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A surfboard design invented by Steve Lis of San Diego, California, which features a wide nose and broad swallow-type tail design, with a twin-fin setup; in recent years, refers to almost any short, stubby, wide surfboard.

A fish surfboard design is a shorter board that is wider and thicker than a standard shortboard. They typically have a flatter rocker and most often come in a twin fin setup, though quad fin fish are becoming popular. There is usually more width towards the front of the board, resulting in a fat nose and gradual taper towards a swallow tail.

Fish are great summer boards and can handle smaller mushy surf much better than a typical shortboard. The flatter rocker allows them to plane at low speeds and float over white water sections, but it is sometimes difficult to avoid pearling on steep drop-ins. The swallow tail combines the tight turns of a pin tail with the stability of a square tail allowing more versatility in the way the board handles.

When you ride a fish you might notice it is always seeking the flat corners of the wave. These boards love to be taken out there so they can make a wide turn back towards the curl. These surfboards are also known for their ability to make very tight pivotal turns which helps when riding in small conditions. If you are having trouble enjoying mushy and meager conditions, then it might be time to add a fish to your quiver.


The Fish was originally designed in the early '70s as a board that could be used as a kneeboard and stand-up surfboard, hence its designation as a hybrid. At the time, many surfers were infatuated with the new concept of "total involvement" surfing. Just how deep and tight a rider could surf in the curl was still being mapped out, and there were those -- influenced by George Greenough's example -- who thought that perhaps kneeriding was the best path to "total involvement in the curl."

The Fish wasn't the first split-tailed board, nor was it the first twin-fin. Both of these designs had been done in balsa as far back asBob Simmons' and even Tom Blake's time. In fact, ultra-short twin-fins were already making the rounds in the very early '70s, before Steve Lis is credited with combining both the split tail (swallow) and the twin-fin into what came to be known as the "Fish."

The Fish was the epitome of the backyard board. The backyard revolution was sweeping through the surfing world in the late '60s and early '70s, as new ideas came faster -- and old dogma tossed away more readily -- than the big-time, cookie-cutter surf industry could react to in time. The Fish was designed in obscurity and popularized by word of mouth -- in direct contrast to the over-hyped and superstar-endorsed log models put out by the major manufacturers at that time.

A Fish board, as ridden by Reno Abellira, was the seminal board that begat the Mark Richards twin-fin era in the late '70s, and the original Fish design is still popular today. At around five-and-a-half feet in length and at least 21 inches wide, the outline appears anything but racy, but that's exactly what the fish offers. It's a potent design; even period boards that are shackled with some of the cruder features that were standard in the '70s can be much faster than a modern "high-performance" shortboard. Perhaps that is why so many young hotties scrounge garage sales and used board racks to find a vintage Fish that will give them a taste of blinding horizontal speed that the modern shortboard lacks.

Of course, the array of spin-offs that cropped up in the mid-90s and continue today -- each with its own model name, dimensions and fin arrangements -- can't rightly be called Fish. Such postmodern are generally just slightly wider shortboards with swallowtails. (The younger generation of surfers using them generally ride widths of 17.5 inches to 18.5 inches; so any board over 19 inches would be the equivalent of the '70s or early '80s surfer riding a 21-inch wide board.)

First sparked by Tom Curren's 1992 J-Bay speed run on one of Derek Hynd's custom, keel-fin Skip Fryes, high-performance fans tended to 'split the difference' between their standard dimensions and fin set-ups and the original Fish concept -- adding an inch or so of width and maybe a tiny-trailer between two normal fins. Other additions came over the next 10 to 15 years -- including a shift in popularity from twins to quads, and more pulled in tails for turns.

No matter the interpretation, such fuller, more balanced outlines and flatter rockers offered much more speed and easy lift in junk surf and showed where hotdog surfboard design was heading, best represented by the late 2000's arrival of boards like of Lost's "Rocket" or Dane Reynolds' "Dumpster Diver." (Proof that even a truly sensible or functional trend in surfboard design must be camouflaged with a gimmicky names or a superstar rider to appeal to a certain market).

In the end, all forms of Fish are really just hipper versions of the funboard philosophy, adding some foam to make surfing more enjoyable. And though all may borrow more from the mid-'80s tri-fin than it does from the more extreme Lis Fish, they remain a welcome alternative to the super-narrow, rockered-out designs of previous decades.

