pods for primates : a catalogue of surfboards in australia since 1900
home catalogue history references appendix

surfboard design : modern world, 1971 

The scene above, with Australian Junior Surfboard Champion Simon Anderson in action at Narrabeen (NSW), shows a style of surfing which would have been considered impossible ten years ago. But radical changes in surfboard design have produced a completely 'new breed' of surfing techniques. Modern World takes a look at the changes in surfboard design over the years since that memorable day 56 years ago when the first surfboard splashed info the Australian surf and Duke Kahanamoku rode that 'first' wave.
Surfing - more exactly surfboard riding - whether enjoyed as a sport, a recreation or a way-of-life owes its life in this century and in true country to one man - Duke Kahanamoku of Hawaii. 'The Duke', as he was known world-wide, was an Olympic star, a prince of Hawaiian royal blood (incorrect) and an expert surfer in the traditional mode. Above all, he was a selfless individual who sought to share his great experiences with others - and this is why there is surfing in Australia today.

'The Duke' founded surfing in Australia in 1915 (24th December 1914) at Freshwater Beach, (NSW). Originally he had been invited here because of his prowess as an Olympic swimmer. But he saw our surf - and no surfers (incorrect, there already a committed group of body surfers and a  strong interest in board surfing - see Duke 1914). So he obtained a piece of sugar pine and carved himself out a surboard - and proceeded to show Australians of that day a new involvement with the sea.

He won the hearts end enthusiasm of a number of North Shore (Sydney) athletes (also note Cronulla exhibition, 6th or 7th February 1915). When he left for home, the Duke presented his board to Claude West, who had become has pupil in surfriding. (This board held by the Freshwater Surf Life Saving Club, see Catalogue#100 and Image 3). The Duke also left behind the seed of surfing and surfboard building. It did not take long to flower. In less than a year the first Australian-designed board hit the surf.

This was a 75 pound, nine foot board designed by Ozzie Downing. It was built of American Redwood and still exists today in the hands of veteran surfer C. & 'Snow' McAiister of Manly (NSW), who used it to advantage for many years 

(This board is currently held by the SLSA at their headquarters at Bondi, Sydney, see Image 4). The board was fashioned with a tomahawk to blueprints drawn up by Mr Downing, then an architectural student.

This style of design - and construction - remained pretty stable for the next 30 years. (see Plans and Specifications : Alia) Surfing enthusiasts built their own boards in their backyards (and at Surf Life Saving Clubs) using an adze, tomahawk or hachett and a German plane to shape them.

Duke Kahanamoku
started surfboard riding
in Australia . He aso 
built the first board here 
(held at right by his wife
"It only took a day to make a board and the cost was about four quid (pounds) in those days" recalls 'Snow' McAllister.

'Snow' experimented in 1925 with a hollow version board. The nose and tail sections were solid wood but the centre section was hollow inside. It did not, however, prove popular although it did make a novel wedding present for two of his friends. (the first credited Australian Hollow board usually credited to Frank Adler of Maroubra, NSW, circa 1930)
Overseas hollow boards did have a following after Californian Tom Blake brought them out on the American West Coast in the late 1920's. And, in the 1930s, the first balsa boards were built in the U.S, by Preston Peterson. These boards did not find their way to Australia until the mid-1950's, however.( Incorrect : the first fibreglassed board is credited to Pete Peterson and Brant Goldsworthy in August 1946, but it was apparently two molded havles joined by a seam tape, and not the common laminated method as introduced by Bob Simmons - Nat Young's History of Surfing, pages 61 and 64)

During the interim, Australian design turned to plywood boards, this style catching on just after World War 11 in 1946. These boards were hollow and had a bung in the tail (more commonly the nose) for draining. Their length varied from eight to 17 feet, the longer ones being the 'speed' boards of that era and often ridden by more than one person (given the dominant Life Saving Club culture 

VETERAN - The second 
board built here was of 
redwood , shown here with
it’s present owner  and
longtime rider, 
C.J. ‘Snow’ McAllister
of the period, high performance was primarily defined as paddling speed, not wave riding). These pywood boards were also the first here to use any sort of a fin - to give them directional stability (basically a long based keel, rare on most Australian examples)

The plywood boards were still weighty - about 60 pounds for an eight to ten-footer - and they were still built in backyards (which is not to slight their quality as many still exist today which could be used - be someone willing).

