Every aspect of your surfboard impacts how it surfs, from the control provided by the fins to the stability offered by the board’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?
In simple terms, the rails of a surfboard are just the edges. They span the full length of your board, 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.
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 is one with an edge while a “soft” rail is rounded off.
Hard Surfboard Rails Are For Performance
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 board with hard rails.
Soft Surfboard Rails Are For Stability
Surfboard that have soft rails provide more resistance and buoyancy, making it easier for the board to float and remain stable on the water. Soft rails (aka “round rails” or “full rails” or “boxy rails”) are the better choice for beginners. Note the rails of a Wavestorm. The shape of Wavestorm rails are soft.
Longboards, fun boards and summer grovelers typically have softer rails.
Can A Surfboard Have Both Hard And Soft Rails?
Many surfboards 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.
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 from a 50/50, which means the wide point is halfway down the board, to an 80/20, where the wide point is 80% down rail.
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 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 board 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.
50/50 Surfboard Rails For Cruising
You frequently find 50/50 rails on longboards that are designed for nose riding. Longboards with 50/50 rails also provide that feeling of glide and allow you to trim the board easier.
60/40 Surfboard Rails For Turning & 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.
80/20 Surfboard Rails For Performance
Performance 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.
Getting the Right Rail
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 have a little more experience under your belt, speak with your 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.