The Evolution of Surfboard Design

Surfboard Design Before the 1950s

In the late 19th century, surfers used boards made out of planks cut from Willi Willi, Ula, Koa and redwood trees, all native to the Pacific islands. The main problem with using these types woods for surfing is that they aren't particularly waterproof, especially redwood, which was the most commonly used material for surfboards in the early 20th century. The longer a surfer spent out in the water, the heavier and more difficult it became to control the board.

Surfboard designers eventually figured out that more aerodynamic surfing came with a board that was hollow, light and water-repellent. In 1926, surfer and board maker Tom Blake changed things when he fashioned a hollow surfboard. It was cut from redwood, but he drilled hundreds of holes into it, and encased the core piece of wood with thin layers of wood on the top and bottom. It was 15 feet (4.6 meters) long and weighed 100 pounds (45.4 kilograms), but the design made it much faster than traditional surfboards. Blake's board became the first mass-produced surfboard in 1930. He also installed the first rudders, or "fixed fins," on surfboards in 1935. Similar to the rudders on a boat, the component stabilized the board's position in the water.

Blake's hole-filled redwood quickly would become obsolete, however. By 1932, redwood was out, and South American balsa wood was in. It was a breakthrough for fast, lightweight boards, since a balsa board weighed around 35 pounds (15.9 kilograms), or a little heavier if it was made of a balsa/redwood composite. These boards were then coated with layers of resin and fiberglass to make them waterproof.

Up next: the golden age of surfing in both popular culture and surfboard design.