The plywood surf boards continued on the local beaches until the mid-1950's. In 1956 an American surf team visited us, bringing with them an assortment of balsa boards - with fins. These boards were first demonstrated at Malibu Beach - hence the 'Malibu' board events in our surf carnivals The Malibu boards were between 10 and 12 (more commonly 9 to 10 ft 6'' ) feet in length.

The fins allowed the visiting Americans to show off a new phase in the surfing art - that of making sweeping, graceful turns and curves down the face of a wave. Which stoked a number of locals, used to the straight-as-an-arrow style dictated by the design of the plywood and solid boards of the past. Amongst those so stoked during the Americans' visit was one Bernard 'Midge' Farrelly, who had just discovered his 'way-of-life' (Midget Farrelly titled his 1965 book This Surfing Life)

It might be noted that as we were embracing the balsa boards with their new design and handling characteristics, an American by the name of Bob Simmons was quietly forging ahead with new ideas and materials in board design. (Chronologically incorrect, Bob Simmons died at Windansea, California 26th September 1954)

Simmons, generally cedited with pioneering the use of fibreglass as a board covering instead of varnish, was using flow dynamics on board design. This resulted in shaped decks as well as bottoms for surf boards and the turned-up nose (to improve performance and balance) Simmons also was a pioneer of polyurethane foam for surfboards, which brought board weights down from the 60-pound to the 25-pound mark. (incorrect, Bob Simmons did work with polystyene foam but the the first polurethane foam board is credited to Lorrin 'Whitey' Harrison of Capistano Beach, California in 1956, the fist commercial model to Dave Sweet in May 1956 - Malcom Gault-Williams : LEGENDARY SURFERS)

As a matter of fact, film star Peter Lawford is generally credited with bringing the first foam board to Australia. (incorrect, Lawford  had a finless fibreglass and balsawood board by Dave Rochlen, possibly a recreated Hot Curl design, dating from 1937 - Thoms : Surfmovies, page 63). This was back in 1954, but, apparently, no one took much notice of it at the time. Indeed it was not until 1960 that foam boards caught on here. (foam technology was in its infancy, and the original Australian Malibu copies were hollow-plywood adaptations, commonly known as the Okinuee. Although overlooked in the text, a similar design is illustrated in Image 8a) And this was the start of the current surfboard industry, which had ifs nucleus in Brookvale (NSW).

Shown here 
holding a
typical balsa
design of 
board is the
famous ‘Midge’
Farrelly, show 
a few years 
before he won
 the first World 

Foam brought about the demise of much of the backyard build-it-yourself types and the birth of the professional board builder. Early on this scene were persons such as Gordon Woods, Bill Wallace, Barry Bennett and Ron (Norm?) Casey.

And, with the new medium, there came an endless series of design variations - some significant, some not. Many of these design variations were pure experimentation which either didn't produce the desired result or merely made no difference whatever and were more of a styling gimmick

But there was a grand display of tail shapes and fin profiles which often boggled the mind. Some of these variations are shown in the accompanying sketches. Aside from these vanations there was not much change in the basic shape of the board - allowing for Mr Simmons' influence. Board lengths were around the eight-foot mark. Riding techniques still concentrated on long rides varied with turns, goofy-footing (???) and hanging one's lower digits over the nose's leading edge.

We were rapt in his (Simmons?) riding style for about eight years and then our more enterprising surfers started looking for other means of self-expression than 'walking' the board and dangling their toes in the sea breeze

In 1967, things really started to happen ....

And they found It when some enterprising soul (commonly credited to Bob McTavish) cut about two feel off his new surfboard. It was the short board.

The short board just didn't suddenly 'happen' in sense - although it did in another. In the 1967-68 season the innovators (primarily Bob McTavish and Midget Farrelly) came up with an 8 to 8' 4" board with a vee bottom, a wide tail and a full nose. This started the slide away from the classic 9-footers.

