The oldest surfboards date to the 6th century, when early Hawaiians practiced he’e nalu, what we call surfing today. Common-folk islanders rode the waves on 10- to 12-foot wooden alaia boards made from native koa trees. Chiefs surfed on olos, which could be as long as 24 feet and as heavy as 200 pounds. Captain Cook’s diaries from 1777 describe Hawaiians surfing, but missionaries in the 1800s frowned on the activity—by the end of the 19th century, surfing had been all but wiped out.

One of the first people in the 20th century to revive the sport was a Hawaiian named George Freeth, who, in 1907, cut his heavy, traditional, 16-foot board in half. The resulting shorter board sparked renewed interest in surfing. The sport got an even bigger boost when in the 1910s and 1920s, Hawaiian-born Olympic gold and silver swimming medalist Duke Kahanamoku made surfing demonstrations a part of his swimming exhibitions on the mainland.

In 1929, a fellow swimmer living in Santa Monica named Tom Blake made the first hollow-body wood surfboard, based on templates he had created in 1926 after restoring a number of ancient boards for the Bishop Museum in Honolulu. Blake’s surfboard, which was constructed like an airplane wing and nicknamed the "cigar box," weighed half as much as a solid-wood board, thus opening the sport to many more people when these new boards were mass-produced—a first for surfboards.

Blake was also the first person to put a fin on a surfboard, but his shape was still very old-school. Los Angeles native Bob Simmons changed all that in the 1940s by experimenting with a board’s rocker, which is the amount of curve a board has from nose to tail. The Simmons Spoon, as one of these boards was called, curved up at the nose, but its most radical difference was its material—balsa wood.

Lightweight, South America balsa wood had been around the surf scene since the early 1930s, and Simmons was not the first to use it. But he was the first to combine it with other lightweight materials—in particular, styrofoam and fiberglass. By 1949, Simmons had produced a board with a Styrofoam core, balsa rails (the edges of a surfboard), and a plywood top and bottom, all encased in fiberglass. The boards were light and fast, and the era of modern surfboards and surfing was born.

One of the people who helped Simmons was a surfer named Joe Quigg, who, along with Matt Kivlin, created the Malibu, a surfboard that was popular throughout the 1950s. Dave Sweet was another builder in the postwar period: he built his first board in 1946 and opened Dave Sweet Surfboards in Santa Monica in 1956.

The 1950s were also the decade that Gordie Duane launched Gordie Surfboards. His vintage surfboards from the 1960s include the Mark V, Lizard, and Assassin. Hermosa Beach got Bing Surfboards in 1959, and by 1961, San Diego became the home of Gordon & Smith, whose team members included Skip Frye and Mike Hynson, one of the surfers in the seminal 1966 surf film The Endless Summer...

Of course, no mention of surfing in the 1950s would be complete without paying homage to surfer and shaper Hobart Alter, who opened Hobie Surfboards in Dana Point in 1954. Like his contemporaries, Alter began making boards out of balsa, but by 1958, he was firmly in the thrall of foam and fiberglass. Surfboards had never been lighter, more responsive, or more a part of the popular culture.

The 1960s were an incredible decade for surfboards and, consequently, for vintage surfboard collectors. Weber Surfboards of Venice Beach opened in 1960. Its Performer model from the mid-1960s is perhaps the best selling surfboard of all time. Surfer Greg Noll, who opened his Hermosa Beach shop in the late 1950s and was famous for surfing impossible locations like Oahu’s feared Banzai Pipeline, made big boards called guns—his Da Bull and Da Cat boards from the 1960s are highly prized today.

But not all vintage boards were longboards designed to navigate enormous Hawaiian waves. Hawaii-based surfer and shaper Dick Brewer is generally credited with fashioning the shorter boards that would take the surfing world by a storm in the 1970s. After bailing on partnerships with John Price of Surfboards Hawaii, followed by an acrimonious split with Hobie, Brewer moved to Maui in 1967 and founded Lahaina Surfing Design (it is assumed that the company’s initials were not an accident).

There, Brewer devised lighter, shorter (under seven feet) boards—some were dubbed "mini-guns"—with teardrop outlines and narrow pintails. Some of these boards would get two or even three fins at their tails, others featured subtle V-indentations in their otherwise flat bottoms. Brewer’s short boards were fast, they were maneuverable (a skilled surfer could ride one in the pocket of a wave), and they anticipated the current crop of short surfboards that dominate the market today.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Gallery Of Surf Classics

Gallery Of Surf Classics

Maynard Eshelman's gallery of over 250 classic surf movie posters and lobby cards from the 1960s. The highlight of … [read review or visit site]

The Wheelmen

The Wheelmen

This elegant tribute to turn-of-the-century bicycling includes memorabilia, photographs, and an index of 3140 bicyc… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Most watched eBay auctions    

