If you've snowboarded, you know how much fun it can be. If you've surfed, you know how magical it can be. A fishtail board brings surfing to the snow..
A fishtail (or swallowtail, as they're also called) is a shape of snowboard suited specifically for fresh powder snow.
Why the cut-out fishtail shape?
A fishtail shape causes the tail of the snowboard to sink into the snow, effectively causing the nose of the board to ride higher above the snow. This allows the rider a more natural riding position, reducing the need to shift one's weight to the tail of the board to keep the nose afloat.
It also makes the tail more loose, channeling the snow, making turns more tastee and giving the board a feel more like surfing.
A factory made swallowtail/ fishtail can run in the $600 -$1500 price range, and while likely well worth the price for the excellence of some of the designs and craftsmanship, I simply didn't have the bread in my snow-bum budget, nor could I find a less expensive used one either. This along with the insatiable curiosity to see if I could make one and if it would perform as hoped, all added up to doin' it myself— so here's one method for turning a regular shaped snowboard into a swallowtail/ fishtail board better suited for those powder days that so many of us live (and perhaps even ditch work) for!
The pictures are screenshots of a video I made about this process, (the original pics were deleted after completing the video- had I known about this website before, I would have kept them!)
I hope the pictures sufficiently convey this process.
The video can also be viewed at this link:
I will do my best to answer any questions about this process and use any suggestions you might have to improve this instructable.
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Step 1: The Tools for the Job
The tools used for this are common, and easy to find:
Respirator/ filter mask (for both dust and urethane)
Ear protection if desired
Measuring tape & markers
Jigsaw & blades for clean cuts to wood/ laminate
Drill & bit with a diameter larger than the width of the jigsaw blade
Steel file & file/ rasp for wood
Sandpaper (220 grit did the job)
Spar urethane for sealing newly exposed edges
Sponge/ brush/ applicator for sealant.
Step 2: Deciding on a Shape* and Sketching It
One of the most difficult things about this project was deciding on the shape!
But don't worry- *you can always cut off more later if you want to modify it after test riding it.
(Just can't put any pieces back on! So in that regard, less is more if there's doubts about how much to chop.)
The board I used was an older, but solid Burton Canyon from around 2004(?) that I found on Craigslist for $40.
Seems just about any snowboard will work for this- different camber/ rocker characteristics will give different character..
but one thing you may want to watch out for is to be sure it has a wood core.
Not sure if a foam core board will work for this, but maybe someone has done it successfully..
So, after a few different sketches of possible dimensions, I picked one that seemed the best suited to my weight and height..
Step 3: The First Cut Is the Deepest
The second most difficult (that is, scariest) part was making the first cut. Had I thought of everything I will need? Ok...
Then from there it was cake (once I started breathing again).
The first thing I did was to break the edges loose.
I tried using the jigsaw with metal cutting blades, but the blades just melted and hardly scratched the edges.
Those edges are tough! Hardened steel.
But not tougher than a simple hand held steel file.
It filed right through (be sure to cut through the entire edge- it has little "anchors" with spacers that go beyond the obvious steel "edge", and hitting hardened steel with a jigsaw blade made for wood won't work so well).
Also the file left a nice large notch that the jigsaw blade can easily fit into.
Step 4: Take Me to the Pilot
Then, some pilot holes to make cutting, and especially scrolling (turning) the saw easier in the more curvy and tight spots.
If the diameter of the drill bit is larger than the width of the saw blade, the blade can be maneuvered more easily, making cleaner cuts, with less need for re-shaping with a wood file later.
Getting the pilot hole lined up as close as possible to the intended cut also saves time later, as I found out.
Step 5: Chop, Chop, Chop
A jig saw is a very cool tool.
Just point it where you want it to go, and it will do the work— and some amazing things.
I tried a couple of different types of blades for this: one with "fine cut" reverse teeth for laminate (reverse teeth so the top surface doesn't chip or splinter) and one with regular teeth for medium cuts on wood. Both high quality blades (Ace Hardware brand- made in Switzerland! and inexpensive) and both worked well, although the "medium cut" blade ripped through faster, didn't wear out as quickly, and, like the reverse cut blade, didn't chip the top sheet of the board.
To make it easier and avoid complications I removed the pieces in sections, one at a time.
Step 6: Satisfy My Soul
From here, it's just refining the edges, shaping and reshaping and smoothing until it satisfies your heart's desires.
Using the fine steel file to round and smooth the newly exposed tip of the steel edge..
Using the wood file to perfect any wanky little sections that got wiggly for some jiggy reason..
And give the now-exposed wood-core edge a smooth as silk line, as a surfboard shaper would lovingly do to a foam surfboard blank that will soon enough be slashing waves under his or her commanding yet skillfully and subtly placed metatarsal pressure..
Ok, I digressed a bit.
But you get the picture, yeah?
Why do we do this? Chopping and modifying and customizing and DIY'ing? Because we love it!!
And not just the end result, but the entire process involved.
It satisfies our unconventional souls. Unconventional because going out and buying one is easy. Anyone with a Tesla can tell you that.
But to make one ourselves? That's evolutionary.
Ok, so file, and also put a nice bevel on the top and bottom edges of your work of art, and then use sandpaper to get a nice and smooth surface on the exposed wood core so later on the urethane makes a strong and durable weather seal.
Step 7: Seal It Up
After finishing the shaping, the only thing left to do is seal the exposed edges (that have been sanded smooth for better adhesion) with some weather proofing.
Spar Urethane seems to be the unanimous choice, so I went with that.
(I've heard that oil based is more durable than water based, but I already had some water based, so I used it. Besides, in addition to being more durable, the oil based is also more toxic to work with, so something to consider if toxicity is a concern!)
In any case, having good ventilation is important, and wearing a respirator isn't a bad idea..
Ok, just follow the instructions on the container.. 3 or 4 or ten coats, as you prefer..
Step 8: And It's Done. or Is It?
Now it's time for the moment of truth.
Mount up your bindings, give it a good waxing, and (having already been praying fervently to the snow gods for a big dump of fresh snow)
Take it out in that deep, fresh powder and see how it rides.
Is it everything you dreamed it would be?
You did it.
If not, go on to step 9:
Chopping and re-shaping and getting it dialed in until your dream ride is realized.
And there's no shame in this, because after all, how many things were perfected on the very first design attempt?
Step 9: Getting Dialed In
So, after a test ride, I decided the original swallowtail shape I had gone with just wasn't as loose and surfy as I had imagined.
So I cut a little more off to make it a little "more fishy" (and changing it from a "swallowtail" to a "fishtail")
Then it was time for another test run.
And it still seemed like it could be just a wee bit more.. everything I was looking for in a powder board.
And the result?
EUREKA! Even the Yetis sang out in unison a song of joy at the deliciousness and far reaching goodness of this fast, floaty, surfy, dreamy little DIY powder ripper.
It was so good I didn't even know what was going on.. sorta like having sex for the very first time— like you don't even know what's happening but you're going, "WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!" just hangin' on for the ride.
Which, not to finish on a technical note after such an exalted and nonconceptual ending of religious-experience-proportions (you know exactly what I speak of if you've ridden a fishtail board in deep powder), but
Oh, never mind. I forgot what I was going to say.
Something about not cutting the tail too short on a cambered board so you still have a little bit of up-kick in the tail..
Anyway, hope you enjoyed this little overview of how to make your own dream ride, and here's a link to the DIY video if you'd like to view it: