Surf Science: Going Batty?

Bill “Stretch” Riedel stands behind the bat tail movement, and Andy Irons gives one his own stamp of approval.

Going Batty?
The rebirth of the bat tail quad.

Words: Mike Fish
Photo: Nelly

When asked why so many surfers are ordering bat tails on their boards these days, even Bill "Stretch" Riedel of Stretch Surfboards seems a bit puzzled. "The average surfer probably can't tell the difference between a bat tail and a swallow when riding it," he says. "The tail alone is worth little more than what looks good to your eyes."

However, Stretch is also quick to credit the elevated performance a bat tail (also known as a star tail) can yield when combined with a progressive quad template—like the Fletcher 4 Quad from which he's received plenty of attention recently. The board was designed for aerial ace Nathan Fletcher in 2005. But instead of trying to be another trendy retro cruiser—or a throwback on early 80s quads—it was designed as a high-performance shortboard with four fins and quickly gained credibility in a variety of conditions, from playful beachbreaks to heavy water reefs (Anthony Tashnick won the 2005 Maverick's contest on a gun version of the Fletcher 4).

Stretch has been getting so much attention regarding the shape that he was forced to post a special item on his Web site's FAQ section titled "What's with the bat tail?" In part, it reads: "It can be used to push the pivot points up along the rail line, thus giving the board a more pivotal turning characteristic … With a relatively straight template running through the tail, a bat tail becomes more suitable to the increased width."

Though the bat tail isn't entirely new, this latest iteration of it has spread like wildfire. Walk into most surf shops these days and you're sure to find a bat tail on the sales floor. Heeding the demand, many board makers have created their own templates and design elements. "Pretty much all the top shapers are doing something along those lines now," says Riedel.

Rick Hamon, a shaper at Rusty, agrees that the majority of people are drawn to the design simply "because it looks different." But he also believes in the shape's versatility. "The tremendous surface area in the tail helps acceleration," says Hamon. "That, coupled with the sharp corners for quick turning, makes it ideal for smaller performance surf. But they can also be modified to perform in varying conditions, just like the two extremes of a split tail—a wide fish tail or a tight swallow."

Hamon noted that, while he was stuck being interviewed, head shaper Rusty Preisendorfer was busy riding his bat tail quads in all shapes and sizes barrels in Indo. "It's his second year riding those boards down there," says Hamon. "So I think it's safe to say that it's a proven design for lots of different surf."

Originally published in November, 2006 issue of Transworld SURF.