The Vee-bottom lasted just one season. Then it was the year of the Pintail and the Tracker. And the surge to shorter boards was on!

The Pintail was a teardrop-shaped  effort which came in a variety of bottoms. The average Pintail was about 7' 6" long.

In the same season the Tracker made its appearance featuring a full nose, straight rails and a  4" to 5" wide pod or tail. It looked very similar to a detailed (sic, de - tailed) Pintail. The Tracker was about 7' to 7' 3" long.

There was one unfortunate thing about the Pintails and  Trackers -neither design was a particularly good performer for the average surfer. But they served as a sort of transition design between the long boards and the short boards - which came in the 1969-70 season.

The boomer that season was the 'White Kite' designed by Ted Spencer. (See #46 as an example). It featured a pointed nose, flat bottom and wide vee pod. It was also a wide board between the rails. And it seemed to work - for most everyone. And it was only six feet long, a foot to 18" shorter than the previous season's boards - or two feet plus under the length of boards two seasons back. The shape of boards had certainly changed but even more important was the change winch they brought about in surfing.

The introduction of the short board flipped a switch in surfing techniques, attitude, and styles. It was the emancipation of the innovator, the creator, the individualist - it was the injection of a new 'spirit' as free as the wind and waves themselves, into the art of surfing.

Before the old boards had dictated the style of the surfer He was allowed to surf long distances in a straight line with, in latter years, the option of making left and light hand turn and of `walking' his board to hang five or ten once his board was locked in on a wave.

The short board designs ended all that. It was tike jumping out of the driver's seat of a double decker bus into a Lotus sports car - suddenly life took on new meaning and new forms of expression.

The surfer was now able to carve his (sic) own thing across the face of a wave - dropping, turning, twisting, spinning, re-entering - hindered only by his own inability or lack of imagination.

A development of the short board - finnetically (sic) speaking - is the current twin fin. This was a design of Corky Carroll (and Mike Eaton , Rolf Aurness and David Nuuhiwa) which was developed in Australia by Terry Fitzgerald and Shane Stedman (and others, notably Geoff McCoy at McCoy Surfboards)

Introduced during the 1970 -7I season the Twin Fin (Twin Fin I) was just what it says. There were two fins instead of the single centre fin. These fins are mounted close to the rail of the board The theory behind them is a board will not drop out quickly from the wall of a wave because the fin closest to the wall will hold - whereas a centrally located single fin, under identical conditions, would have broken flee of the water and thus offer no hold whatever.

Because each of the twin fins is located closer to the rail its size can be reduced - offering less drag - without reducing its effective `holding' qualities.

To the rider the Twin Fin should mean the ability to ride his board in tighter sections and to change turns quicker.

The waves of change (title of 1968 movie by Greg MacGillivray and Jim Freeman, USA) are not everyone's cup of tea, however. Simon Anderson believes in keeping to the basic speed shape with a single fin. As yet he has not found a Twin Fin which will pivot and turn as quickly as he likes (a difficulty solved dramatically in 1981, with his introduction of the Thruster). But, as Simon notes, this is purely a personal preference.

Simon, who is current Australian Junior Champion (and Shane Surfboards employee), is a true believer in the short board.

"You can cut smaller arcs - which means you can ride smaller waves. It's the board especially for our summer waves," he said.

However the short board does have its disadvantages when the small waves of summer change to the heavy waves of winter. Then a longer board is required.

Which leads us into the finer points of board design. Good boards just don't happen. Each part of a design has purpose. Modern World discussed board design points with the tyro of the surfboard industry, Shane Stedman of Shane's, resplendent in his goofy-footed (sic?) 'Ugg' boots (sheepskin/fleece lined boots) and Shanegear (he designs casual wear as well as surfboards).

In Australian surfing, two designs predominate at the present - the Twin Fin, short board for summer surfing and the longer `speed' board for the heavier winter waves. A 10-stone rider would wear (sic?) a Twin-Fin about 5' 4" long and 21" wide in the summer. For winter a 6' 2" by 19' 1/2" single-fin board would be the gear, assuming he is a good surfer.

