How To Pick the Right Tail

| posted on January 03, 2012

Michel Bourez knows that a narrower tail works in your favor when trying to drive through heaving sections at Sunset. Photo: Lowe-White

Although tail shapes are an important part of surfboard design, many surfers remain oblivious to the effects that tail shape has on how a board rides. Were you riding a round pin at 1-foot Creek? A swallow at 6-foot Haleiwa, perhaps? Repent! To give us the 101 on how your tail works, we rang up the esteemed Wade Tokoro: a man with more than 25 years of experience behind the planer for some insight.

Because pin tails have less surface area than other types of tails, they’re going to be fitting into the wave tighter and giving you more control over your board. True pin tails are typically used in really hollow, barreling surf—think Pipeline or Teahupoo—because at the end of the day, you really don’t want to be sliding around too much out there, you want to be in the tube. As a basic rule of thumb: the wider the tail, the looser the board.

Most of the rounded pins that I make are shaped for step-up boards. It makes a lot of sense if you look at the design of the tail. You’re taking the same approach that you have for a pin tail—you want something that will grip the wave a bit—but you’re adding a touch more surface area, which loosens up the feel of the board a little. A good example of a place you’d ride a round pin would be Sunset on a pretty solid, but not totally maxed-out day. You still want to be able to hold yourself into the wave, but you also want to have the option of drawing some lines and doing some turns.

Squash tails are usually a safe choice and they make up the bulk of the boards that I shape. Because of their outline, they’re really user friendly and versatile in a lot of conditions. It’s a design that suits the type of waves that most of us spend our time surfing. Because of the way the tail sits in the water—being stubby and wide—you’re able to get a lot more out of your turns and the board feels a lot looser because it’s not gripping the wave as much. It’ll also carry you through the flats pretty well and should be your go-to choice for small to medium-sized surf.

I mostly cut swallow tails when I’m shaping a fish and other playful types of boards I’m making. Because the design is so wide and there’s so much surface area, you can really sink it when you’re riding it. The design’s mostly conducive to small, playful types of conditions when you want to slide the tail around a lot.

  • zeno malan

    I prefer the combo of diamond squash, width of board dictates, and single fin deep enough to be 1/3 longer than base to rail in a box that will allow more forward than normal( so fin has to be a tad taller) ‘Bat foil’ – my design works best(3separate surfaces on fin)
    For funneling type waves, (Skeleton Coast, S Africa/Namibia) use slightly smaller fin and move it back 2-3 inches.

    You’re good to go in all conditions.

  • Bobby W. Harris

    Hello, great information, thank you. I was wandering if surfing in Texas with mostly small surf throughout the year 3ft-6ft if a squalsh tail 7’6 is a good board. – just started to surf 3 months ago and I am not doing any airs yet. I am borrowing and renting boards for now but I want to buy the best board for Texas surf and I like the 7’6 length and control on 3ft days and 6ft days. Thank you for your time

  • zeno malan


    Think fat and wide Bobby. Most important? Get your own board. Constantly changing mounts is detrimental to all riding skills.

    Save that for later.

    Takes about 6 years to learn in Cali,, double that in Texas.

  • Mike KELSO

    Got a 5’2″ knee board with a nice kick in the nose, egg rails with a sharp edge, thick mid section down to a thin diamond tail with a DEEP fin and two small fins on the rail to help keep me from side slipping on a steep wave. Before leashes I had two rope handles 2″ from the rails and could go left all day at the Cliffs when others were afraid of loosing their boards on the rocks. Back when there was a little respect if you had the skill no matter where you went. Love my board. Surfing since 67.

  • taku horie

    It’d be good if you have more feedback from Wade. I noticed more than 20 percent of the WCT surfers are using his boards for Tirple Crown last couple of years. To name a few, Mick Fanning, Julian Wilson, Hank Gaskel, Sunny, Granger Larson, JOB, Adriano De Souza, Gabriel, Jordy Smith, the Hobgoods and more.

  • J

    Seek Jesus and HE will solve all of your problems, nothing else will. God Bless.

  • jason


  • brokenbuttcheeks

    ^^ can he sort my tax return out then? sweet.