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Fish Surfboard: Complete Guide

Updated: Apr 8, 2023

No board has had quite the longevity of the fish surfboard.

It has remained a staple in many surfers' quivers for years now.

They are great in almost any conditions but the thick rails and wider noses make this board perfect for small mushy waves.

What is a Fish Surfboard?

The most defining characteristic of the fish is the v-shaped swallow tail and most commonly paired with a keel twin fin setup.

The fish has evolved over the years and has seen more performance based designs but has more or less stayed true to the original design first seen in the 1970s.

History of a Fish Surfboard

The fish has a rich history centering around San Diego shaper Steve Lis. Lis was a local San Diego kneeboarder who decided to shape his broken longboard into a more maneuverable and shorter design. In 1967 he came up with the classic fish design that surfers have known and loved for decades. Lis designed the board for hollow reef breaks but kept the rails and nose thick so he could paddle into waves with ease. He also prioritized speed with the swallow twin fin design. Word began to spread in the surfing world about the fish after Jim Blears won the World Championship riding the board in small San Diego waves. The fish has seen some re-designs over the years but there are still fish purists out there, one of them being San Diego shaper Ryan Burch. Burch reestablished the fish as a good wave board in the film “Psychic Migrations" where he rides a beautiful self shaped rainbow fish in near perfect waves.

Advantages of Fish Surfboard

There’s a reason why the fish has earned longevity in the surfing world. It’s one of the most reliable shapes ever created.

To start, the wide nose and thick rails make paddling a breeze and on top of that they are great transition boards from longboarding to shortboarding because of their paddle ability.

Then the swallowtail allows for a ton of hold and stability because of how wide they usually have to be. The swallow also contributes to an increase in speed and allows you to hold a rail while completing a turn.

The typical twin fin design usually is done for speed and a looser feel under your feet.

Overall, the fish will be a pretty loose and fluid ride, don’t expect to launch an air or do a viscous snap with it.

Disadvantages of a Fish Surfboard

The fish isn’t the perfect board for everyone.

Despite being designed for speed, these boards can sometimes bog because of how thick the rails and nose are. They are also really hard to duck-dive.

The overall design contains a lot of drag which makes for a pretty slow ride.

Some may not love the loose ride that the fish brings so that could be another frustrating aspect for some surfers.

Turning on the fish can be a pretty slow process and it definitely lacks the punch of a modern day thruster.

Best Places to Ride a Fish Surfboard

There’s no better place to surf the fish than where it was created.

San Diego and more particularly the famous Point Loma and La Jolla reef breaks are perfect for the fish.

Really any waist high mushy break along the California coast is ideal for the fish. It can also be surfed in good waves like Ryan Burch proved in “Psychic Migrations”.

How to Shape a Fish Surfboard

A lot of this depends on your particular dimensions that you want but for our purposes we will lay out some of the basic steps to shaping a fish.

Just like any board you're going to want to start out with a foam blank. You then want to cut out your swallowtail and wide nose.

The next step is a lot of sanding to determine how thick you want your rails to be or how much rocker you want.

After you’ve completely shaped the board to your liking, it’s time to glass the board.

Typically this is done at a local glasser or can be done by yourself with resin and fiberglass cloth.

Where to Buy a Fish Surfboard

Many surfboard shapers have some sort of fish shape available so we listed a few below.

It’s also worth checking out a local shaper to see what kind of fish they can shape.

Typically this will be much more catered to your liking compared to buying a stock board.

Fish Surfboards

The fish has stayed around for a reason. It’s been such a reliable shape and has shown no signs of going out of style. So jump on the wave and shape or purchase a fish!


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