Editor’s Note: Welcome to our new series, “By Design” with Sam George that examines the genius, and sometimes the mystery, of surfing’s storied design history. Sam has been writing about surfing for more than three decades and is the former Editor-in-Chief of SURFER magazine. He won an Emmy for his work on the 30 for 30 documentary, Hawaiian: The Legend of Eddie Aikau. Today, Sam looks at six surfboards that influenced modern design.
The surfboard timeline is populated by what can seem like a million different designs. Some represented a quantum leap (the first fin, redwood to balsa, balsa to foam, longboard to short), some intrinsic to their particular era (‘60s noseriders, early ‘70s winger pins, late ‘70s twin-fins and ‘80s thrusters), some just plain awful (early ‘60s longboards, early ‘70s twin-fins, the ‘80s Lazor Zap)…and then there’s boards like the six featured here. Each considered cutting edge for their time, how could their shaper/designers have known that they were, in fact, well ahead of their time, featuring design elements that would not only influence the way surfboards looked years down the road, but in some cases, decades. Yeah, we probably need to come up with a better word than classic. How does clairvoyant sound?
Left (in the photo above): This is beautifully crafted 10’10” balsa/redwood gun was hand-built by master shaper Dick Brewer in 2004, and is said to be a replica of the board Brewer made in 1965 for 17-year-old Jeff Hakman, who was already a standout on the North Shore (Hakman won the inaugural Duke Kahanamoku Invitational that same year, riding his Brewer gun at Sunset Beach). Pretty incredible, when you consider that with the exception of a few tweaks of rocker and number of fins, this board is virtually identical in template and foil to surfboards ridden 58 years later by many of the competitors in this year’s Eddie contest at Waimea Bay, including eventual winner Luke Shepardson. Talk about getting it right the first time.
Center: One of the most infamous characters in surf history, Mickey Dora was known for, among many other examples of aberrant behavior, treating his surfboards with a distressing lack of respect. Even the marketing campaign for his widely popular Greg Noll “Da Cat” model oozed sarcasm. But by 1966, Noll had obviously put a lot of thought into the design, incorporating twin channels, or slots, to channel water flow off the tail, increasing drive and control. With a nod to later channel devotees like Jim Pollard and Allan Byrne, today a number of high-performance shapers, including Matt Biolos and Darren Handley, have been whittling out channel bottoms for surfers like Mason Ho and Mick Fanning, proving that Dora’s “slot bottom” was no gimmick.
Right: I could on about how this morning I walked into a local surf shop and saw half a dozen boards that looked exactly like this ‘67 Weber Professional, and why. I could also write about how it went on to become one of the most versatile, enduring designs the sport has ever seen, with facsimiles being ridden today by beginner, intermediate and super-hot longboarders the world over, and why. But I might as well just let this 1967 Weber Surfboards ad do the talking: “Step deck, turned down nose rails, flex, kicked semi-dished tail, turned up tail rails…the design of the future is here today, and it’s a wild experience.”
Well, they sure got that right.
Left: No offense to the many surfing hipsters out there expressing free minds and flow on strange little sub-five footers, but they’re a little bit behind the groove. Like about half a century. Case in point, this 4’11″ Rainbow kneeboard, shaped by the legendary Mike Hynson in 1970. Sure, it was made to ride on your knees, but remember, this was back when only kneeboarders were effectively riding the tube. Beyond that aspect, consider how many of its design features are still in use today: down rails throughout, continuous curve template, crescent tail and on the flip side, three fin boxes. Trippy airbrush a bonus. This board would no doubt be ridden standing up today, hipper than hip.
Center: While this 7’2”, Dick Brewer-shaped Inter-Island hyper kick might look weird today, back in 1969 it was just plain radical. Debuted by Hawaii’s Reno Abellira at the 1969 U.S. Championships in Huntington Beach, he rode one to a fourth-place finish at the 1970 World Contest in Australia, but with the advent of the down rail soon abandoned the design. But let’s think, for a moment, what design elements survived to shape the direction of more modern surfboards. Wide point moved back, nose pulled in, nose volume reduced and kicked up…I don’t know, sounds an awful lot like Kelly Slater’s mid-90’s “Glass Slipper,” a design that Slater rode to victory in many a contest, but that was considered just too radical for the average surfer. Just like Reno’s Hyper Kick.
Right: Of all the boards featured here, this 1977 Town and Country Larry Bertlemann model is the youngest, yet deserves its place on this list in that it represents the genesis of a current trend that today sees more and more surfers riding twin fins. And they could all be riding this very board, so prescient was its template, distribution of volume and in shape, placement and cant. Take a look at a CI Fish, or the Hypto Krypto Twin and try to tell the difference, keeping in mind that this board was shaped entirely by hand, most probably by Craig Sugihara, 46 years ago. A baby classic.
Board photos courtesy of the 2023 California Gold Surfboard Auction, taking place March 11-25. To bid on any of these classic boards, go to TheVintageSurfAuctions.com.