Surfboard History: How Modern Surfboards Came To Be

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Have you ever wondered how your favorite surfboard evolved and what surfing was like in ancient times? Well, these questions can be answered by taking a look at the dynamic history of the surfboard.

Surfing is an adventure; a hobby to the average surfer and a passion to the skillful one. The ride, the styles and the techniques of cutting through the waves is such a tremendous feeling.

Surfboard history goes way back to the late 17th century when surfing in Hawaii was more of a spiritual affair of the town chiefs and village leaders rather than a recreational activity. They resolved conflicts and made decisions by getting answers from the waves. They believed that the gods are with the waves to help them in their decision-making. They also had rituals in making the ideal surfboards that the gods approved.

Solid Redwood Surfboards

The first surfboards used by the chiefs were actually made of solid redwood. With sizes ranging from 10 to 16 feet and weighing between 77 and 200 pounds, these surfboards were indeed quite heavy compared to the average surfboard used today. But for the chiefs, those were the designs fit for a king!

There were two types of solid redwood surfboards, the Olo, designed and used by chiefs and rich men, and the Alaia for the ordinary people. The size of the surfboards determined the rank of the surfers, and in this way you would know the status of a person within their town or village.

When Captain Cook’s ship, HMS arrived on the islands of Hawaii in 1778, they saw that surfing was already an established activity in the islands. However, when the European missionaries began colonizing the villages, surfing started to lose its place in the oceans. The oldest solid surfboard is still preserved to this day and displayed at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu.

Hollow Surfboards

At the beginning of the 20th century, the influence of the western missionaries started to weaken, and the Hawaiians together with the European and Americans who came to the islands, began surfing again. The revival of surfing was accounted to Duke Kahanamoku, a Hawaiian native who introduced surfing to the world.

In 1926, the famous surfer Tom Blake designed the first hollow surfboards which were lighter and faster. Although these boards were still made of redwood, they were a lot lighter than the original ones. Their weight was no more than 100 pounds. Tom was able to achieve this by making the boards thinner with several holes in them and encasing them within marine plywood. This design was so phenomenal at that time such that Tom Blake’s hollow surfboards were mass produced in 1930.

Up until 1935, the idea of using lighter varieties of wood such as the balsa wood instead of redwood was widely accepted. Surfboards made of Balsa wood were 30-40 pounds lighter than redwood surfboard and were much easier to maneuver. Also, it was during this advent that Tom Blake designed the first surfboards with fins.

Fiberglass Surfboards

After the Second World War several changes were made to the then wooden boards. Surfboard makers such as Pete Peterson wanted to create better surfboard that were lighter and waterproof. One of the materials available at the time was fiberglass. Indeed, this material was much lighter than balsa woods and surfboards wouldn’t need to be covered with marine plywood to make them waterproof.

Polyurethane Foam

A few years later in surfboard history, another surfer George Downing, came up with a design made of polyurethane foam which allowed for better controlability, buoyancy and maneuverability. Polyurethane foam boards were also easier to manufacture, hence to this day, the core of many modern surfboards is made of this material.

Design Evolution

At the end of the 20th century, further developments were implemented and this time, surfboard makers focused more on revolutionizing the designs particularly the sizes and shapes of the boards.

In 1980s, the famous Australian surfer Simon Anderson designed the first high performance surfboard known as a thruster. The thruster was a 3-fin system which made surfing as we know it today.

And with the introduction of modern computers, surfboard shapers began creating stylish and perfectly engineered surfboard designs.


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