave boards are definitely getting smaller: “No one really has huge guns anymore. The only guys that I’m making 7’6”s for these days are the ones surfing Pipe. Three inches longer these days is huge. Guys want to hot dog bigger waves with smaller boards—they’re not just trying to make the drop.”
That said, it all depends on your priorities. “I’m always looking to get barreled,” pro/hellman Greg Long says, “So I have no problem riding a little bigger board even if it isn’t the perfect size for doing turns. A bit more foam can help you chase down peaks when you’re paddling, as well as get you in and out of tubes easier.”
Your all-around, go-to board in waves head-high and under.
(Three to five inches longer than your shortboard) Use this bad boy when the swell pumps overhead and you need extra size for paddling and negotiating the ledge.
(Three to six inches shorter than your shortboard) Break it out during those smaller, waist-high sessions, ’cause this flat shape is all about speed.
Swallow, square, squash, diamond,rounded pin, half moon, elliptical …
the list of possible shapes that describe the tail of a surfboard goes on and on. But what do these different tail shapes actually do? It’s common knowledge that a pintail is typical of a big-wave board and 95 percent of 6’2” shortboards are squashtails, but why? Is there really a huge difference between getting a rounded pin, squash, swallow, or something else on your shortboard, and could the average surfer even tell the difference?
“I think so,” says master shaper Rusty Preisendorfer. “You start splitting hairs when you’re talking about a rounded squash versus a squash, but I like to tell people that basically an angular tail creates a more angular turn.” It makes sense when you visualize how water flows off the back of a board as it goes through a turn. The smoother the rail line is, as on a pin or rounded pin, the smoother the turn will tend to be. “Water is kind of a sticky substance,” says Todd Proctor of Proctor Surfboards. “It’s touching your board at the entry point, grabbing the rails, and the last thing it does before leaving the board is bending around the tail shape. It can bend around the tail and hold on to it the whole way, like on a rounded pin, which keeps things stable. On a squash, square, or any tail where you have some flat area, water jumps off the flat areas. That creates a pivot point and makes the board skatier.”
For shortboard, the squashtail is the undisputed king of tails. The reason they’re so popular is that the wider tail shape creates more volume back there, which translates to more stability and lift, so they’re good for mushy sections, but they fair well in hollow surf, too. In a word, they’re versatile. “The water wraps around enough so it can carve,”says Proctor, “but with the flat space at the end of the tail, the water can release and you can make the board pop off the lip. You’ve got the best of both worlds; it’ll draw a nice, clean arcing turn, but it’ll still release.” Okay, so rounded pins are smoother, and squashtails have lift and release. What about the wily and weird swallowtail? “Depending on the depth of the cut, you’ll get a bitier tail. Swallowtails sink and bite a little better,” explains Rusty.
That, too, makes sense, especially when you consider that most fish-type shapes have swallowtails. The thinking is that you want to have as loose a tail as possible on a fish, because their typically straight outlines make them quick down the line but harder to turn, and a bitier tail shape compensates for that. If you’re still having trouble processing some of the subtleties of tail design, Rusty describes it this way: “Just imagine you have three squashtails that are all the same: What happens if you cut a notch out of the tail and turn it into a swallow? Well, you lose area and volume, and that corner goes into the water and it becomes bitier. What happens if you sanded the corners off a squash? You lose some area, but you gain curve so the tail sinks a little easier and the board will be smoother feeling.” Apply that thinking to the rest of your questions about tail shapes, and you start to get an idea about the cause-and-effect relationship each design has.
But ultimately, you have to actually ride each one of these different tails to really know how they differ. So get out there and start filling out an order form and experiment a little. You can stay conservative and order that swallowtail or rounded pin you’ve always thought about, or just go hog wild and order up some crazy asymmetrical tail—either way, you’ll end up knowing more about surfboards.