Beginner Surf Gear

Fish Surfboard Ultimate Guide: Everything You Need To Know

A Guide to the Fish Surfboard

The Fish surfboard is a great board for every surfer to have in their quiver – from beginners to expert surfers. It doesn’t matter what skill or experience level you’re at; you will always be able to enjoy a fish. Of course, fish boards won’t be your first choice for pulling off crazy maneuvers, but they offer loads of fun in the right conditions. 

In this article, we’ll explore everything you need to know about the fish surfboard and why this type of board remains a well-loved favorite among surfers worldwide. 

What Is A Fish Surfboard?

As surfers, when we talk about a fish surfboard, we mainly refer to boards with a fish-like tail setup. Fish surfboards have a distinctive deep swallowtail design. These boards are relatively short, thick, and flat – offering much more volume than a regular shortboard. 

Fish Surfboard Tail

There are many different variations of this design. Most fish boards are around 5 feet long, but some mega fish boards can measure over 8 feet. There are also various fin setups that you can choose from on a fish. 

When choosing a fish surfboard, the board should be around 2 to 6 inches shorter than the rider. In addition, these boards should be thick, well-rounded, and have a broad fishtail, which gives them their name. 

Fish surfboards are designed for catching smaller waves in less-than-perfect conditions. The wide tail and volume of the boards make them easy to paddle and catch less powerful waves on. However, fish surfboards are highly versatile and can be ridden in various conditions. 

Like mini mals, the volume of these boards gives them a lot more buoyancy than a regular shortboard. This is what makes them easier to paddle and catch waves on. While the short length of the boards still allows you to perform tight turns in the pocket, and the broad tail gives you incredible drive down the line.

Fish boards are very stable and are ideal for smaller, less-powerful waves. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t ride a fish in bigger conditions. With the right rider, some fish surfboards can be taken out in all conditions.

History Of The Fish Surfboard

The fish board first started gaining popularity in the ’70s, when surfers began moving away from single-fin designs in search of boards that offered more performance. 

Steve Lis, a San Diego-based kneeboarder, designed the original fish surfboard. When a longboard had been broken in half, he shaped it into the first fish board. This was back in 1967. His initial goal was to create a kneeboard that would offer more performance for shredding.

Steve’s fish design soon became popular and eventually found its way to professional surfers in the early ’70s. Soon after, two pro surfers, Jim Blears and David Nuuhiwa, took first and second place in the world championships after surfing fish boards in mushy San Diego conditions. 

The fish surfboard was developed further during the ’70s. For example, Mark Richards, the famous Australian surfer, won four championship titles between 1979 – 1982 on a special performance fish board of his design. This type of fish combined elements of shortboards at the time to create a board that offered greater performance. 

The popularity of the fish surfboard steadily declined as thruster shapes became more popular. However, there has been a resurging interest in fish boards as surfers realize how fun these retro boards can be. 

Features Of A Fish Surfboard

A fish surfboard is easy to spot with its unique shape. While there are all kinds of variations of fish boards, here are the essential features that make a surfboard a fish:

Tail: Firstly, the fish surfboard gets its name from its fish-like tail. The bottom ends of these boards need to have a deep swallowtail design. This is the main characteristic of a fish. Some longboards have a tail like this and are still called fish surfboards.

Nose: Fish boards have a nose with a pointed tip, unlike most longboards. The nose is still wide and not as sharp as a typical shortboard. The board’s shape then gets gradually narrower as it reaches the tail.

Thickness: Fish boards are noticeably thicker than regular shortboards, giving them extra volume.

Volume: A fish surfboard should have more volume than a regular shortboard. These boards are short, but they make up for it in their volume and thickness.

Rocker: Fish boards generally have hardly any rocker. These boards are usually pretty flat, much like a longboard.

Fins: The classic retro fish board follows a twin-fin design. A quad-fin setup is also really popular with fish boards. You can find all kinds of fin setups on a fish, each offering a unique experience.

Rails: Fish boards are thick, so the rails are generally pretty full. 

Riding a fish surfboard

What's the best Fish Surboard Fin Setup?

