Surfing takes more than just a board. It takes patience. It takes spirit. It takes positivity and hope. These soulful attributes, though, are often included in the board itself. Color, shape, and design: no surfboard is quite the same, and that’s what makes each surfer unique and recognizable. There is a distinct art to surfing, and this art is undoubtedly translated into the sport’s only and most important object: the surfboard.
The art of surfing has been around for much longer than we can truly comprehend. The first and earliest documentation of a surfboard was in 1777 when Captain James Cook recounted the image of Hawaiians surging across waves on giant wooden boards. He wrote, “Whenever, from stormy weather, or any extraordinary swell at sea, the impetuosity of the surf is increased to its utmost heights, they choose that time for this amusement: twenty or thirty of the natives, taking each a long narrow board, rounded at the ends, set out together from the shore.” His perspective is so raw and free from external impact, which was essentially nonexistent; he told it how he saw it, and not how people told him to see it. It is so intriguing and, in a way, comforting that surfers still have that ancient mentality: the bigger the wave, the greater the amusement.
The boards the Hawaiians rode reached up to 16 feet long: the longer the board, the richer you were. They had no fins and weighed more than 100 pounds. Olo boards were up to 24 feet long. That’s pure dedication. In the early 1900s the surfboard was redesigned with the legendary Duke Kahanamoku’s help; that is, the boards were chopped in half. Lighter wood was used, like redwood and balsa, and surfing was essentially redefined. In 1926, Tom Blake, one of the great surfing pioneers, created the hollow board by drilling holes into the redwood, making for a much swifter glide along the waves. In 1935, Blake introduced the fin to the surfboard, the most important addition to the sport, along with the leash, in its history.
It wasn’t until the 1940s and 50s that shapers began using fiberglass and polyurethane foam. The possibilities for surfing were endless. Surfboards were becoming shorter and people were absolutely ripping it. Surfing became less about soaring fluidly along a wave and more about cutting back and hitting the lip. Shaping became less personalized and more commercial, but the shapers themselves were still as enthusiastic and devoted as ever to amplify the surfing experience.
In the photos of the Lost and Found Collection, each surfer is easily distinguishable. Their boards are different. Their style is different. Each individual is unique. With the evolution of the surfboard, surfers became less indentifiable. Surfboards grew to be practically homogenous, the riders in similar black wetsuits all trying to land the same frontside air. It became more about competition and aggressive maneuvers than it did personal enjoyment and elegant, smooth riding. But, surfing has begun to revert back to its roots as we look to the past for inspiration. With the Lost and Found Collection photos, we’re looking at Nat Young, Gerry Lopez, Larry Bertleman, among many others, and admiring their individuality on the wave. History may not repeat itself completely, but we always learn from the past to shape our future.
When people revolutionize things in life, whether its fashion, food, or surfboards, they always end up where they began: what goes around comes around. Women have gone through the phase of skinny jeans and miniskirts, got sick of that, and have returned to wide leg pants and bright, retro prints. People have gone through the phase of fast food and preservatives and gone back to the caveman diet of organic and sustainable fruits and vegetables. Likewise, surfers have gone through the phase of three fins and short boards and have finally returned to where they commenced: finless longboards. Sometimes if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The recently (re)introduced finless board has rail and bottom contours that allow for some serious speed, even on the smallest waves. The velvety ride of finless surfing restores that simple sense of euphoria that Captain James Cook noted among the Hawaiians: "I could not help concluding this man had the most supreme pleasure while he was driven so fast and so smoothly by the sea." Although the surfboard has evolved tremendously, surfers still have that same patience and spirit as 18th century Hawaiians to enjoy the wave.