Fish pros

1. Speed in Small Waves You’re excited the weather is getting nicer, you’ve finally ditched the wetsuit, and you’re ready to enjoy some summertime swell...You head to the beach and find...this:small mushy fish surfboard Small waves. Mush. Ankle biters. Slow as snails. Slop. Choppy. Whatever you want to call these waves, they are small and mushy.

A short board can be difficult to unleash in small, weak surf. Sure, you have the option of a longboard, but you want speed in these small waves.

The fish can give you what you’re looking for, we’ll get into the science later, but for now, it’s important to understand is that the biggest benefit of the fish surfboard is the easiness in which we get speed in small waves.

2. A Fast, Easy Paddle The fish board has significantly more volume than a shortboard. What does volume mean for a surfboard? High volume equates to buoyancy. Being buoyant will mean the board will cruise in the water, making paddling easier and faster.

A fish surfboard will also have very little rocker - the curve of a surfboard - which makes it easier to paddle, too.

3. Great Wave Catchability Catching waves. It’s what’s for dinner. Sure, most of surfing is paddling, and when we’re learning, most of surfing is wiping out - but on the very best days, we’re out there, catching waves. Days when the surf is mushy and weak, catching waves can still become a reality. We have options as surfers. The first is a shortboard, which will may be a challenge that may not seem worth it in light of the other choices we have. The next is a longboard. The last, is a fish.

Even though a fish board will typically be shorter than a shortboard, its width and thickness is comparable to a longboard. Which means you’re going to be able to catch mushier smaller waves that may normally pass you by if you were on a shortboard (and go faster!).

Now, other than length, there is one special reason that really distinguishes itself from a longboard. To explain, watch this video of someone ripping on a fish surfboard.

Ask yourself - could you do that on your longboard?

The fish makes it possible to be able to have a lot of fun on the wave by giving you the possibility to perform some more intermediate and advanced maneuvers.

4. Possibility of Manuevers The fish surfboard can do more than just “go fast in small waves” it holds the possibility to be able to complete some surf tricks. Of course, remember that the fish won’t be able to do everything your shortboard does in terms of tricks.

Experience required

The Brand New Surfer Of course, most people will always recommend a longboard for people starting out. So if you’re looking for your very first board, then you may want to think about a longboard. The truth is, fish boards are going to be less stable than a longboard, which means they may not be the best choice for a brand new surfer.

That said, there may be some situations where an argument can be made that a fish can be a suitable learner’s board. For one, the learner should have experience with other board sports. This will cover some of the balance needed for a fish vs longboard. Next, the learning curve can be forgiven on a larger (about 7 foot) fish.

The Experienced Surfer Looking for Something New This is probably the most popular group that picks up a fish. Maybe it’s the beginner who wants to transition from a longboard and start carving and becoming more dynamic on the wave. Or maybe it’s the seasoned surfer who wants an easier shot at having fun on days where the surf may be too slow and mushy for their shortboard.

Fish offer a huge range of possibilities for both the longboard-proficient and the short boarder.

Wave type suitability

If the waves are perfect: huge and hollow, then bring on the shortboards and get barreled. If the waves are smaller, mushier, sloppier, rolling - and you still bring your shortboard - you may find yourself struggling to catch every single wave, and will spend as much energy paddling for the wave as you will be pumping relentlessly to stay on the short-lived wave.

The waves are not always perfect, and if you’re looking to still have a fast, fun, adrenaline rush in mushy surf, then a fish will be the perfect addition to your board rack.

If the waves you will be riding are going to be 6 feet and up, then a fish is probably not the board you’re looking for. Because the fish has almost no rocker (the curve of the board), you risk pearling upon take off.

Design characteristics

The Nose of a Fish Surfboard

The nose is the front of the board. On a high-performance shortboard, the nose is very pointed and sharp. On a big longboard, the nose is very rounded. When dealing with a fish, the nose is going to be a slight mix of the two. So what’s the trade-off? The more rounded the nose, the more surface area of the board on the water. This means the board will be more stable and less maneuverable. A fish tries to combine the best of both worlds (being stable and maneuverable), by having a slight point on a wide nose.

