5 of surfing’s smartest inventions

From the humble fin to wheels on boardbags, here are five designs that have made the surfing world a better place.

1. The fin

switch-surfboard-finsPhoto: surfscience.com

The ancient Hawaiian surfboards called “alaias” featured no fins, making them quite difficult to ride. It wasn’t until 1935, when Tom Blake found an abandoned speedboat and bolted the keel to his surfboard, that surfing suddenly became a whole lot easier. “My first wave revealed the truth,” he said later. “Never before had I experienced such control and suitability.” A single fin remained the dominant design until the late 1970s, when twin fins, led by four-time world champion Mark Richards, became the norm. In 1981 Australian Simon Anderson unveiled his thruster, or three-fin design, which remains the dominant design for most surfboards bought today. Four-fin surfboards, known as quads, are also currently very popular, especially in big waves, and five fins surfboards have been ridden by Kelly Slater (see below), among others. However, no matter the number, it is the humble fin that remains one of the great surfing inventions of our time.

2. The wetsuit

wetsuitsPhoto: surfboardroom.com.au

Before the invention of the wetsuit, hardcore surfers in cold climates in the 1930s and 1940s made do with woolen jumpers and homemade rubber suits lined with stockings. However, in 1952 Jack O’Neill took the neoprene technology invented by Californian physicist Hugh Bradner and started his own company making wetsuits out of his garage. Since then wetsuit technology has progressed so far that surfers can go for hour-long sessions in some of the coldest places on earth, such as Alaska, Iceland, Patagonia, and even Minnesota. The invention of the wetsuit widened the surfing world and made winter, typically the time of the year with the best waves, a time of fun and not frostbite. They also weigh a damn sight less than wet woolen jumpers.

3. The leash

leashesPhoto: easternlines.com

Surfing before leashes was almost an entirely different sport. With boards being washed to shore after each fall, surfers spent a fair amount of the session swimming to retrieve their logs. You had to be both a very good swimmer, and quite a good ding fixer, if you wanted to surf. By the early 1970s, surfers all over the world were sick of swimming rather than standing, and they started to invent nylon and rope chords. It wasn’t till 1977, however, when Australian David Hattrick patented a urethane design, that they became practical. The use of Velcro further added their ease of use, and after an initial backlash by surfing purists, by 1980 every surfer was using leashes. It added a whole performance dimension with surfers now able to go for riskier maneuvers and heavier waves without fear of losing their boards. Surfers became poorer swimmers, but the leash changed the very nature of surfing.

4. The inflatable vest

shane-dorian-wetsuitPhoto: Hilton Dawe/Billabong

After almost drowning on his first wave at Mavericks in 2010, big-wave surfer Shane Dorian sat down with Billabong wetsuit designer Hub Hubbard to come up with a life vest that could inflate after a wipeout, similar to the life jackets used in airplanes. The result was the V1. After a wipeout, an inbuilt air bladder was activated by pulling a strap, bringing the surfer straight to the surface. After the first test Shane Dorian described it as, “an absolute game changer.” Dorian decided not to patent the vest design, instead choosing to share the technology with the best big-wave riders in the world. It is no coincidence that the design and the resurgence of big-wave paddle surfing occurred around the same time.

5. Wheels on surfboard bags

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Sources: grindtv.com / Ben Mondy

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