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The Evolution of Surfboard Design

Surfboard Design in the 1970s and 1980s

The big developments of the 1950s and 1960s -- flexible fins, lightweight foam and fiberglass building materials, zippy shortboards -- remained the standard for surfboards. But they also served as a template from which surfers and builders could tweak and improve the sport's technology.

It's a fairly recent change in terms of the long history of the surfboard, but the early '70s saw one of the simplest innovations: the leg rope. Surfer Jack O'Neill and his sons fashioned the first ones between 1971 and 1973 out of pliable, flexible surgical tubing. One end attached securely to the board's tail with an embedded plug, and the other hung as an anklet on the surfer's leg. The point was that whenever a surfer wiped out, he didn't have to chase down his board underwater or wait for it to wash ashore before getting back up and trying again.

Another major development made in the '70s is the tri-fin, a variation on the underside surfboard rudder. These are attachable, stick-on plastic fins that could be mounted in any formation on the outside of the permanent, factory-installed fin. The extra weight adds stability to the rear, enabling more control.

Changes to surfboards in the '80s were more about individual change and experimentation on the board's different elements and parts, not so much a redesign of the board or the introduction of new elements. Australian surfer Simon Anderson solidified the permanent three-fin surfboard, an outgrowth of the interchangeable tri-fin system, in 1981. Called a "thruster" board, it provides excellent stability in the pocket and remains a standard.

What's a surfboard from recent years look like? Read on.