A surfer's ability dictates the width of a board (his body weight being the determining factor on length). For the novice or occasional surfer a wide board offers the most enjoyment and case of handling. The expert goes for the narrower board to allow him greater speed and response in changing direction.

Ability also dictates the crosssectional design of a surfboard. The cross-section determines the stability, responsiveness and speed of a board. The depth of a board at its centre will remain pretty much the same (about 2 1/2" to 3 1/4") whether for expert or novice. But at the edges or rails there is a definite difference.

The expert will choose a hard rail, one which tapers down to a flat bottom rather abruptly. This type of rail makes a board harder to ride but it's more responsive for turns in the hands of an expert. It also has the tendency to grab into a wave and set its own line for long walls where the surfer wants speed.

The soft, or gently rounded, rail acts much better in mushy surf conditions and is easier to move around and control. On shorter boards it is the answer for quick response in going from a backhand to a forehand turn or for making a re-entry.

This better control on the soft rail comes from its characteristic reaction to a side-slipping position. Because of its well-rounded shape the soft ran tends to ride up on the water in a side slip. The hard rail because of its sharper profile has a tendency to dig into the water, thus upsetting the rider, if it is not absolutely correctly positioned.

There is, of course, a midway design known as a medium or half rail to satisfy more advanced surfers.

The start of the ‘new era’ with balsa boards.
Can you identify the World champion amongst this group of surfers?

It might also be noted that the bottom shape of a board also governs its controllability as well as its speed. A flat bottom is a speed shape. A rounded bottom gives better control.

Nose turn-up is another design feature to be considered in the overall layout of a board. The amount or degree of turn-up is varied but, as a grade on a six-foot board, the turn-up starts about the centre of the board. The amount of turn-up is slight over the first foot - about an eighth of an inch. Over the second foot there may be an inch of turn-up. The last foot shows the greatest change with almost five inches of turn-up on the average.

But, just to give an indication of how things can vary, Reno Abellero (sic, Abellira), the Hawaiian hotdogger has used a turn-up which came almost to the perpendicular and was about twice the rise of any other board (the Side-Slipper, 1969). Others on the opposite tack, prefer an almost dead level nose.

Which is one reason why so many surfboards are custom-built to indiviual order. Despite this individuality it is not difficult to lay down a set of guidelines for a design which will suit most surfers, says Shane.

For the junior or casual surfer a good all-round design would be a board about 21" wide with a round back. The nose shape should be somewhere between a pointed and a full round shape with a light curve upwards. There should also be a slight curve to the bottom (on the crosssectional aspect) and a single fin should he used. Length and thickness, of course, depend on the weight of the individual.

"This board will work well in all types of surf. It is a good compromise between the twin fin and the speed board;" advises Shane.

The design of the tail (pod) may vary and, except for a deep flat cut tail, shape does not appear to affect a board's handling. A deep flat cut tail will create suction and drag. Otherwise you may have your choice of round, semi-tircular or tapered. But in a twin fin board width must be considered to assure stability in a summer surf and uneven water conditions. A 12"pod width are considered normal here with the tail section quite thick.

It might be explained that a twin fin board will not only lose its stability if the tail is too narrow - but it will also upset the handling characteristics which are the basis for the twin fin's design. A distance of at least 9" between fins is required in a twin fin. If the tail is narrowed down under 12" then the fins will have to be moved forward. Which will result in some interesting variations in handling ability.

In plan outline the widest part of the board should be at the halfway point where the body balance will be. The taper forward and aft from this position should be smooth and gently rounded.

When it comes to the actual fin design, size is not necessarily the criterion - in short the larger fin does not necessarily produce a better handling board. Flexibility is important and the lower third  (i.e. the third furthest away from the bottom of the board) of the fin should he capable of flexing. This will help move the back of the board around in making a turn.

A stiff fin, on the other hand, will make a board hard to turn because the fin will resist the turning motion and try to keep the board locked in on a straight line.

