Surfing and Surfboard history dates back hundreds if not thousands of years. Although surfing waves has been acknowledged to have predated the Hawaiians, The most recorded evidence of surfboards can be found in Hawaii and therefor surfboard history basically begins with them.
Types of Early Hawaiian Surfboards
- Alaia boards that were up to 12ft long made for the common man.
- Paipo boards-ridden in the prone position.
- Olo boards that were up tp 24ft in length. Specifically made for Royalty.
These surfboards were made of the native woods of the area such as the Wili Wili, Ulu and Koa.
For some really cool reading on early surfing check out Jack London books.
With passages like this you can tell he was a stoked surfer:
“But tomorrow, ah, tomorrow, I shall be out in that wonderful water, and I shall come in standing up, even as Ford and Freeth. And if I fail tomorrow, I shall do it the next day, or the next. Upon one thing I am resolved: the Snark shall not sail from Honolulu until I, too, wing my heels with the swiftness of the sea, and become a sunburned, skin-peeling Mercury.”
The Hollow Surfboard
Surfboards pretty much stayed heavy and wooden, now also being made from redwoods and pines, until the mid 1920’s when Tom Blake developed the Hollow Surfboard.
He was making replicas of the olo boards at the Bishop Museum, he drilled hundreds of holes into the surfboard to speed up the drying process which he then sheathed the hull in plywood veneer. It ended up weighing less then 100 pounds. A feather compared to the weight of previous boards.
Another important design innovation with in surfboard history was the addition of the fin, also introduced by Tom Blake.
The Hot Curl board
The next major step in surfboard history design came in 1934. When Fran Heath, Wally Frosieth and John Kelly- a group of surfers in Hawaii- started messing about with the square tails of the board, cutting them down to a narrow V tail. This gave the surfboard more maneuverability. These new boards were called ‘hot curl ‘ boards, named because the boards allowed the surfer to maneuver into the ‘curl’ of the wave.
During the late 1940’s Into the 50’s basically the post World War II period, surfboards went through another period of great design changes.
Change in weight, materials and shape.
Bob Simmons, the Father of the Modern Surfboard was the primary person to introduce new materials that eventually made surfboards lighter — materials like fiberglass, resin and Styrofoam. His understanding of hydrodynamics resulted in surfboard designs that incorporated features we still use today — like rocker, foam core, and multiple fin placement.
Surfboard length stayed predominately in the over 10ft range, then in the 1960’s, boards became shorter along with alot of experimenting to get the most out of surfboards and to push the envelope on what a board could do.
In late 60’s to early 70’s the average length of the surfboard went from 10 to 6 foot, with weight decreasing dramatically. These new boards allowed surfers to ride in the pocket of the wave and so were named the ‘pocket rocket‘ board.
Dick Brewer is credited with it’s design. These new boards allowed surfers to go faster and turn quicker.
Other changes were made to the board including rail shapes, tails, bottom contour of the boards…. experimentation was happening fast and furious, anything to generate more speed and turning ability.
The twin fin although around for many years also gained prominence in the 70’s into early eighties.
The 1980’s saw the three fin become the predominate surfboard with Simon Anderson refining earlier ideas and making the model on which today’s pro surfers almost exclusively use.
While the 1990’s saw the modern thruster get whittled down to a toothpick and the advent of computer aided design and shaping machines.
The emergence of the Epoxy Surf Board has again made the surfboard lighter, but stronger.
Only time will tell what the future of the surfboard will be, most likely go in the direction of stronger better materials and refinement to today’s popular designs. Like Asymmetrical boards, anyone ride one of these yet?
Whatever happens to surfboards one thing is for certain, you and I will be riding them.