In an effort to travel down Hawaii’s steep, dare-to-ride-me swells, Tom Blake and the revered Hot Curl surfers revolutionized surfing in the late 1920s and ’30s by hollowing out heavy, solid wood boards, reducing the weight by half. Blake also gave surfboards the ultimate pièce de résistance: the fin. With this, performance boards were born, and surfers were able to negotiate the ocean with greater finesse and confidence.
“You want a board that listens to your feet, goes fast when you ask it to, and never surprises you, except pleasantly,” says William Finnegan, the author of Pulitzer Prize–winning Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life. Bill Hamilton, father to Laird Hamilton, surf legend, and veteran shaper, adds, “A good surfboard should feel effortless under your feet and become an extension of where you want to travel.”
While Blake and his audacious sun-soaked crew might not have intended it, the surfboard itself has become an iconic piece of design . . . even for those of us who’ve never zipped into a wet suit. High performance has been met with high design as the sport’s art and style have migrated indoors with one-of-a-kind surf statements from designers and artists. Many are wave-ready and made by renowned shapers, but others are indoors-only. The beautiful boards featured here are akin to the many experts riding big waves: Sometimes you play with them, and sometimes you just admire.