A Guide: Surfboard Rail Types & Shapes Explained

Every aspect of your surfboard impacts how it surfs, from the control provided by the fins to the stability offered by the surfboard’s length and thickness and overall shape.

One of the biggest things impacting performance is the surfboard’s rails.

Understanding how the rails of a surfboard work and what you need to look for in a new surfboard can make it easier to choose your next high-performance surfboard, fish, or longboard.

What are Surfboard Rails & What Do They Do?

In simple terms, the rails of a surfboard are the edges or the sides of a surfboard. They span the full length of your surfboard, from the nose to the tail, and cover both sides.

Unlike surfboard fins, which can come in dozens of shapes and sizes, rail types are relatively straightforward and can be separated into a few different categories.

Surfboard Rails: Hard Rails vs Soft Rails

The rails of a surfboard will dictate how easy it is to glide through the water and the types of turns your surfboard will do well with.

A “hard” rail on a surfboard is one with an edge while a “soft” rail is rounded off and is smooth.

Hard Surfboard Rails Are For Performance Surfing

If your surfboard rails are hard, it will be easier for your to cut through the water. Hard rails are found on performance shortboards but you will also find hard rails on other smaller surfboards like fishes and even mid-lengths.

Hard rails allows a surfer to dig the rail into the water when the rider is in a critical part of a wave like in the barrel and during turns such as bottom turns and cutbacks.

A hard rail acts like another fin on the surfboard during turns as they are sharp enough to penetrate the water giving the surfer a solid, stable feel as they transition from one position on the wave to another.

Hard Rails and Rail-to-Rail Surfing

Surfboards with hard rails are good for “rail-to-rail surfing”, also called “carving” or “S turns”, during which a surfer will use both the inside rail (the rail in the wave face) and the outside rail (the rail closet to the beach) to pump down the line of a wave generating speed and setting themselves up for a big turn or an air.

Surfboards with hard rails give a surfer a lot of room for performance but they are also less forgiving than softer rails given their cuts-like-a-knife edge that naturally wants to dig into the water.

When you see a surfer performing a cut back or a bottom turn with almost half of their surfboard submerged in the water (which is referred to as “surfing on rail”) they are riding a surfboard with hard rails.

Soft Surfboard Rails Are For Stability

Surfboard that have soft rails provide more resistance and buoyancy, making it easier for the surfboard to float and remain stable on the water. Soft rails (aka “round rails” or “full rails” or “boxy rails”) are the better choice for beginner surfers. Note the rails of a Wavestorm. The shape of Wavestorm rails are soft.

Longboards, fun boards and summer grovelers typically have softer rails than a shortboard.

Can A Surfboard Have Both Hard And Soft Rails?

Many surfboards including shortboard all the way up to longboards provide a blend of hard and soft rails to allow for great speed and buoyancy. They typically have soft rails through the middle of the board and the nose before blending into hard rails through the tail.

What is Surfboard Rail Foil?

The foil of a surfboard rail refers to its thickness and how the material is distributed along the rail. The foil generally varies in range from a 50/50 to 80/20.

Surfboard Rails by Percentages

Let’s take a look at surfboard rails foils from the least performing surfboard to the most performing staring with 50/50 rails.

The number, be it 50/50 or 60/40 or 80/20, refers to the ratio and describes where the widest point of the rail is. For example, a 50/50 rail will have the widest part of the surfboard in the middle of the rail while an 80/20 rail will have the widest part of the surfboard closer towards the bottom of the surfboard where the surfboard connects with the water.

The top number refers to the top portion of the rail which you can think of as the deck side. The bottom number refer to the portion of the rail that is associated with the bottom of the surfboard.

What Are 50/50 Surfboard Rails?

50/50 surfboard rails are for cruising and trimming.

You frequently find 50/50 rails on longboards that are designed for nose riding and other small-wave surfboards. Longboards with 50/50 rails also provide that feeling of glide and allow you to trim the board easier.

What Are 60/40 Surfboard Rails For?

60/40 surfboard rails are for turning and stability.

A 60/40 rail (60 referring to rail that is on the deck side of the surfboard) is turned down a bit compared to the 50/50 rail and is seen mostly on groveler surfboards, fishes and funboards. 60/40 rails provide surfers with a good amount of performance and stability in smaller wave and/or for intermediate surfers.

What Are 80/20 Surfboard Rails For?

80/20 surfboard rails are for performance. Performance shortboard surfboards have 80/20 rails.

This means that approximately 80% of the rail is turned down toward the bottom of the surfboard which allows the surfer to bite into the wave when they are turning. Professional surfers on tour are most likely using shortboards with 80/20 rails.

You may also hear terms like “Round Rail”, “Down Rail”, “Rolled Rail”, and “Down-Turned Rail” to describe 80/20 rails.

How Do I Choose A Surfboard Rail Shape?

If you’re a beginner surfer, you don’t need to worry about the exact rail specifications of your surfboard. Just look for something that is long, affordable, and provides a lot of volume and stability, as that will help with paddling and will allow you to tackle small to medium waves without issue.

If you are an intermediate surfer with more experience under your belt, speak with your surfboard shaper or retailer to find the perfect surfboard rail based on your preferred surfing style and the type of waves that you’re hoping to ride.

Conclusion: Surfboard Rails

The rails of a surfboard are why surfers primarily buy surfboards. They pick up the surfboard, put it under their arm like they are walking to the beach and determine if they like the feel of the surfboard by holding the rail.

Functionally, the rail is a very important part of a surfboard. Every turn is done with the surfboard rail. Rounder, softer rails that are not too big are very forgiving.

Surfboards designed for faster waves will have a thinner rails to help them cut through the water when making bottom turns, cutbacks and other turns. A standard shortboard will have thinner rails.

Surfboards designed for smaller, weaker waves will have bigger rails that helps them stay on top of the water more. A groveler shortboard designed to rip in small mushy surf is a good example of a fuller rail.

Be sure to get the right rail for the your skill level and surf conditions that you typically surf in.