There are no rules for the fin configuration on your fish surfboard. Instead, you can choose whichever fin setup best matches your riding style and preferences—this can range from a five-fin setup to a single fin and everything in between. 

If you want to keep it classic, you will probably want a twin-fin setup. Two fins on a fish offer the typical retro feel many surfers love about these boards. Of course, you won’t achieve the highest-performance surfing on two fins, but the board will feel loose and smooth. 

A quad-fin setup with four fins is another popular option for a fish. This setup gives you a bit more performance and drive, allowing you to make sharper turns and take more control. Of course, you could get a five-fin fish board if this is your jam.

A tri-fin fish, or thruster, setup is also available. This is a classic fin configuration for a shortboard and can work well on a fish. A thruster setup offers a good level of performance, but it’s not a particularly popular option for the smooth style of a fish board.

Although these are rare, you can find single-fin fish surfboards. These aren’t suitable for bigger waves, as they are less responsive than other fin setups. However, a single-fin fish gives you a unique, old-school riding experience in the right conditions, such as small rolling longboard waves. 

Not sure about the fin configuration that’s best for you? You could always get a five-fin setup with removable fins and adjust the fins as you like. This allows you to use the fish as a twin fin, a quad, or a thruster. Just be aware that the fin placement with this option will be slightly different from if you buy a dedicated twin-fin fish.

Types of Almond Fish Surfboards

Why Surf a Fish Surfboard?

There’s nothing quite like the experience of riding a fish surfboard. These boards offer a unique sensation that beginners and experienced pros can enjoy. 

Fish surfboards are generally used in smaller, more gentle conditions. This is because they offer significant buoyancy and speed, making catching and riding these kinds of waves easier. Fish boards are also an excellent choice when the waves get sloppy. 

Most surfers like to pull out their fish for long, gentle point, reef and beach surf breaks. This is generally done in waist-high conditions. A fish is a perfect board for when you want to cruise on slower waves. These boards pick up speed effortlessly, making them a big help in surfing in slower conditions.

Don’t let this restrict the use of your fish, though. These are versatile boards that can be put to use in all kinds of waves. Some skilled surfers take their fish boards out in big, hollow waves. One of the main benefits of these boards is their versatility. 

A fish surfboard is also perfect for beginners progressing to shortboards for the first time. These boards offer significant buoyancy and stability, making them a great transition board for beginner surfers who want to try a shorter board. You can even get soft-top fish boards that provide loads of fun for beginner surfers. 

Most people love their fish surfboards because:

  • They offer great stability and are relatively easy to ride
  • They’re versatile for all kinds of small to medium-wave conditions
  • All ages and skill levels can enjoy these boards. 


There’s nothing quite like a fish surfboard. This type of surfboard is versatile, and it’s a great option to have available when the waves die down, and you need a bit of extra buoyancy in the water.

No matter your experience level, it’s never a bad idea to own a fish board. Whether you want to get into retro, old-school surfing or are just looking for something to ride when the waves are small, a fish will become your new favorite board.

Frequently Asked Questions

What size fish surfboard should i get?

This depends on your weight, size, and riding style. Generally, surfers get fish surfboards about 3 to 6 inches shorter than their height. If you’re heavier, you might want something a bit bigger.

Are fish surfboards good for beginners?

Fish boards are more stable and forgiving than regular shortboards. This makes them a good choice of boards to transition to from a longboard or mini mal.

Fish surfboards aren’t necessarily the best type of board to learn on, but they are a great option for beginners who want to start riding something a bit shorter.

When should I use a fish surfboard?

Fish surfboards are ideal for slower, smaller waves, or mushy conditions. These boards are really versatile and can be used in all kinds of small to medium-sized waves. They are stable and have more volume than a regular shortboard. Some skilled surfers even ride their fish boards in hollow, overhead conditions. 

Are fish surfboards good for big waves?

Fish surfboards are generally not the right board for bigger waves.

This is because bigger waves are generally steeper, and the thicker rails are more inclined to dig into the wave and cause you to wipe out.

Fish boards are often less responsive than a typical shortboard due to the thickness making it more difficult to control your turns in critical sections of the wave.

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