Surfboards and paddleboards have come a long way since the early wooden ones used in Hawaii. Wooden boards didn’t float nearly as well as modern ones so they had to be longer and could sometimes weigh in at 150 pounds (it must’ve been a relief to drop them in the water). Because of the weight issues balsa wood was introduced much later – it is significantly lighter but not as strong as the wood of the Koa or Wili Wili or Redwood. Ancient and not-so-ancient Hawaiian surfboards had very little shape to them except for, perhaps, a pointed prow. They were as flat as the planks used to build houses which allowed for very little beyond straight-line surfing.
The biggest innovation in wooden surfboard tech came in 1926 when board weight was vastly reduced by the introduction of hollow construction. Construction was achieved using marine plywood over a lightweight frame and plenty of varnish. At the same time buoyancy was naturally improved, however board shape was still nothing like the curved short boards you see nowadays. Long, flat boards were still the norm and smooth, easy straight rides the only possibility for most surfers. However, just a little later fins were introduced giving surfers more stability and more maneuverability. Once surfers started experimenting with tail shape and once they started giving their boards some rocker (curve) modern-style surfing really began to take off. Surfers could now turn into the wave more easily and entering the barrel or tube was now possible.
By the time the second world war was over advances in technology made possible another leap in surfboard design. Fiberglass became a commonly used material in board creation. All of a sudden surfboards could be produced commercially.
Fin technology advanced greatly through the 50s, 60s and 70s. Like shaving gear and the ever-increasing number of shaving blades, fins kept getting added to the bottom of surfboards until four-fin setups became common on some boards.
Nowadays, at 6 or 7 pounds, boards are about 4% the weight of the first Hawaiian boards. The stiff polyurethane foam core covered with fiberglass and polyester resin makes for light, buoyant, tough, and easy to control boards. The latest advancements in surfboard materials include carbon fiber and kevlar which promise great durability but hefty price tags as well. Carbon fiber appears to be the ultimate material in some ways. However it is a one-color material: the only coice is black. The black color has a undeniably cool, James Bond look but unfortunately can be hard to handle in hot sun as the board will be hard to touch. If you can get a carbon fiber board to the water without burning yourself then the ride is top-notch. It goes without saying that the best boards don’t cause injury to the user.
What’s the future of surf board technology? That’s, of course, hard to predict. It seems like the ultimate in ride has been achieved, but there will no doubt be innovations that will eventually make today’s best stand up paddleboards and surfboards (http://shakasurfer.com/best-standup-paddle-board-sup/) seem passé.