plank surfboard


Type of finless solid-wood surfboard used from antiquity until the 1940s. While it's been argued that the ancient Peruvian reed-bundled caballito ("little horse") is the original surf craft, the surfboard as it exists today traces its roots back to the ancient Hawaiian olo or alaia—plank-style boards made of wiliwili, koa, or breadfruit wood. (The word "plank" didn't come into use until the early 1930s, with the popularization of the hollow "cigar-box" board.)

As surfing was exported from Hawaii to mainland America, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa during the early decades of the 20th century, few changes were made to the basic plank board, except for weight. Surfing patriarch Duke Kahanamoku of Hawaii crafted a blunt-nosed, square-tailed redwood board for himself in 1910 that was 10 feet long, 23 inches wide, 3 inches thick, and weighed 70 pounds. Three decades later, the commercially made Pacific System Homes "Waikiki" model, with roughly the same measurements as Kahanamoku's board, but made primarily out of pine, weighed just over 43 pounds.

Post-19th-century planks were made from either a single piece of wood (redwood, usually) or a glued- together wood composite (usually pine or balsa, edged in redwood). Boards were shaped by saw, drawknife, hand planer, and sandpaper, sometimes stained, then finished with multiple coats of varnish. A design of some sort—the board-owner's name, or the name and logo of his club—was often painted, inlaid, or burned into the board's deck, near the nose. Angling across the wave face (as opposed to riding straight for shore) came into vogue around 1910, but that was more or less the plank's performance limit. Surfing maneuvers, such as they were, more often included bicep-flexing poses, backward riding, headstands, and other tricks.

Wisconsin-born surfer-boardmaker Tom Blake introduced the lighter, more buoyant hollow board in 1929, and it became a popular alternative to the plank. A group of teenage Hawaiian surfers led by John Kelly and Wally Froiseth invented the hot curl in 1937, a narrow-tailed version of the plank that allowed a tighter angle on the wave face. The hot curl is the prototype big-wave board.

After World War II, a group of Malibu-based surfer-shapers including Bob Simmons, Joe Quigg, and Matt Kivlin, began working on a series of finned balsa "chip" boards that rendered the plank obsolete.

Plank-style riding is featured in Surfing in the 1930s, a video documentary released in 1994, and can be glimpsed in more than a half-dozen pre-World War II Hollywood movies, including Waikiki Wedding (1937) and Honolulu (1939). Planks had become collectible by the early 1990s, and by the turn of the century were selling at auction for up to $10,000. The plank board is occasionally referred to as a "slab."