A brief history of the evolution of surfboards

How a flat piece of wood turned into a technological rocket

The history of surfing is a mix of a heap of ingredients: here, the fate of entire nations and individual people, the development of technology and a change in culture and mass consciousness, and the common thread against the background of all these events is the evolution of surfboards.

Not overnight, vast, heavy wooden rafts have been transformed into light, high-tech shortboards with thoughtful details and replaceable fins.

In this article, I have collected the main milestones in developing what surfing cannot be without – the surfboard.

It is impossible to say precisely how many centuries the history of surfing is

It is only known that wave riding was famous in Hawaii and throughout Polynesia, including thousands of Pacific islands, including Tahiti and the Cook Islands.

And not so long ago, there were also suggestions that the ancient Indians who inhabited Peru mastered the art of catching waves hundreds of years before the Hawaiians.

Again, however, we will rely on facts. The first to describe surfing was William Anderson, the onboard physician of the ship Resolution, in which Captain Cook explored the Pacific Ocean and arrived in Hawaii in 1777.

I’ve already destroyed the myth that surfing was the sport of kings.

Everyone rode, and the difference in rank was expressed in boards: ordinary citizens rode on Alaya boards – small and narrow, conventionally similar to modern shortboards, while the leaders could afford huge Olo boards, much longer than modern longboards.

These boards were made from a single piece of wood

Hawaiians used copy acacia, breadfruit, and will tree – Hawaiian erythrina.

Alaya’s conventional “shortboards” were on average 8 feet long, almost 2.5 meters, and weighed up to 45 kg.

Olo’s royal longboards reached a length of 16 feet, that is, 5 meters, and weighed already under 70 kg.

Some sources claim that Olo was 25 feet, but this was more a boat than a surfboard for one, albeit an essential king.

At that time, the boards had no top and bottom; they were symmetrical in cross-section (bottom/deck), had no fins, and were made of wood treated with resin, making them non-slippery and allowing them to roll on either side of the board.

Since there were no Finns, surfers lowered an arm or a leg into the water to turn on the wave.

European colonialists were still those Puritans, naked people frolicking on the waves against their sanctimonious beliefs, so surfing was persecuted and prohibited.

In addition, the hands of the Hawaiians were not needed for rowing but worked on the sugar cane plantations

Here surfing could have sunk into oblivion, but fortunately, there will always be rebels; therefore, although in a small number, firstly, there were surfing Hawaiians, and, secondly, surfing white colonizers appeared.

At the beginning of the 20th century, two talented surfers, Duke Kahanamoku and George Freese went on a journey and finally showed people surfing outside Hawaii.

In 1907, George Freese went on a tour of California, where he never missed the chance to demonstrate his skills along the state’s entire coast.

And in 1914, Duke Kahanamoku, Olympic swimming champion, went to Australia and New Zealand, where he also skillfully caught waves in front of the amazed audience.

Surfing has penetrated the “mainland” and began to develop actively, including in the production of boards

Tom Blake made a revolutionary breakthrough in board construction.

He made his first attempt to catch a wave back in 1921 in California but saw such a strong wipe that he abandoned the idea of ​​surfing for several years.

Interest, however, remained, and in 1924 Tom Blake went to Hawaii to still master this occupation

Perhaps just because of the memories of the first injury, Tom really wanted to lighten the weight of the boards, and in 1926 he took a 15-foot Olo and drilled a hundred holes in it, and then “sealed” with a thin layer of wood from above and below.

On a light board of his production, he won competitions and set new records, and in 1930, the first mass production of surfboards began using his technology.

The next innovation was material replacement: in 1932, most of the surfboard was made from lighter Balsa wood from South America, and only the rails, nose, and tail were made of solid and durable mahogany.

The whole thing was glued with a newly developed waterproof glue and varnished, thus getting an incredibly light surfboard for that time – only 27 kg

In 1934, a group of Hawaii surfers began experimenting with shape, cutting off some of the rails at the tail end so that the board was not square but rounded.

A panel with such a tail turned out to be more stable, but most importantly, it made it possible to make maneuvers closer to the critical section of the wave and even climb into pipes. (In short, the smoothed tail and rail lines provide better grip and slow the board down a bit.)

In 1935, the same Tom Blake became the first who guessed to put Finn on the board

He removed the 10cm fin from the discarded boat, attached it to his surfboard, and was very impressed with the result.

True, surfers avoided this novelty for a long time due to its obvious danger – a fin can be severely cut in case of an unsuccessful fall.

During the Second World War, new materials appeared in the shipbuilding and aeronautical industry, including polyurethane (foam), fiberglass, and plastic, which later became available to the general public and began to be used in the manufacture of surfboards.

In 1946, Pete Peterson made the first plank from a hollow plastic mold with a mahogany stringer covered in fiberglass.

It was a revolutionary moment in surfboard production since the weight of such a board was several times less than a wooden one, and the show became easier.

In 1949, Bob Simmons, a well-known shaper in California who made wood planks, first switched to new materials

He developed a technology called “sandwich”: a form of expanded polystyrene (that is, foam) enclosed in a thin layer of plywood with balsa wood rails and covered with fiberglass.

Overall, since the late 1940s, it has become easier for surfers to experiment with board shapes and sizes, and this has been an exciting milestone in the industry.

Then the moment came when fins did find recognition, around 1950; they became the standard in a surfboard shape

At first, they were made molded into the board, and in 1954 the prototypes of mortgages for removable fin were invented.