It is also important that your fin have an aerofoil shape in its cross-section. This means it will have a rounded leading edge and the thickest part of it cross-section will be just aft of the leading edge. From here there should be a gentle taper to the trading edge. To impart flexibility to the lower third of the fin there should be a tapering away from the fin's normal thickness at a point just before the two-thirds point down the fin.

In shaping the board for thickness much is dependent upon the shaper's experience and his knowledge of the rider, his ability and weight. As a guide the centre thickness is usually about 3" or 3 1/4" tapering to each end. On the twin fins the thickness remains fairly constant to the tail to assure proper handling for tins style of board, however.
In shaping a board the general practice is to shape the deck using the imaginary centrelie of the rails as the apex of the curve of the deck surface. This will result in different curves with different bottom shapes and tail designs. A soft rail and rounded bottom will usually result in a gently curved deck surface with the rail centreline just about dead centre of the board's overall thickness.

A flat bottom with a hard rail will result in a steeply curved deck surface as the rail centreline moves down to the lower quarter of the overall thickness of the board.

The thickness of a board remains fairly constant despite the style of rail and bottom design used - within the previous limits of 2 3/2  to 3 1/4 inches.

There is not much tendency to go overthick for the rider who is short in stature and/or heavy in weight compared to the norm. Here the shaper prefers to add some extra length to the board to give the desired flotation qualities.

Nose shape varies between rounded and pointed. The pointed nose gives better speed and is popular on the winter boards here. But the shorter twin fins work much better with a rounded nose. AII-season, all-purpose boards usually have a nose shape somewhere between the pointed and the fully rounded shapes. Smoothness of line (or just plain 'looks') is usually the guideline here for the designer.

In brief, then, these are the basic concepts in surfboard design. In suceeding articles Modern World will show you how to build your own board in foam and fibreglass.

How about your own design ?
Right now you can - if the urge is with you - design your own surfboard. If you want to do the full bit you can then build it yourself using the information which starts in our two-part story on building your own surfboard next month.

And, even if you are not interested in building your own surfboard - how good are you at designing one for yourself?

If you think you have the answers why not enter Modern World's Surfboard Design Contest. Submit your design telling why you have designed your board the way you have and see what our panel of judges flunk about it. If it is a winner (in either junior or senior division) your board will be custom built for you by Shane Surfboards as the top prize.

Second-place designs will earn them designer a complete surfboard building kit from Shane - so you can build up your design yourself. Runners-up m each class (from third to fifth place) will receive good gifts of Shanegear - Ugg boots, shuts, jeans and that sort of thing.

So shift into your designing gear, rev up your thoughts and see what comes out. Full details on the contest and prizes are given on page 31.


At far left is the plywood board design favoured for several decades, up to the mid-1950's. The small fin served only to keep the board in a straight line.

Next is the experimental 'hydro' design, one of the early 'lightweight' boards and an American innovation.

The next two designs are the pintail and 'tracker' models of the late 1960's - fibreglass in construction.

The fifth design in line is the cutrent 'speed' board which finds favour in our winter surf and heavy seas.

The remaining three designs are the 'avant garde' of curent design.

First of the three is an ‘Eyes of God’ design which, by allowing air to flow from thedeck to the bottom near the centre of the board, is supposed to increase it’s speed potential.

The thin-railed design next to the ‘two-holer' is new in its experimental stages, as is the 'tri-fin' at right, a Corky Carroll design which is just now making the surf scene here through Shane's.

Uncredited : Surfboard Designs in Modern World magazine
July 1971 pages 30 - 37. Editor: Dick Levine
Not a surfing magazine, but a popular science magazine,
this issue featuring an 8 page article on surfboard design history.
In conjunction with a 'Design Contest' sponsored by Shane Surfboards,
The article was possibly written by Shane Steadman and/or Terry Fitzgerald.
Cover features two Shane Surfboards models and a very young Simon Anderson.
The article has interesting material, some possibly exclusive, not the least being the photographs and illustrations.
The promotion of 16 year old Simon Anderson as a professional shaper was to have significant design ramifications within the next 10 years.

