History of Surfboards

The ‘Olo’ surfboard was ridden by the Chiefs or the noblemen usually between 14-16 feet and the ‘Alaia’ surfboard was between 10-12 feet in length and ridden by commoners.

Captain Cook witnessed natives surfing solid wooden surfboards when he visited the Hawaiian Islands in 1777 and his diaries are the first official documentation describing the art of surfing.

Later in the mid 19th century when the western/white missionaries arrived surfing almost died out in the islands. At the start of the 20th century the missionaries influence over the islands began to decline and Hawaiians along with the new European and American settlers began surfing again. One of these was George Freeth, who through his surfing, experimented with board design, and cut his 16 foot Hawaiian board in half. Making the typical solid redwood Hawaiian board of the time to around 6 to 10 foot long.

In 1926 one of the most famous names in surf history; Tom Blake designed the first hollow surfboard constructed of redwood with hundreds of holes drilled in it and was encased with a thin board of wood on top and bellow the board. The board was 15 foot long, 19″ wide, 4″ thick and weighed 100 lbs.

This hollow surfboard eventually became the first mass-produced board in 1930s due to it’s weight and the speeds it could generate.

In 1932 Balsa wood from South America became a popular material for building surfboards. The new balsa wood boards only weighed around 30 to 40 pounds apposed to the 90 to 100 pound redwood boards. Such a reduction in weight was a major step forward in board design, and became more and more in demand.

The end of World War 2 opened up new possibilities in surfboard design as many new materials had become available through advances in technology. Fibreglass and styrofoam were the most significant of these.

The shortboard first came to the surf scene during the late 60’s to early 70’s and the average length went from 10 to 6 foot, with an obvious reduction in weight. These new boards allowed surfers to ride in the pocket of the wave and Dick Brewer is credited with it’s design. These new boards allowed faster, more aggressive surf and more maneuverability. It was around this time that the twin fin was created, apposed to just the one.

In 1966, Nat Young won the World Championships on a shortboard called ‘Sam’ designed by George Greenough and Bob McTavish. This board allowed greater performance style surfing with sharper turns and greater acceleration, which kick-started the ‘shortboard revolution’.