3 Futures Surfboard Fins - Black Honeycomb Vintage Surfboard Surfboards Australia Fat Albert Model Longboard Rare3 Futures Surfboard Fins - Techflex Ctg Green Honeycomb - NewHayden Hypto Krypto Surfboard 5'4" 19.5" 2.25" Futureflex Epoxy Haydensurf3 Futures Surfboard Fins - Red Balck Honeycomb Vintage 1960's Nash Sidewalk Surfboard No.7 Tournament Skateboard Euc!Orion Diamond Head Surfboard Epoxy 5'4" 19 7/8" 2 1/4" Fcs 2 FinsSurfboard Fins Fcs Pc-5 Tri SetLiquid Shredder 70 Fse Eps/pe Soft Surf Board (red, 7-feet)Fcs The Goods 1 Composite Core Surfboard Fins 3 Fin Set Hobgood'sCole 7'0" Surfboard2 Futures Surfboard Fins - Green Honeycomb Bic Shortboard Surfboard 6'7'' Vintage Skateboard Nash Sidewalk Surfboard 1960 RareLiquid Shredder 70 Fse Eps/pe Soft Surf Board (red, 7-feet)Lost Mini Driver Surfboard 6'4" - Shortboard - Matt "mayhem" BiolosStewart 7 1/2 Surf BoardNwt Oakley Surfboard Wheeled Traveling Bag 175 CmRainbow Fin Co. Rfc 9" Wingnut Cutaway Long Board Surfboard Fin Robert AugustWood Carved Tiki Orange Surfboard Surfing Surfer Beach Bar Home Decor Totem NewFcs Fins Surf Surfboard Occy Short Board Tri Fin42pcs Skateboard Surfboard Vinyl Skull Stickers Laptop Luggage Guitar DecalsOcean Earth Global Travel Series Surfboard Bag 7'6"Axxe Wetsuit Vest Japanese Neoprene Vintage Longboard Surfboard Matuse Rainbow Vintage Surf Fins Skefs 1980s Surfboard150pcs Skateboard Surfboard Vinyl Stickers Laptop Notebook Luggage Guitar DecalsFcs Surfboard FinsSurfboard Fin Blank Vintage Style Longboard D Fin Surfing Wood WoodenLiquid Shredder Fse Eps/pe Soft Surf Board (red, 6 Feet)2014 Ronix Koal Fish Wake Surfboard - 5 FtVintage Aloha Style Surfboard Racks Surf Roof Rack Orion Tayler Brothers Sea Farer Geiselman Surfboard 5'7" 19.25" 2.25" Fcs 2 FinsQuiet Flight Hot Rod Ii Ragan Surfboard 5'6" 19" 2 3/16" Fcs Fins3 Futures Surfboard Fins - Rip Curl Grom Search F6 - White - NewVintage Surfboard 6'4" Mark Richards Late 1970's W/ Star System Fin BoxesBushman 6'10" Pancho Sullivan Epoxy SurfboardMaverix Surf Board 6'0" Rusty Cj Pro Model Surfboard80 New Skateboard Surfboard Vinyl Stickers Laptop Notebook Luggage Guitar DecalsMini Surf Board Wood Wow!Jeff Widener Bonzer-super Cool, Rare Surfboard1960s Vintage Nash Fifteen Toes Sidewalk Surfboard SkateboardWood Carved Tiki & Blue Surfboard Surfing Surfer Beach Bar Home Decor Totem NewVtg Surf Poster Rare 60s Surfing Surfboard Longboard 45 Years Of Surfer MagazineDakine Surfboard Longboard Sock Bag 9'2"Surfboard Fins: Futures Vector Ii Fjc1 (thermotech - White)Dakine Pro Kainui Surfboard Leash 9ft - Surfboard LeashNew With Tags Quiksilver Men's Boardshorts Surf Board Shorts Trunks DryVintage Zipees Sidewalk Surf Board Wooden 1960'sVersa Traction Clear Deck Grip Tape For A 7'0"fish Surf Boards Rrp$85 (j)vintage Zipees Sidewalk Surf Board Skateboard 1960'sFcs G-xq Fins Surf Surfing Surfboard Quad Rear Trailer FinsFcs Surfboard Rack Tie Down System Hard Rack PadsVintage Woody Wagon Surfing Surfboard Sticker Decal Jimbo Phillips Ford SkateNew Body Glove Wake Surfer Wakesurf Wake Surf BoardNwt Quiksilver Masters Beanie Skull Cap Hat Red Surfboard Surf Surfing Surfer Surf BoardThule Hang-two Surf Carrier 554xt (two Surfboard Roof Carrier)Lot Of 50 Surfing Surfboard Windsurf Waterski Wakeboard Stickers DecalsJacks Vintage Style Surfboard Sticker Surfing Longboard Surf California Surfer