Surfboards have come a long way since the first incarnation appeared two centuries ago. Originating from logs that weighed around 100 lbs., the origins of this popular water sport had royal beginnings.

Early Origins

Around 500 A.D., Polynesians used the first versions of surfboards as status symbols. Chiefs and nobility possessed boards that were as long at 25 feet, while commoners had boards that measured up to 7 feet in length.

During the 1780s, Captain James Cook and his crew first arrived to what is now the Hawaiian Islands. They saw logs and solid pieces of wood, as long as 20 feet, being floated upon the ocean waves towards the shore. The first explorers to witness surfing recorded what they saw in their journal entries.

Antique surfboards

Turn of the Century

After Cook’s crusades to the islands, and the settlement of the islands by Europeans, surfing lost some of it’s luster with the settlers and natives. It wasn’t until the early parts of the 20th century that surfing began to regain its previous popularity on the islands. Credit Duke Kahanomoku brought surfing back to the masses by putting on exhibitions worldwide. It was around this time that the drastic redesign of the surfboard began as well.

Surfboards up to this point, had been built out of heavy, long pieces of redwood. The first innovation in the redesign scheme incorporated cutting the board’s length in half, and using a much lighter material, such as balsa wood. Balsa was a much cheaper wood to create boards from, and was readily available.

By the mid-1920s through the mid-1930s, surfboard innovation had gone a step further. Tom Blake, a Wisconsin transfer to Hawaii, decided to try a new technique with his redwood board. He drilled several holes in the redwood, and then fixed lighter pieces of wood around the redwood, making the board quite a bit faster. Blake’s original designs became one of the first surfboards to be produced in mass quantity. He is also credited with placing the first fin on a board, which helped stabilize the board while attacking waves. It was also around this time that surfers began tapering the ends of their surfboards, which produced better rides on the wave.

The Modern Era

After World War II, surfboards were designed using polyurethane and fiberglass, producing the lightest boards to date. “Gun” boards were longer and built for the specific purpose of riding the largest of waves.

In the 1960s, Mark Richards debuted the first dual-fin board, which quickly became a standard as board lengths became shorter. Pat O’Neill in the 70s, added the first board leash, made of surgical cord and suction cups. In 1981, Simon Anderson created the thruster-the first three fin board. In 2012, fiberglass was used with coconut husks to create a board that was much stronger and lighter than most boards on the market. These boards have now become commonplace on beaches the world over.

Matt is a keen surfer and is always seeking out new waves and challenges. He recommends getting a quality surfboard from Fellow surfboards, where you can also grab some unique apparel.

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