The Width & Thickness of a Fish Surfboard

The wider and thicker a surfboard is, the more buoyant it is in the water. Buoyancy means it floats better. What does this mean for you? It means the board will be easy to paddle AND easily catch waves. What more can you ask for? Compare this to shortboards, which are notoriously difficult to paddle because of their low volume.

The downside to the huge width and thickness of a fish is that boards with high volume will be a bit slower than their shortboard cousins. So how does the fish solve this problem and become a true “small wave speed-demon?” The answer is the rocker.

While we’re here, we should also mention the nose and tail width of a fish. The wider the nose, the more stable the board is. We’ve discussed this. But what’s really interesting is the wide tail. A wide tail means that the surfboard will be able turn easily and give the board a loose, skatey feel. Contrast this with a high-performance shortboard, which has a narrow nose and tail, which means it has low stability, but more control to turn the board. Again, the fish is a champion of mixing extremes to get an “in-the-middle” effect.

The Rocker of a Fish Surfboard

What’s rocker? On a surfboard, the rocker is the curve of the board. A dramatic bottom rocker will mean that the board will be able to turn easily, but will be slow. A curved bottom will mean the water has to actually travel farther than if the board was flat. So, what’s the rocker on a fish? Remember - we’re going for speed here!

That’s right, a fish surfboard has very little rocker (almost no curve) on the bottom. That means the water can move quickly under the bottom of the board. Of course, the fish is the king of trade-offs. Sure we get the increased speed from a flat rocker, but that means we also get the decreased maneuverability that comes with no bottom curve.

The Length of a Fish Surfboard

So if a flat rocker reduces the ability to turn, how come we see people ripping waves on a fish?

The answer, is the very short length of a fish. Surfboard length, is the distance from the nose to the tail. People will usually pick up a fish board that is even shorter than their shortboard. Normally, a very short board would mean that it is unstable and hard to paddle and catch waves. However, since a fish is so thick and so wide, we can have the buoyancy of a thick board, with the shred-ability of a shorter board.

The Rails of a Fish Surfboard

The rails are the sides of a surfboard. As with most aspects of a surfboard (the length, width, and thickness) the bigger it is, the more it floats. The trade off to floatability is of course reduced movement.

In this department, fish have big thick rails, to help with the floatation aspect. To counteract the large rails reduction in movement, it has a very short length and wide tail.

The Swallow Tail of a Fish

You’ll see very exaggerated swallowtails on a fish. The swallow tail traditionally increases the surface area of the tail, allowing for water to flow past easily. This is where the fish gets speed and paddling power. This power is typically for going in one direction, so to increase the fish board’s ability to carve, shapers have given the fish a very deep “V”, which allows some bite and grip for maneuvering on the wave.

Different Fin Set-Ups for a Fish Surfboard

You’ve probably noticed that the fish is the champion of different aspects of both a shortboard and longboard. What’s very special about the fish is its ability to combine different fin setups. Fins can really change the feel of a board, so let’s break down the most important ones for a fish: Quad-fin, twin-fin, and tri-fin.

Quad Fin Fish

Perhaps the most fun and energetic of all fish. Because the fins are farther up the board, they easily accommodate a tight turning radius. When riding a quad fin board, you’ll want to keep your back foot over the fins, which will provide you with more grip than a twin. This grip can help you take the fish out in some larger surf. The two fins on each side will also help transitioning rail to rail easier (this counteracts the loss of transitioning the swallowtail comes with).

Twin Fin Fish

The dual fin setup will be difficult to control in large surf, as they don’t provide much grip. The most noticeable aspect of a twin setup is its speed, and looseness.

Tri Fin (Thruster) Fish

Remember how loose and fast a twin fin is? Well if you add in that center back fin, can you guess what the impact is?

A center back fin slows the board down, but also adds stability, easy rail to rail turning, and more controlled maneuverability.

What’s the Difference Between a Hybrid Fish & Retro Fish?

You’ll probably see people talking about hybrid fish and & retro fish. Here’s out to tell them apart: Retro Fish: A shorter fish board with twin or quad fin set up. The true fish. Hybrid Fish: Has the thruster setup for fins, and can also run higher in length (up to 7 feet). The increased size and 3 fin set up makes the hybrid fish less loose than the retro fish.

See also