1. Authorship
There is no credit for authorship, but it is probably the work of a house journalist.
The extent of research, technical specifications and the emphasis on promoting Shane Surfboards would indicate the article was sourced largely from the Shane organization, either by interview (“Shane says...Simon says...”) or a prepared ghost version.
Probable candidates for authorship of a ghost version would include Shane Steadman, Dave Steadman, Ted Spencer or Terry Fitzgerald.
Possibilities include Simon Anderson, Butch Cooney, David ‘Baddy’ Trealor.

2. History 1
The first section that deals with early surfing history  appears largely based on previous books and some direct input from ‘Snow’ McAllister, in particular  the reference to his hollow board in 1925 and Ozzie Dowling’s 1916 ‘design’. The discussion of Bob Simmons, firbreglass and foam is confused. There is no mention of the Okinuee, although illustrated in Image 8a.

3. History 2
The recent period (1967 -1971) is basically accurate, of most interest the details of Ted Spencer’s White kite model and the
Twinfin 1.

4. Design Specifications
The detail of this section is extensive, with only minor (proofreading?) errors. Some terminology is unclear. There is no mention of the Trifin or advanced Twin fin 1 designs, although illustrated in Image 3. The positioning and foiling of Twin fins is not mentioned.

5. Images
Image 1.
“VETERAN - The second board built here was of redwood , shown here with it’s present owner  and longtime rider, C.J. ‘Snow’ McAllister”
- Built by O.E. Downing in 1917, this board is currently held by the SLSA at their headquarters at Bondi, Sydney
See #175

Image 2.
(Midget Farrelly & Balsa Pig, Manly 1959)
THE FIRST CHAMPION - Shown here holding a typical balsa design of board is the famous ‘Midge’ Farrelly, show a few years before he won  the first World Surfing championship. (That’s him again, in the checked shirt, on page 35..
Possibly taken post surf at the same place, same day, same photographer as Image 3;but note they are not the same boards.
Probably Manly Beach circa 1958-1959.
Note wet shorts, the common balsa pig design as seen in Image 3 and the post-production decor - multi-stripe Vee on tail, oval with M script at the sweet spot.

Image 3.
(Junior Surfers, Manly Beach, circa 1958 - 1959, Snowy McAlister)
“The start of the ‘new era’ with balsa boards. Can you identify the World champion amongst this group of surfers?”
A very early photograph of Midget Farrelly and other junior surfers, probably Manly Beach, circa 1958-1959. Photographer and other surfers unidentified.
Note the short length of the boards, common balsa pig design and post-production decor on the two boards to the far right.
This image reprinted in Nat : History, 1983, page 89. Photograph : Snowy McAlister

Image 4.
(Template Timeline)
Very well drawn, close to scale, probably from photographs, with (unusually) rocker templates to illustrate the fins.

1. At far left is the plywood board design favored for several decades, up to the mid-1950's. The small fin served only to keep the board in a straight line.
Closer in design to the hollow Okinuee (1956-1958) than  the more common Australian Racing 16 (1935 - 1958).

2. Next is the experimental 'hydro' design, one of the early 'lightweight' boards and an American innovation
John Kelly Jr.’s Hydro/Scorpion tail design, circa 1964.
See Kelly, John  M:   Surf and Sea 1965 pages 139 to 144 .
See #190

3.The next two designs are the pintail .
See # 96

4. and 'tracker' models of the late 1960's - fibreglass in construction.
See # 69

5.The fifth design in line is the current 'speed' board which finds favour in our winter surf and heavy seas.
See # 44

6. The remaining three designs are the 'avant garde' of current design.
First of the three is an ‘Eyes of God’ design which, by allowing air to flow from the deck to the bottom near the centre of the board, is supposed to increase it’s speed potential.
Twin fin but air vents are an extremely rare experimental model

7. The thin-railed design next to the ‘two-holer’is new in its experimental  stages,
 Twin fin, unsure what diagram indicates. Extremely rare experimental model.

8.as is the 'tri-fin' at right, a Corky Carroll design which is just now making the surf scene here through Shane's.
See # 211.

Other Images
Duke Kahanamoku portait circa 1956 and Female with malibu board circa 1965 - not included here.

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