Paddling wooden boards for transporting oneself from one point to another as well as riding the oceans swells and waves dates back to pre- European contact Polynesia.
During Captain Cook’s third voyage, the ship’s artist, John Webber produced an engraving of the H.M.S. Endeavor and Discovery entering Kealakekua Bay. In the foreground is a person paddling a board among the greeting canoes. The surfboard of old Hawaii was a very important cultural, religious object as well as a piece of sporting equipment. In use, one quickly realizes how much faster one can travel paddling than swimming or even walking, especially on a volcanic island. There were many western witnesses during the 1800’s to the Hawaiian’s prowess with the surfboard. In early 1900, several Waikiki area surfers, including George Freeth, started organizing to save and perpetuate their favorite sport.
In 1906, Hawaiian born Freeth was dispatched to the mainland by The Hawaiian Promotion Committee, to demonstrate Hawaiian surfing as well as teach swimming and other water sports. Freeth spawned an era of young swimmers and surfers that made their way to Hawaii to hone their skills. In kind, many young Hawaiians found their way to the mainland to continue Freeth’s love of the ocean, aloha spirit and find employment. Freeth’s young friend, Duke Kahanamoku joined him at the L.A. Athletic Club, where Freeth was working as a coach and instructor. The LAAC was a training ground for Olympic swimmers and divers.
Tragically Freeth died in 1919 during the great world flu pandemic, he was 35 years old.The Duke is credited by many as the father of modern surfing, and few would question he was the greatest ambassador. Duke’s status as an Olympic swimming champion, world traveller and Hollywood performer put him in touch with so many aquatic minded persons that were eager to learn more about Hawaii and surfing.
One such swimmer was Tom Blake, who following Duke’s example, took up surfing while they were working as Beach Club Guards in Santa Monica. Blake then began his quest to master Hawaiian surfing and paddling. Blake moved to Waikiki and immersed himself in the design elements of board building as well as applying the disciplines of diet and training as an ocean athlete. Blake studied the plan shapes of the old boards ridden by the chiefs and commoners alike.
In 1919-20 Blake put his updated design and construction to the test by setting the world paddling speed records on Honolulu’s Ala Wai Canal. He had begun lightening the solid wood boards by drilling out excess wood then covering it with a thin veneer of wood. Blake then went on to develop the hollow paddleboard and surfboard. In 1932, he received a U.S. Patent for his hollow board he named the “WaterSled”. Blake contracted with Thomas Rogers to manufacture his designs.