School of Fish


Commentary by Sean Mattison

It’s two-foot, semi-clean and you can’t figure out what board to ride. Although the mood often dictates what one rides, the conditions lead your inclination. Board design reflects not only the shaper’s mood, but their surroundings as well. That is what makes them artists. And that is why it is important to understand what went into the board before riding it in certain conditions.
    The most misunderstood genre of surfboards is the fish. Most surfers would agree that any board with a swallow tail is a fish. They’re wrong. Fish boards encompass several categories of design that all have unique origins and functions that must be treated independently. Understanding their histories will help the surfer decide which one to buy, which one to ride, and which one to praise in certain conditions.
    In the next two months, we will examine several categories of fish boards including the Kiel fin, the Quad, the two plus one fin setup, and the modern fish hybrids. San Diego board guru Sean Mattison of Surf Ride will take us on a journey through the histories of each one and their specific functions. Sean has a quiver of every variation of fish imaginable, and test drives each one in a variety of conditions so he can guide buyers in their decisions of which type of fish is required to meet their surfing needs. If anyone is fish familiar, it’s Sean. This month, Sean will give us a general overview of fish designs. I am hoping that after reading these installments, we will have a better understanding of what goes into proper fish shapes and we won’t be calling our 7’6” rhino chaser with a mini swallow a fish.

School of Fish

“I want to start by comparing surfboards to, say, golf clubs. The fish has its purpose in the quiver but has limitations. If you were golfing you would consider what club you needed to get the job done, taking into consideration the pros and cons of each design or club.
“Fish are incredibly fun and fast, but they need to be ridden correctly. The design is short, stubby, and usually flatter than conventional boards. So the board is designed to generate a lot of speed from its surface area, in contrast to conventional shortboards where the board needs to be pumped and positioned in the pocket to gain speed.
“The fish wants to be surfed horizontally since its overall width makes it a bit challenging to surf vertically. Let the board generate the speed. Pumping a fish may result in a, “AAHHH, these things suck,” type of reaction. I’ve ridden many shapers’ renditions or deviations of fish, and the fundamental concept is to generate more speed from the board itself as opposed to the wave or the surfer being the source of the speed.
“Fish designs run the gamut, from “true fishes” that have no wings, to wide mouth, super flat, swallow tails with glass on wood Keel fins, to boards that are more like a standard wide-nose short board with a swallow tail. The board design will usually dictate how the board can be ridden. If the board has a narrower tail and more rocker, then you can start to surf it more in the pocket and resume the pump.
“With the advent of fin boxes and multi fin designs such as quads and twinzers, the surfboard begins to shed some of the performance limitations experienced in traditional fish designs, thus allowing surfers to surf more vertically and maximize the full advantages afforded by the evolution of modern surfboard design.”

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