Surfboard Rail Types and The Mechanics

Surfboard rail determines maneuverability and is one of the most confusing parts of surfboard mechanics. Different variables and practical applications of surfboard rail will be discussed in this article.

How Does Surfboard Rail Work?

When a surfer leans on the side to bury the rail, it causes a change in the pressure/flow of the water. The surfboard will travel with the least pressure/resistance and it causes the surfboard to turn. The deeper the rail penetrates the water, the greater change it causes and the turns become sharper.

Surfboard rail also assists in generating the speed. Once the rail is buried, the board wants to bounce back out due to the buoyancy. This buoyancy allows the surfer to generate the speed after a turn. Therefore you may notice the surfer will shift the board side to side doing “pumping” to generate the speed. If you want to learn more about generating the speed, read here.

How To Put Surfboard On Rail?

To put a surfboard on a rail, a surfer must lean to the side he/she wishes to turn and bury the rail. Once the board is on a rail, the surfboard will start to turn.

For most beginner surfers, engaging rail this manner is difficult because they lack speed. If a beginner surfer attempt to engage a rail without speed, they will fall to the side.

See how this snowboarder can make dramatic turn while on speed? This is not possible at low speed, he will fall to the side. This is the same for surfing. If you want to tilt the board, you must have speed.

If you want to learn more about learn how to generate speed, I have covered the topic thoroughly here.

When a surfer is on a wave, burning the rail could mean maintaining the position. For example, picture a someone inside a barrel. There is upwards sucking motion from the wave and there is gravity pulling the surfer down. Being on a rail will maintain the balance between two and keeping thee forward momentum.

What is the difference between Harder and Softer Rail?

Hard rail cause the water to shoot out and soft rail lets the wrap around the rail. This is because of the difference in the angle at the bottom of the rail and this affects how the water flows around the rail

Hard rail refers to a sharp angle at the bottom of the rail where it meets the bottom of the surfboard. Having a sharp angle, water does not like to follow the surface, instead, it shoots the water out the side. Therefore, on a hard rail, the surfboard tend to stay on top of the water.

Soft rail, on the other hand, has a round edge and lets the water follow around it smoothly. This allows the rail to get imbedded in the water. It helps the surfer to sink the rail in the water

So what does that mean to your surfing?

Hard rail will allow the board to slide across the top of the water while soft rail allows more embedded in the water. Having less water around it, a hard rail allows a more abrupt turn and a soft rail turn gets embedded into the water allowing a more controlled turn.

Rail types also affect the speed of the board. Hard rail will help the surfboard maintain its speed by keeping the board above the water and softer rail will alow more water around the board causing some drag.

The harder rail usually takes up the very back of the board, which helps the surfer to engage in turn. Because harder rail tent to slip, the fins are there to help to stabilise. Having a harder edge at the tail, also has benefit because it stays on the top of the water, reducing the drag.

However, the tail end of the board could have softer rail for specific purpose such as noseride. Nose rider board often comes with softer rail, because it helps the stabilise.

To have the best of the both world, surfboard shapers have used many different variations.

The rail design, however, is not black or white. There is almost infinite variation of the surfboard rails and different terms are used to describe such as 40/60 or 50/50.

What does 40/60 or 50/50 rail mean?

40/60 or 50/50 refers to where the widest point of the rail is positioned.

40/60: the widest point has moved to towards the bottom of the surfboard. this allows some degrees of water to spit out as it travels up the rail. Therefore, it carries characteristics of hard rail and is used to enhance the performance of the surfboards.

50/50: The widest point of the rail is in the middle of its thickness. Like the soft rail, the water will tend to wrap around the rail, allowing more grip and resistance. Therefore, it adds on the hold, but loses on speed and may drag in slow speed.

What Is The Difference Between Boxy Rail and Thin/Tapered Rail?

Boxy rail refers to the increased thickness of the rail. The outline of the deck does not taper down much and it gets carried all the way to the rail. Therefore, the rail resembles a box like shape making the rail thick

Thin/taped rail, on the other hand has thiner outline. Therefore, on the deck, the volume decreases from its stringer down to the rail.

The amount of the tapering differs from board to board. Therefore most board sits in the spectrum of two. The more it tapers more responsive the board gets and more boxy rail provide the stability, buoyancy and paddle power.

The trick is to find the balance between two. once the rail gets too thin, there is no bounce back once the rail gets buried in the water, and it cannot generate the speed and tend to only catch the edge.

Whereas if the rail is too thick, it’s difficult to dip the rail, and only trimming gets posbble.

where the bottom of the rail is almost equal to the top of the rail. This increases the volume in the rail, affects the stability and performance of the surfboard.

This concept is closely related how the board act depending on the thickness. I have covered the different aspect of surfboard dimensions such as length, width and thickness here.

If you want to learn more about another aspect such as volume, read here.


My name is James, the person behind With 15 years of experience in surfing, I am excited to help you on the journey to becoming a competent surfer.

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