The evolution of the surfboard is an interesting thing to think about – especially when you start experimenting with different boards and building your own equipment.
Riding boards from different eras of surfing or designing boards in the spirit of something old feels a little bit like time travel.
Especially on a wave – if you’re only used to riding modern surfboards, you really get a sense for the importance that equipment and materials has had on surfing’s progression. There are just simply things you cannot do certain types of surfboards.
This page looks not to stand as a timeline of dates, names, and events in the surfboard’s history, but more to examine the evolution of the surfboard at a high level.
I think surfboard evolution can be summed up pretty simply if approached from a high level:
Surfboards began as long, heavy, and sustainable and evolved into something short, light, and less sustainable only to enter a new phase of evolution that combines elements from the past with materials from the future.
Much of the surfboard’s evolution and progression in surfing comes down to the materials available to make boards.
In the beginning, solid wood and hand tools were the only option. And that works, it still does today if you’ve got the strength to move it and the patience to whittle.
Boards began getting shorter and lighter as surfing spread. You had more minds thinking about what was possible on a wave and ways in which they could use their equipment to achieve whatever it was they were thinking.
The next logical steps were to hack off parts of the giant wood boards to make them smaller – easier to carry around and easier to maneuver in the water. Drilling some holes is also a good way to cut weight.
When you start cutting feet and 10s of pounds off a board, it’ll start to perform a lot differently. It would make you think what else was possible.
Boards got shorter, people started experimenting with bottom contours, rail shapes, and fins.
You were able to catch waves and maneuver in ways that had never been possible before. The shortboard revolution was upon us.
At the same time, the materials required to make these boards were toxic and won’t break down for thousands or millions of years. It feels like a really weird dichotomy between being so connected to the ocean while riding something that’s not that great for the environment.
Today, you can walk into a surf shop and find boards from almost every era of surfing and a mix of something new.
It seems like we’ve reentered a phase where shapers and surfers are more willing to experiment – in both shapes and materials. That seems like a good thing.
I think the perfect surfboard exists in something that’s fun in the waves at hand and is made from sustainable materials – ones that aren’t toxic and will have a long useful-life.
Experimentation is key and remaining curious as to what will work and how it will perform is a trait that has been and will continue to be super important to the evolution of the surfboard.