Surfboard History

Girl Surfers Learn About Surfboard History


Pre 1900 | 1900-50 | 1950’s | 1960-80 | 1990’s | Post 2000

The development of surfboards throughout history stems from the first surfers riding wooden planks to modern day shapers using materials such as aluminum, polystyrene, polyurethane, bamboo, hemp and epoxy. Below shares with you a little about the history of the development of surfboards.

The History of Surfboards Pre 1900’s

Early Hawaiian SurfboardsWell before settlers arrived in Hawaii in the 18th century, native Hawaiians, women and men, were expertly surfing long wooden planks; (surfing and surfboard construction was a deeply embedded cultural and spiritual experience). Surfboards were constructed from hardwoods such as wiliwili and koa. Boards were either made for:

  • Standing up – “alaia” boards that were about 12ft long
  • Lying down – “paipo” boards
  • Specifically for the tribes’ chiefs – “olo” boards that were around 24ft in length.

Surfboards of the 1900 – 1950’s

With an increase in the number of missionaries in Hawaii in the 19th century, adversely the number of native Hawaiian surfers declined. In the early 1900’s surfing was adopted by the haole (white people), who once witnessed and admired the Hawaiians water activities. This new breed of surfers used redwood as the main material in boards up until the late 1920’s when balsa was found to be a lighter wood, although the lighter balsa wood needed to be varnished to keep it water resistant.

From the 1930’s to the 50’s boards were constructed out of hollow and solid timbers that were often covered with glass fibre. Little experimentation was done with surfboard construction through this era; boards were large, generally flat and were steered by a single fin.

Surfboards of the 1950’s

Single Fin Girl Surfboards

The boards constructed in the 1950’s ranged from balsa 10’8” twin fins with concave bottom, to a range of solid balsa hollow redwood and boards with alternating redwood and balsa stringers.

When foam was invented in 1958 surfboards took on completely new dimensions, the time to produce a board was reduced and the material was a lot easier to purchase. This made it possible for shapers to experiment with board designs. Fiberglass was and still is the main material used to cover the polyurethane foam shapes.

Surfboards of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s

Initially surfboards became shorter and as surfboards became shorter surfers noticed that there was a lack of control and stability on the waves. The twin fin was adapted to stabilize the shorter surfboard designs.

Girl Surfboards

In the 1970’s Jack O’Neill (USA) invented the leash and Simon Anderson (Simon Surfboards, Australia) invented the three-fin surfboard, called a “thruster”. The leash helped to keep the surfboard within arms reach and the extra fin gave even greater stability and drive.

During this period shapers experimented with bottom curves, rockers, rails, nose and tail designs. The world professional surfing tour and the increasing number of surfers pushed shapers to move the surfboard designs with (even ahead) of the growth of surfing.

Long boards were still manufactured and ridden but the popularity of shorter surfboard riding was strong at this time.

Surfboards of the 1990’s

Yet again surfboards are being made smaller and much thinner, and the early 90’s saw an increased emphasis on the rocker. Stronger and more durable boat-building materials, polystyrene and epoxy resin, were introduced in longboards, but the health risks of working with such chemicals kept most shortboard shapers using the traditional foam and resin method.

As surfing grew in popularity all types of surfboard types were being ridden, old retro board designs are reborn, new designs are created such as mini-mals (shorter long boards), fishes (wider short boards) and quads (surfboards with four fins).

In the mid-late 90’s surfers’ wanted nothing but ultra light surfboards as this guaranteed better maneuverability and performing aerials became achievable and as a result a very new and popular style of surfing.

Surfboards Post 2000

The commercialization of surfing has opened the doors to computer design and construction techniques to keep up with the demands of the consumer. These techniques allow the surfer to receive an exact replica of a previously successful model and it provides an opportunity for the surfer and shaper to share this model with all surfers. New materials have been tested in this period to make surfboards lighter, stronger, more environmentally friendly and to perform better overall.


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