August Odyssey: History of the Surfboard

August Odyssey: History of the Surfboard

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In the beginning, waveriders were making boards from solid wood. They were really heavy–like 120 pounds–and not easy to manage or ride. You kept in shape just lugging your board around! Drop your board on your toe, no surfing for a week.

Next, they progressed into what they called “paddle boards.” These paddle boards were made out of plywood and then painted on the outside. They were hollow in the middle, so a lot lighter than the solid wood variety–the paddle boards weighed about 70-80 lbs.

But the guys that were into surfing kept looking for better ways to make their boards easier to ride and deal with in the water and out. They paid attention to the life preservers that were modern at the time and made from balsa wood with canvas. If a plane crashed or a boat sank you could float for a day or so hoping someone could save you. So they copied the idea and cut boards out of balsa and glued the canvas on it. Now surfboards were specifically designed to float.

Then the boating industry at the time began using fiberglass on their hulls. Someone smart realized that if they cut the balsa wood into a board, then covered it with fiberglass, it would be much lighter and more maneuverable than what they were currently doing. Add a fin in the back, shaped like a dolphin or shark tail, and you could maneuver and make turns!

It was then, when boards became something really reasonable and even easy to manage, that surfing began to evolve into the popular sport it is today.

Robert’s first surfboard

I entered the surf scene at the paddle board stage. When I was five years old, you could go to the lumber supply place for the wood, and then purchase patterns that you could cut out into paddle board shapes. This was how I made my first surfboard with my dad. We got the lumber and patterns, then we made boards together, and then we surfed together. Actually, he pushed me in the water at Seal Beach, California when I started. This was my very first board.

Then, in the balsa wood and fiberglass era, Greg Knoll was making surfboards with these materials in his mother’s garage in Manhattan Beach, California, and Hobie was making surfboards in Dana Point, California. After my paddle board I rode the Hobie boards, which they made with the fin already in them.

I have been shaping my own boards since 1966. Today, I shape my boards from polyurethane foam and Curtis Custer brings the material to me from California. They are glassed by Juan Diego Evangelista at Cheboards here in Tamarindo. My favorite is the 9-foot What I Ride.

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