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    

Vintage "lightning Bolt" Surfboards 1974 Very Rare 5'1'' Clean Plastic Fantastic Vintage Surfboards 1978 / 6'3" RareVintage 1970s David Nuuhiwa Dyno Surfboard Single Fin 6'-4" H.b. LocalSanta Cruz 5'9 Fang Deck Surfboard, Black/orangeVintage 9 Inch Rainbow Fin 1970's Single Surfboard Fin EraSanta Cruz 6'8 Pumpkin Seed Surfboard - Rob DotVintage Nash Skateboard Striped Black Cat Sidewalk Surfboard Fort Worth Texas 13New 6'6" Russell "hull" SurfboardYakima Tlc (mako) Kayak Surfboard Paddle Board Canoe Roof Rack SaddlesFuture Fins Dave Rastovish Bamboo Quad Surfboard FinsLot Of 3 Vintage Surfboards-clark Foam Nitro Signed, Town & Country,natural ArtVintage Original Long Board 10" Wave Set Surfboard Fin 1960-70's6 Foot Epoxy Tri Fin SurfboardFcs Kelly Slater K2.1 Grom Surfboard Thruster 3 Fins Kids Youth Channel IslandsVintage Kookbox Surfboard PaddleboardSurfboard9'8" Bruce Jones Bisect Longboard Surfboard Very Clean 8 Inch Rainbow Surfboard Single Fin From The 1970's. 1 Vintage Surfboard Fin Yellow Rootbeer WhiteVintage Rainbow Surfboard Fin/skeg Rare Brown 12.5" Rainbow Fin Co. No Reserve!Vintage Rppc Three Young Men On Surfboards Real Photo Postcard Unused Hawaii ?8 Inch Rainbow Surfboard Single Fin From The 1970's. 9'6" Surftech Mctavish Fireball Surfboard Brand NewFox Mens Boardshorts Surf Board Shorts Pants Beach Sports Boardies Size 325'8 Cbc Sushi Surfboard/fish/soft Foam Top & Hard Bottom/extras Too!Hobie Surfboard Surfing Longboard Cap Hat With Patch Surfer Surf New Old Surfboard Sticker Local Motion Vintage Style Surfing Decal SurfSurf BoardSurf BoardVintage Rare Sidewalk Surfboard By Nash Fifteen Toes SkateboardVintage Rainbow Style Twin Surfboard Fin Black FinsFcs Dolphin 7.0 Surfboard Longboard Fin - Natural Color - Glassflex - New Keel Zipees Skateboard Sidewalk Surfboard Maloa M-433 Original Older Shape 6 Quiksilver Surfing Surfboard Stickers New Kelly SlaterVintage Sidewalk SurfboardFlowboard - Skateboard Operates Like Snowboard/surfboard 14 Wheels -buyer UnpaidAustralia Surfboard Fin 10" Sailfin 1 Multi Fin Systems NiceVintage Hi-boy Surfing Beach Swim Buckle Brass Surfer Swimming Surf Board Surfboard FinVintage Tom Sims Skateboard Sidewalk Surfboard Skater Skateboarder Patch 1970s9" Surfboard Fin/longboard Fin8 Vintage Surfing Surfboard Surf Stickers Mango Hic Offshore Rip CurlHobie Surfboard Surfing Longboard Surfer Sticker Decal Surf Longboard Surf ShopBing Surfboards " Pipeliner Model " Surf Surfing Longboard Fin Beach S/s Size 2x9'3 Board Bag For Retro Malibu Surfboard Classic Noserider Longboard Fin SlotCorky Carroll Model Super-mini Hobie Vintage SurfboardVintage Surfboard Fin Blu /clearSurfboard Sup Fin Skinny Water Template 5.1/4" Depth 12" Cut Base Hifinbiz .comFcs Tp-g Timmy Patterson Grom Youth Surfboard Thruster 3 Fins Channel Islands1990`s Vintage Black Flys Sticker Skateboard Surfboard Snowboard Sunglasses # 28Classic Surfboards " Murphy " Surf Surfer Surfboard Fin Beach Hat Lapel Pin(3) 6" Miniature Wood Surfboards Wood Stringers & Fins Surf Beach Longboard FinSurfboard Traction Grip Tail Stomp Pad For Shortboard Malibu Funboard Skimboard 4 Large 90s Vintage Black Flys Sticker Skateboard Surfboard Snowboard SunglassesSurfboard, Alaia Replica Hawaian Wooden SurfboardHyperlite 4' 9" 2.9" Tip .8" Tail Broadcast Wake Surfboard Red Gray Water SportsSurfboard Hammock BagMove Or Die Short Board Surfboard Formerly Owned By Pro Surfer Jason Miller.Fcs Surfboard Cover 6'3"Kiteboard, Surfboard, Wakeboard Fins - Set Of 4 - 1.5" Fiberglass