Surfboard Fins, Types, and Variations: A Complete Guide

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  08.02.2023
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Surfing is a sport that requires A LOT of gear, and one of the most important pieces is of course….the surfboard. But what exactly is a surfboard?

A surfboard is a buoyant platform, strong enough to support an individual while riding a wave, invented in Hawaii as “papa he’e nalu” made of wood from local trees. Major advances added fins on the bottom rear for directional stability, and lightweight fiberglass-covered polyurethane foam for buoyancy and maneuverability.

Let’s look at all the types and variations that make up today’s surfboards.

What is a surfboard

The Different Types of Surfboards


Longboards are the perfect choice for those just starting out in the surfing world. They’re like the training wheels of the surfboard world – they’re long, heavy and provide a good amount of stability. Plus, they’re great for those who are looking for a chill ride. With a longboard, you can cruise along the waves, take in the scenery and just enjoy the ride.


Shortboards are the more advanced option for experienced surfers. They’re typically between 5’5″ – 6’5″ and have a pointed nose. They’re great for carving, which means you can make sharp turns and get a more intense ride. Plus, they’re faster than longboards, so you can really get the most out of your surfing experience.


For the true surfing enthusiast, a quiver is the way to go. A quiver is a collection of different surfboards with different shapes and designs. This way, you can switch up your surfing experience depending on your skill level or personal preferences. Whether you’re looking for a chill ride or an intense one, you can find the perfect board for you.

What Makes Up a Surfboard?

The Deck

This is the top of the board, where you’ll be standing, kneeling, or laying flat to paddle out from the shore. It’s like the captain’s deck on a ship!

The Nose and Tail

The nose is the front-most part of the board, and the tail is at the rear. Longboards usually have a rounded nose, and shortboards have a pointed one.


These connect the nose to the tail, and they can be curved in different ways depending on the board.


This is the part that helps you steer the board and keep it on track.


When you look at the board from the side, you’ll see the rocker. It can be flatter or more peaked, depending on the design.

So there you have it – the five components that make up a surfboard. Without them, you’d just be floating in the ocean, so make sure you know your deck from your nose, your tail from your fin, and your rails from your rocker!

Understanding Surfboard Fins

What are Surfboard Fins?

Surfboards come with different numbers of fins attached to the bottom side, opposite the deck. These fins, also known as ‘daggers’ or ‘stingers’, are always attached to the tail-end of the board.

Types of Fins

There are four main types of fins:

  • Single Fin: This one-fin setup is found on longboards.
  • Twin Fin: This two-fin setup is commonly seen on shortboards.
  • Thruster: A three-fin setup, found on both longboards and shortboards, is the most popular style and provides more control and stability.
  • Quad Fin: This four-fin setup offers speed and drive when making turns.

What’s the Big Deal?

Surfers know that the right fin setup can make or break your ride. Whether you’re a longboarder or shortboarder, you need to make sure you’ve got the right fins for the job. So, don’t be a fin-atic, get the right fins for your board!

What Goes Into Making a Surfboard?

The Science Behind It

Surfboard shapers have long been using foam and a tensile skin to create a stiff deck with positive buoyancy. This process is known as Toucan beak engineering. But, with all the heat and water exposure, delamination can be an issue.

The Materials

Surfboards are made of foam and resin, and there are a few different materials used in the construction process:

  • Polyurethane (PU) foam and polyester resin have been used since the 1950s. Hand-shaped boards are often made of PU since it’s easy to form by hand. It’s also affordable, but it can be toxic, non-recyclable, and less stiff than other materials.
  • Polystyrene (PS) foam and epoxy resin is lighter, but not as strong. It’s more environmentally friendly, can last longer, and is recyclable. But it’s more time consuming to shape by hand.
  • Expanded polystyrene (EPS) is the lightest foam material used, but it’s difficult to shape by hand. It also absorbs water easily.
  • Extruded polystyrene (XPS) is heavier than EPS, and it resists water absorption better. But it can be more prone to delamination.
  • Fiberglass is the most common skin material, but bamboo, carbon fiber, hemp, kevlar, and innegra are also used.

Surfboard Types and Variations


Ah, the good ol’ shortboard. This is the classic surfboard that comes to mind when most people think of surfing. It’s usually between 6 and 7 feet long, with a pointy nose and a rounded or squared-off tail. It usually has three fins, but sometimes you’ll see two or five.

Shortboards are great for maneuvering, but they don’t have much flotation, so they can be hard to catch waves with. You’ll need some pretty steep, powerful waves and a late takeoff to make it work.


The Bonzer is a surfboard designed by the Campbell Brothers that has three or five fins and a big center fin with two to four smaller side fins (side bites). This, combined with deep double concave channels, creates a unique board. The manufacturer claims that these channels help the water flow off the board, giving it more control and versatility.


Hybrid boards are a mix of shortboards and longboards, usually between 6 and 8.5 feet long. They have a more rounded profile and tail shape, and they can have any fin setup. They’re more about having fun than doing tricks, so they’re great for beginners or anyone looking for a good all-around board.

Balsa Fish

The Balsa Fish is a short, stubby board, usually under 6 feet long. It was developed from kneeboards in 1967 by Steve Lis, and other famous fish shapers include Skip Frye, Larry Mabile and Steve Brom. It usually has a twin fin setup and a swallow tail shape, and it’s great for smaller waves. It’s had a resurgence in popularity in recent years, thanks to legendary surfer Tom Curren.

Mid Lengths

Mid length surfboards are usually between 7 and 8 feet long and have a more performance-focused shape than regular boards. They have a narrow outline and a thruster fin setup, so they’re great for small and weak waves, as well as larger, mushier waves. They’re also really versatile, so they’re great for fun and performance.


Guns are big wave boards, usually between 7 and 12 feet long. They have a thin, almost needle-like profile and a single, quad, or thruster fin setup. They look like shortboards, but they’re much bigger. They’re great for big wave locations like Waimea Bay, Jaws, and Mavericks.


Surfboard Vs Paddleboard

Surfboards are designed to be lightweight and agile, so surfers can zip through the water and ride the waves. On the other hand, paddle boards are much bigger and wider, with a higher volume to keep them afloat even with extra weight on top. So if you’re looking for something to zip around on, a surfboard is your best bet. But if you’re looking for something to take out for a leisurely paddle, a paddle board is the way to go. Plus, you can fit more people and gear on a paddle board, so it’s great for a day out with friends and family.

Surfboard Vs Softboard

When it comes to surfing, the debate between hard-top and soft-top surfboards is a hot topic. Hard-top surfboards are made with a polyurethane or expanded polystyrene foam, then covered with a polyester or epoxy resin that creates a hardened surface. Soft-top surfboards, on the other hand, have a soft deck top, making them a great option for beginners.

Hard-top boards are more durable and can handle bigger waves, but they’re also heavier and more expensive. Soft-top boards, however, are lighter, more affordable and provide a softer, more forgiving ride. They’re also easier to maneuver and less intimidating for novice surfers. So if you’re just starting out, a soft-top board is probably the way to go.


Surfboards are a science and an art as you’ve seen by now. It takes the right materials and A LOT of know-how to make a board that can handle the waves.

So, next time you’re out on the water, take a moment to appreciate the craftsmanship that went into your board! Have fun, and SURF’S UP!

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Kauai Surf Report is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new sports with everything surfing at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2019 to help loyal readers with surfing and water sporting tips.