Around the same time, boards with two fins instead of one began to appear; they were allowed to gain more speed and make more aggressive maneuvers on the waves.

However, this was more the exception than the rule.

Also, in the mid to late 1950s, a new fashion came into the surf culture – big wave surfing

Hawaii was famous for its giants, so many brave Californian surfers rushed there to pursue more giant waves.

George Downing became one of the fathers of unique big wave surfboards called “Gun.”

They were named so because surfers with their “guns” hunted big waves.

The Ghanaians were and are still making them long and narrow, making it easier to rake in big waves and drive along a steep wall at high speed.

The 1960s are considered when the shortboard revolution took place, and Bob McTavish started it

Since childhood, this Australian surfer rode a longboard, but not in a fashionable way – to go straight, frozen in a stylish pose, but actively and energetically to move along the board and the wave.

He had two friends – Australian champion Net Young and book border George Greenough: all three wanted to ride an influential section of the lock and make sharp maneuvers without losing speed.

However, George did precisely this since keyboards (boards for kneeling) at that time were already relatively thin and short, but Nat and Bob dreamed of doing the same thing but standing on their feet.

As a result, in 1966, McTavish took a chance and made a lightweight, thin longboard for Nat Young, which they called “Magic Sam,” and Nat won the world title that same year

After that, Bob began experimenting with the shape of the bottom and invented the vee-bottom; that is, he made the bottom of the board not flat but slightly convex, with a small keel in the back.

And each time, his boards became shorter, and in the end, they reached a length of only 7’6 “(By the standards of that time, these were very short boards).

In 1967, Bob McTavish and Nat Young flew to Hawaii to compete in open competitions on their groundbreaking boards.

Bob’s performance was twofold; on the one hand, he got some incredible maneuvers, but on the other, he fell a lot, and as a result, the local surf community reacted to his vee-bottom very skeptically.

He was laughed at. But a little later, on smaller waves, he and Nat were able to show the advantages and maneuverability of the new boards.

From that moment on, the shortboard revolution began

Californian and Hawaiian shapers jumped at the idea and started experimenting and shortening panels, too, coming up to an average 6ft in the 70s.

Bob McTavish, by the way, still shapes boards, and McTavish longboards are considered one of the coolest in the world.

In 1971, Pat O’Neill came up with the concept of the leash, tired of constantly swimming at the board

The prototype was made from a medical catheter and was attached to the arm.

However, the catheter was too elastic, stretched too much, and then bounced the board back, so the first tests of the invention failed. In addition, Pat’s father, Jack O’Neill, the wetsuit inventor, lost an eye when a leash shot him aboard.

As a result, the leash did not win the love of surfers, was considered dangerous, and simply not excellent.

It wasn’t until a few years later that significant surf companies became interested in the concept, invested in technology, and developed a more viable model that is still used around the world today: a polyurethane leash that attaches to the tail of the board and the surfer’s leg.


At the same time (1969-1973) in Australia, Malcolm Campbell and his three sons experimented with the shapes of very short, only 5’4 “-5’8” long, but wide boards, now known as the “bonzer” model.

In their arsenal, already in 1971, there were surfboards with one, two, and three fins (it was a 2 + 1 set – a large center and stabilizers), and by 1973 they made a pronounced bifurcated (single-to-double) concave, which is now one of the standards in board design.

The Campbell Brothers Surfboards company exists to this day

The idea to put three fins on the board has been in the air for a long time, but it was only realized in 1981 by the Australian surfer Simon Anderson.

He developed a system now known as a “thruster” – three small fins, one in the center and two at a slight angle to the central axis.

The three fins took the best of the one and two fin systems already available, working together to give the surfer even more control over the board in the critical section of the wave.

Since the 1980s, there have been no other radical changes in surfboard design, only improvements to already invented forms and concepts.

Against the background of the shortboard revolution, longboards were forgotten for a while, but from the mid-1990s, they began to adopt the structural features of shortboards and reappeared on the scene.

Still, in a slightly different capacity: the style of longboard riding became more aggressive.

Longboards now come in two other extremes: the old-school Noserider and the modern High Performance

In the mid-1990s, big wave surfing changed a lot: riders used jetski to accelerate massive waves.

So it is not essential buoyancy in the board, but stability, because surfing on a wave of more than 10 meters is more like snowboarding; you have to go down the mountain, which is also not very flat, but with bumps and potholes.

So boards for tow-in surfing, and this is the name of this type of big wave, are made, firstly, with bindings for the legs, and secondly, they are short and very heavy, with special iron inserts so that they do not shake too much on bumps at high speed.

Also, you cannot ignore the Hydrofoil surfboards, which also appeared around the mid-1990s, but only recently became popular. Instead of a fin on this board, there is a whole hydrofoil, which at speed has enough lift to completely lift the board out of the water with the surfer.

You do not ride on the wave on such a board but fly over the lock

Now they ride on foil boards on enormous waves; for jets, they jump on small waves and perform abrupt maneuvers, and in 2017 the Liftfoils company from Puerto Rico developed an electronic foil board with its engine, on it you can “fly” even without waves.

The struggle among board manufacturers is in materials: boards are made lighter, stronger, and sometimes even more environmentally friendly, using new blanks, carbon, and even biodegradable plastic.

But in design, there have been no fundamental innovations for 20 years already. What will happen next? Wait and see.

But now the modern surfer has such a vast selection of boards that you won’t try everything in your entire life!



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