Al Byrne shaping a six-channel concave surfboard (Image: Surfline)[/caption]
Circa 500: Hawaiians use the wood of Ula and Koa trees to shape the first surfboards ever created. These carefully crafted water sleds, called Olos, hold the same significance as a yacht or a Rolls-Royce would today, and act as symbols of status within Hawaiian culture. To native Hawaiians, size matters: Tribal chiefs and noblemen ride surfboards as long as 25ft, while the common folk catch waves on surfboards no longer than 7ft.
1778: After sailing to Tasmania and other known South Pacific islands, Captain Cook reaches the unknown Hawaiian islands. He becomes the first European in history to record an eyewitness account of Hawaiians surfing off of the Kona coast on the Big Island.
“The Men sometimes 20 or 30 go without the Swell of the Surf, and lay themselves flat upon an oval piece of plane about their Size and breadth, they keep their legs close on top of it, and their Arms are used to guide the plank, they wait the time of the greatest Swell that sets on Shore, and altogether push forward with their Arms to keep on its top, it sends them in with a most astonishing Velocity, and the great art is to guide the plane so as always to keep it in a proper direction on the top of the Swell…”
“The above diversion is only intended as an amusement, not a tryal of skill, and in a gentle swell that sets on must I conceive be very pleasant, at least they seem to feel a great pleasure in the motion which this Exercise gives.”
1907: With the arrival of Captain Cook and his men, surfing dies down in Hawaii for a period of time. In 1907, Hawaiian George Freeth revives the sport of surfing in California by chopping his 16ft redwood surfboard down a more approachable 8ft shape. He demonstrates his skill in the water - oddly enough - at a public exhibition sponsored by a railway company at Redondo Beach in Los Angeles.
1927: Wisconsinian turned Hawaiian, Tom Blake, designs the first hollow surfboard by drilling hundreds of holes into his redwood board, then encasing it with a thin slab of wood on the top and bottom. Blake is ridiculed for his thick “Cigar Board” at first, but receives the respect he deserves after his new design proves itself in the water as faster alternative to traditional redwood surfboards.
1932: The introduction of Balsa wood reduces the weight of surfboards from ~100lbs to 30lbs. Surfers can now easily tote their surfboards down the beach and stack them on top of their woodys.
1934: Hawaiian surfers begin to experiment with the tail of their boards, and design a new tail with a tapered end to increase maneuverability and hydrodynamics. Surfboards with tapered ends become the status quo, allowing surfers to position themselves perfectly inside the curl.
1935: Tom Blake invents the fixed-tail fin, which further increases maneuverability and adds stability. Fin design continues to progress, with twin fins entering the surfing sphere in the 1960’s and tri-fins in the early 1980’s.
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Tom Blake's Fixed Fin (Image: The Finbox)[/caption]
1940’s - 50’s: After World War II, fiberglass - first created in the 1930’s - is used on surfboards for the first time, replacing wood. Surfers like Hawaii’s George Downing dabble with fiberglass board designs, and create lengthy fiberglass and polyurethane surfboards, called “Guns”, for big wave surfing.
1971: Pat O’Neill - son of Jack O’Neill, who invented the wetsuit - eliminates the hassle of chasing your surfboard to the beach with the invention of the surfboard leash: A cord which fastens to the surfboard on one end and to the surfer on the other. The first leash consisted of a suction cup and a surgical cord.
1988: Fiberglass boards are now ubiquitous. Competitive surfing begins to take root in the United States, slowly sprawling outward to the rest of the world. Surfers who had been surfing solely for their own enjoyment realize they can make a profession doing what they love. Surfboard shapers begin to experiment with new, responsive designs for competition purposes, and incorporate contours onto the bottom of their surfboards. Before long, surfboards become much shorter, much narrower, and astoundingly maneuverable.
2011: Spanish innovation firms Tecnalia and Pukas equip a modern surfboard with a GPS, gyroscope, accelerometer, and strain gauges to gather data on the physics of surfing. Their findings reveal that surfers experience up to 5gs during turns.
2011: Hawaiian big wave surfer Garrett McNamara surfs a 90ft wave on a fiberglass “gun”, obliterating the previous record of 77ft off the coast of Nazare, Portugal.
2012: Surfboard producers begin to create boards using coconut husks and a polystyrene core, building a sustainable surfboard nearly 25 percent lighter and 35 percent stronger than other boards. The WaveJet surfboard is introduced to the world, offering surfers a self-propelled surfboard with a max speed of 7mph.
2015: Australian shaper Daniel Thompson designs the Vanguard surfboard: Featuring a chopped nose with rectangular corners and a swallow tail. The high-performance board is described by Thompson as, “function over fashion,” offering five fin casings to allow surfers to experiment with their fin set up.
Source: Hearst Print