Surfboard makers create equipment of all sizes and shapes, ensuring symmetry meets fundamental fluid dynamics requirements. So what is an asymmetrical surfboard built for?
In 100 years, surfboards went from heavy and long wooden planks to perfectly shaped, short, and light polyurethane/epoxy high-performance equipment.
The art of creating highly competitive gear evolved alongside science and experimentation, transforming surfboard shaping into a complex discipline.
Surfboards are meant to glide smoothly and elegantly across salt water while typically carrying weight on two areas of the deck, corresponding to our feet.
They are also developed to travel across a more or less angled water surface, i.e., the wave face.
Consequently, today, there are many types of surfboards for multiple uses and situations.
Nevertheless, nearly all of them are symmetric - until someone decided it was time to change the paradigm.
Why and What For?
For nearly half a century, surfboard craftspeople did not differentiate the surfer's preference.
They simply assumed that there was only one way to build boards - following symmetrical, mirror-like patterns which allow riders to go left or right on a wave and perform similarly.
The shaping rooms were even carefully set up to reflect that obsession with symmetry.
The problem is that, in theory, a standard surfboard does not consider the concept of stance or the surfer's favorite posture - regular or goofy.
It delivers a perfect equilibrium in which the sum of all the internal forces is zero but forces the goofy surfer to adapt to right-hand waves and the natural footer to left-hand rides.
In other words, there's nothing symmetrical about how you place your feet on a surfboard.
On the contrary, the asymmetrical surfboard is an attempt to customize those preferences.
It aims to answer questions like, "Can I get a board for a regular footer riding right-hand waves only? and "How can I make my backside surfing easier?"
The Beauty of Asymmetry
So, what are asymmetrical surfboards?
An asymmetrical surfboard is a custom-made board specially designed for riders who need a certain degree of unevenness and off-balance.
Its shape is purposedly misproportioned and lacks symmetry.
The goal is to favor turning and rail-engaging movements and enhance toes and heel-based maneuvering.
The asymmetry can be found on the shortened heelside rail, uneven tail, size and placement of offset fins, and on the nose of the board.
The design allows you to turn and cut back easier and be more forgiving on one side, and get faster on the other.
Some asymmetrical board designs mirror the tail's forked bite in the nose.
However, there has never been a standard formula or template for this alternative type of craft - it can be shaped to any outline and size.
The only certain thing is that the left and right-hand sides are different from one another.
In other words, the stringer separates two different shapes, and if you fold them, they will not match up equally.
On an asymmetrical surfboard, one of the side rails is longer than the stringer and extends further out. It's the toeside rail.
The heelside rail and tail are shorter than the toe side and feature a much more rounded shape to maintain control during heel-side turns and carves.
The placement of fins is as critical as the shape itself. After all, there's a delicate balance in asymmetry that must not be compromised.
The trick is to install the fin boxes on the toe side further back toward the tail end of the surfboard, keeping in mind that the toeside rail and tail are longer than that of the heel side.
In a quad fin setup, these toe-side fins should also be placed slightly further apart to maintain overall riding harmony and balance.
There are also asymmetrical surfboards featuring only one larger fin on the toe side and two additional fins on the heel.
If that's the case, the heelside fin should be placed further up toward the nose, and the other fins will also be closer together.
The 1960s Concept
The story of asymmetrical surfboards goes back to the 1960s.
San Diego-based board designer Carl Ekstrom was one of the first to experiment with the template in the longboard days.
He realized that conventional surfboards rode well frontside but tended to go forward and lock into the wave while going backside.
"I wanted more curve on the backside and a twist in the tail so that the tail would be higher on the heel side, so I designed the first asymmetrical surfboard," Ekstrom once said.
The goal was to get the most out of his frontside and backside skills to ride his local break, Windansea Beach.
So, in 1965, he blended his favorite frontside and backside board elements - rails and tail shapes - into one sophisticated board design.
Two years later, he was granted a patent (US3337886A) for the innovative surfboard shape.
A Surprising Experience
The theory and aesthetics behind asymmetrical surfboards could be hard to explain to regular surf shop customers, so they will never be a popular design.
It also requires time and a short learning curve, as you'll need to adapt to different shifts of weight and body movements to maintain balance.
Whether you call asymmetrical surfboards futuristic, a niche, or experimentation disasters, if you're open-minded, forget how it looks and give it a try.
You might be surprised by the whole wave-riding experience and feel.
Does the asymmetrical surfboard work? Definitely, yes, especially if you want to optimize your frontside/backside performance.
The board adapts to your uneven wave preferences by having different shape rails engaging in the slope-style wave faces.
It is also important to stress that there are asymmetrical boards built for regular-footed surfers and models shaped for goofy-footers.
Last but not least, don't let your brain fool you.
Just because the outline is not symmetric, the board won't feel weird because rails will behave independently - as they do on a regular board - and won't interfere with one another.
Is it a valuable addition to your quiver? It could be.
If you already own a longboard, an all-around shortboard, and a funboard, why not add a piece of equipment that breaks the mainstream establishment?
Asymmetrical surfboards are all about functionality and serve a well-defined purpose - to compensate for our uneven footwork while standing on its deck.
If you regularly surf A-frame waves, then it's surely a wise pick.
Knowledge and experimentation are the mother and father of evolution and invention. Getting them into surfing is inevitable.