The earliest record of surfing dates back to an account made by French explorer Louis de Bougainville in April of 1768 stating that the “islanders were able to ride the crest of waves while standing up on boards”. A year later Joseph Banks aboard the HMS Endeavour under the commandment of Captain James Cook had reported the same activity of surfriding by the Tahitians. David Samwell, a surgeon’s mate aboard the HMS Discovery under the commandment of Captain James Cook reported surfriding in the Hawaiian Islands in 1779. These boards stood as tall as 24 feet and the longest of boards was ridden only by royalty.
After WWI, in the early 1920’s the infamous Duke Kahanamoko, a Hawaiian Olympic gold-medalist swimmer, took the sport of surfing to the mainstream by spreading it to the United States and Australia with fellow swimming friend and competitor Tom Blake. In California, Blake shaped America’s first surfboards made from redwood, but later returned to Hawaii to turn his attention to the ancient surfboard templates made from heavy Koa wood. By the late 1920’s he had brought the ancient olo design back to California but innovated a lighter and more maneuverable redwood surfboard made from drilling holes, hallowing it out and planking.
After WWII, the sport took hold by the late 1940’s from an innovative surfboard design developed by Bob Simmons with the help of Joe Quigg, Matt Kivlin, Tommy Zahn and Dave Rochlen. This design utilized a lighter fiberglassed balsa wood along with a more rounded shape, which would make for a more maneuverable, practical surfboard. By the early 1950’s a few other shapers popped up around Southern California by the name of Dale Velzy, Hap Jacobs, Greg Noll, Dewey Weber, Bing Copeland , Larry Gordon, Floyd Smith, and Hobie Alter. All of them started shaping balsa boards in their garages and selling them there or out on the beach until they could afford to set up a real shop.
Most notably, Dale Velzy set up a shop in Venice Beach and partnered with Hap Jacobs. From there, Velzy eventually bought out Hap Jacobs and expanded to San Clemente and San Diego and self-proclaimed to be the largest surfboard manufacturer in the world. In the 60’s, the surfing industry opened its doors to the youth by creating smaller sized surf boards. Also, the majority of surfboards being made by then were fiberglass and styrofoam, which made them a lot more light and maneuverable than balsa. Tapping this youth market allowed the surfing industry to boom, which influenced popular culture around the world with the help of Bruce Brown’s film Endless Summer.
However, the evolution of surfing culture and the youth itself put a spin on the popularity of the longboard surfboard. The shortboard has since been the most popular surfboard being manufactured. Although longboards will always be around, the money is all wrapped up in the highly commercial shortboard surfing industry. It is true that longboards are great surfboards to learn the sport of surfing, and great boards to fall back on in old age, however there are many surfers both young and old who are tried and true longboarders for life.