The first thing you notice when walking into a paddleboard shop is the number boards with very different shapes. That’s because paddleboards are designed for specific types of paddling, and those shapes are part of what makes them to perform as intended. Two shape features that are very important for paddleboards are rocker and rail outline, also known as foil.
Rocker is easy to spot on a paddleboard. It is the upturn curvature of the board towards the nose and the tail. The nose rocker on a surf style paddleboard is usually more pronounced allowing the board to travel down the face of a wave without pearling- digging into the water, which will send you off the front of the board. The tail rocker is usually less pronounced and works in conjunction with the nose rocker to help facilitate maneuvering.
For flatwater paddleboards, rocker is less pronounced creating a longer water line, and consequently better speed and glide.
The rail outline, or foil, of the board is what you see when looking at the side of the paddleboard. It is the flow of thickness vs thinness in different sections of the board.
Surf paddleboards will be thinned out in the nose and tail sections and thicker through the middle section. This allows them to be light and very maneuverable.
Race paddleboards will have a more even, and thicker, rail outline from nose to tail. The high rails keep the board afloat more on the surface of the water, increasing speed and glide.
Downwind paddleboards have a thicker, more voluminous rail outline up towards the nose of the board and taper down towards the tail. This gives the board more volume up front, which helps keep the nose from diving under the water when travelling down the face of a swell.
All-around paddleboards will have enough rocker to surf, but less than surf specific paddleboards so that they will have good speed and glide for flat water cruising and touring. The rail outline will normally resemble a surf style outline but without as much taper in the nose and tail. All around paddleboards will have more volume, be more stable, and suit a wider range of people.
Rocker and rail outline (foil) are just two of the structural features that make up a paddleboard. They work in conjunction with the length and width of the board, as well as the shape of the nose, tail, rails and bottom. The next time you’re in a paddleboard shop staring at a wall of boards run your hand down the sides. Feel the thickness vs thinness of the board’s profile and notice where the board upturns and where it flattens out. This can give you a general idea of how the board performs and what type of paddleboarding it’s best suited for.