Surfboard design innovations

Published: 15th December 2005
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Surfing has its roots in the Polynesia. When explorers such as Captain Cook first happened on previously undiscovered Polynesian islands in the 18th century, they were often surprised to find the natives seemingly walking on water, riding waves with different crafts raging from huge wooden boards to small planks and nothing at all. In Hawaii, where surfing was common, it was strictly regulated by a system of governance called Btapu. Some breaks were reserved for the chiefs who generally used huge boards to ride the waves. This system of governance also determined the way each surfboard needs to be made. An each surfboard determined the status of the rider's board.

When the Hawaiian population was almost killed by disease and foreign influence in the 19th century, the practice of surfing declined, and almost died out entirely. However, as Hawaii came to be seen as an attractive vacation destination in the beginning of the 20th century, surfing experienced a sort of rebirth, lead by the Olympic swimmer Duke Kahanamoku and the Waikiki Beach Boys. Surfing broke in as part of Hawaii's image as a tropical paradise. Kanahanamoku became a kind of ambassador for surfing, introducing it to both coasts of the US as well as Australia between 1910 and 1920. Surfing did not immediately blossom in these new locations, however, because of their cold weather and the heavy and unhandy nature of the old wooden boards. It would take many years and technical innovations before surfing became popular worldwide.

The first great innovation was the addition of the fin to the underside of the surfboard. The fin increased the surfboard's stability and made it more maneuverable. In the 1940s, Californian Bob Simmons began to experiment with new shapes and design materials for surfboards, and came up with the modern foam and fiberglass construction that is the basis for surfboard design today. The new materials made surfboards lighter, cheaper, and more accessible. The advent of the wetsuit around this time made temperate coastlines much more attractive for surfing and this greater accessibly helped to facilitate surfings' great boom in the 1960's, when different surfing movies and bands like The Beach Boys, Bel-airs, and Surfers, helped surfing, and the accompanying lifestyle present its way into America's culture.

The next great revolution was the short board revolution of the late 1960s, when some surfers started experimenting with surfboards radically shorter and more maneuverable than before. This opened up a whole new world of faster, steeper breaks which the older boards were unable to handle. The 1970s saw the birth of the professional surfing world tour, which helped to further popularize surfing around the world. The final revolution in surfboard design took place in the early 1980s, the three finned surfboard, which further increased board speed and maneuverability.

Today surfing continues to increase in popularity and is spreading to the whole globe.

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