Beginner Surf Gear

Fish Surfboard: Everything You Need To Know

A fish surfboard is one of the best things for any surfer to own. It doesn’t matter what skill or experience level you’re at, you will always be able to enjoy a fish. These types of boards won’t be your first choice for pulling off crazy maneuvers, but they do 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 amongst surfers all over the world. 

What Is A Fish Surfboard

When we talk about a fish surfboard, we’re mainly referring to the fish-like tail setup. Fish surfboards have a characteristic deep swallowtail design. These boards are fairly short, thick, and flat – offering a lot more volume than a regular shortboard. 

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

The general idea when choosing a fish surfboard is that the board should be around 2 to 6 inches shorter than the rider. These boards should be thick, well-rounded, and have the wide fish tail which gives these boards 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 easier to catch less powerful waves on. However, fish surfboards are super versatile and can be ridden in all kinds of 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. The short length of the boards allows you to still perform tight turns in the pocket, and the wide tail gives you great drive down the line. Fish boards are very stable and are ideal for smaller, less-powerful waves. This doesn’t mean you can’t ride a fish in bigger conditions though. With the right rider, some fish surfboards can be taken out in all kinds of scenarios.

riding on a fish surfboard

History Of The Fish Surfboard

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

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

Steve’s fish design soon became popular, and it eventually found its way to professional surfers in the early ’70s. In fact, 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. Mark Richards, the famous Australian surfer, ended up winning 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 a greater level of 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 just how much fun these retro boards can be. 

Features Of A Fish Surfboard

A fish surfboard is easy to spot with its totally 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 swallow tail design. This is the main characteristic of a fish. Some longboards have a tail like this and are still called a fish surfboard.
  • Nose: Fish boards have a nose with a pointed tip, unlike most longboards. The nose is still really wide, and not as sharp as a typical shortboard. The shape of the board then gets gradually narrower as it reaches the tail.
  • Thickness: Fish boards are noticeably thicker than a regular shortboard.
  • 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 hardly have any rocker. These boards are generally pretty flat, much like a longboard.
  • Fins: The classic retro fish board follows a twin fin design. Quads are also really popular with fish boards. You can find all kinds of fin setups on a fish though, each one offering a unique experience.
  • Rails: Fish boards are thick, so the rails are generally pretty full. 
types of fish surfboards
Types of Almond fish surfboards

Fin Configurations On A Fish

There are no rules when it comes to the fin configuration on your fish surfboard. You can choose between all kinds of different fin setups to match your riding style and preferences. These range from a setup of five fins to a single fin, and everything in between. 

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

Four fins, or a quad, 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. You could also get a five-fin fish board if you still feel the need for another fin.

A three-fin fish, or thruster, setup is also available. This is a classic fin configuration for a shortboard, and it 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 really suitable for bigger waves and they don’t offer a great level of performance. A single fin fish does give you a really unique, old-school riding experience in the right conditions. 

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.

Benefits Of Riding A Fish

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 a great level of buoyancy and speed, making it easier to catch and ride these kinds of waves. Fish boards are also a great choice for when the waves get a bit sloppy. 

Most surfers like to pull out their fish for long, gentle points, and gentle reef and beach 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 easily, which makes them a big help in surfing 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 a perfect choice for beginners progressing to shortboards for the first time. These boards offer a good level of buoyancy and stability, making them easier to transition to from longer boards. You can even get soft-top fish boards that offer loads of fun for beginners

Most people love their fish surfboards because:

  • They offer great stability and are fairly easy to ride
  • They’re versatile for all kinds of small to medium wave conditions
  • All ages and skill levels can enjoy these boards. 
glassed in fins on a fish


There’s nothing quite like a fish surfboard. This type of surfboard is really 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 what experience level you’re at, 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.


What size fish should I ride?

This depends on your weight, size, and riding style. Generally, surfers get fish surfboards that are 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.

What are fish surfboards good for?

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. 

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