Rails: The Secret Sauce of Surfing by Larry Gordon (1996)


In the 1950s and early 60s the typical surfboard had some variation of a "50/50" rail. In the late 60s and early 70s boards got short  and rails started to change. I remember Dick Brewer with one of the first "downrail" designs. The board was 7' long and we went to the Mission Beach Jetties to test it. It was a dramatic improvement. It was just what the shortboard needed. The "downrail" became the standard for ALL shortboards.

Why Downrail Longboards?

when longboarding became popular again, most shapers kept putting those "shortboard downrails" on the new longboards. Why? ....habit, ignorance, easier to do, longboard inexperience...who knows? A result is that many people ride those downrail longboards today. I believe you can adapt to anything.

Anything Works

Before I bought my first board, I had access to a round bottom, knife railed balsa wood nightmare. it was extremely unstable and the rails would catch. After several weeks of riding it, I noticed that the board worked a lot better. The board hadn't changed. I had adapted to an inferior design that limited my performance.

The "50/50" Flavor

I feel the same about "downrail longboards." You can adapt but your performance can be better with "50/50" rails. The "50/50" rails don't catch, are not stiff, don't "track", they turn smoother and they flow in and out of all transitions better. I do advocate dropping the rails at the tail which doesn't adversely affect the positive characteristics. There are of course other important design factors but the shape of your rail definitely affects the flavor of your surfing. Don't believe me? Ask Skip Frye. Talk to Kevin Connelly about his longer boards. Look at what Joel Tudor rides.

Published in the "Oracle" a publication made by Pacific Beach Surf Club
Published in 1996
Written by: Larry Gordon

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