In the early days of surfing in Hawaii there were two kinds of surfboards, an ‘ola’ (rode by chiefs or the noblemen) and the ‘alaia’ (rode by the commoners). They were wooden boards made from the Ula & Koa trees and ranged from 10-12ft for commoners & 14-16ft for the nobleman & chiefs.
Late 18th century
George Freeth, who through his surfing, experimented with board design, and cut his 16 foot Hawaiian board in half. Making the typical solid redwood Hawaiian board of the time to around 6 to 10 foot long
The next major change in surfboard design was when one of the most famous names in surf history; Tom Blake designed the first hollow surfboard. The board was constructed of redwood, it had hundreds of holes drilled in it and was encased with a thin board of wood on top and bellow the board. The board was 15 foot long, 19" wide, 4" thick and weighed 100 lbs.
Inspired by Blake's design, a group of surfers in Hawaii began experimenting with the tail size of the surfboard, shaving off parts of the tail and rail of the boards to get rid of the square tail. This gave the surfboard more maneuverability, allowing more radical surf maneuvers. These new boards were called 'hot curl' boards, named because the boards allowed the surfer to maneuver into the 'curl' of the wave and ride in the pipe.
In 1934 Balsa wood from South America became a popular material for building surfboards. The new balsa wood boards only weighed around 30 to 40 pounds apposed to the 90 to 100 pound redwood boards. The boards had several coats of varnish applied to waterproof them. Such a reduction in weight was a major step forward in board design, and became more and more in demand.
The end of World War Two opened up new possibilities in surfboard design. Many new materials had become available through advances in technology during the war. Fiberglass was the most significant of these, also there was plastics and styrofoam. The first fibreglass board was built by a man named Pete Peterson in 1946, this surfboard was a hollow plastic mould, with a redwood stringer (a piece of wood running down the centre of the surfboard) and sealed with fibreglass tape.
Hawaii had become very popular for its big waves. Many Californian's rushed to the islands to surf these giant waves, including famous names like Greg Noll, Miki Dora and George Downing (to name but a few). George Downing was one of the men responsible for developing the modern 'gun' surfboard. It was named a 'gun' as it is the surfers' means of hunting down the big waves. The gun board was long and narrow making them easier to paddle out to the bigger waves and easier to control on the steep face of the wave.
the shortboard came onto the surf scene. The average length of the surfboard went from 10 to 6 foot, with an obvious reduction in weight. These new boards allowed surfers to ride in the pocket of the wave and so were named the 'pocket rocket' board
to the future
From the 80's onwards surfboards haven't changed too fundamentally. Board artwork has become popular; the art of airbrushing and painting surfboards, one of the pioneers of which being COTW featured surf artist Drew Brophy. Surfboards have become a lot thinner and lighter, allowing more radical surf and aerial maneouvre's. And in the mid-90's the almost forgotten longboard came back onto the scene and is still a popular choice amongst surfers today, particularly with the learners and the older surfers.