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The Evolution of Surfboard Design

Surfboard Design in the 1990s
There is a wide variety of surfboards to choose from.
There is a wide variety of surfboards to choose from.
Jan Cobb Photography Ltd/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

The major development in surfboards over the last 20 years has been the many different kinds of surfboards available, each suited to different tastes or wave-tackling abilities, the result of tinkering with heavily entrenched surfboard designs.

Developments have focused around the rail curve and what can be done with the board's underside. Different rail curves are available for different surfing abilities. A straight-cut rail allows for a faster turn; a softer, curved rail slows down turns and is better for beginners. As for the underside, shapes are cut to redirect water flow. A double-concave bottom surfboard shifts water through two small depressions, allowing for a smooth ride and easy control. A V-bottom offers a V-shape in the middle of the board, which helps mount vertical waves.

Designers now offer up several overall styles of surfboards, including the fish board (for short, flat waves), the Mini Malibu (long and wide, the modern incarnation of the longboard) and the longboard gun, which combines the lightness of a shortboard with the length of a longboard, allowing the surfer to tackle big waves, especially during tow-in surfing. Prior to the development of the longboard gun, surfers wanting to access waves higher than 25 feet (7.6 meters) had to be towed out because they couldn't paddle fast enough to reach them in time. Modern gun boards give the length necessary for stability along with the speed to reach those waves.

Manufacturing is more streamlined and precise, more so in recent years because of board-designing software. The CAD/CAM program from D.A.T. hit the market in 1994 and has been updated many times since. It can be linked to automated machinery, fully automating the process of building a surfboard out of synthetic materials to exact specifications -- a long way from the heavy redwood logs of the 19th century.