Adreena Cameron


As with many sports, development is best achieved by the technological changes a sport may undergo. Such technological changes not only enhance the levels a competitor may reach, but changes also spark an interest with the public, altering the sport's popularity. The history of such sports are long and very interesting which is understandable as organized sport in many areas has developed in numerous ways on national and international levels.

This essay will cover the sport of surfing and the technological changes it has undergone, particularly in the late 1960's, a time where surfing was made popular through music by "The Beach Boys" and a television series called "Gidget" (Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia 1995). The main focus will be on the evolution of the short board, women's surfing, the use of wetsuits, the use of leg ropes, and how these changes have influenced society. The essay will highlight surfing as a sport for all people, of all ages, and the importance the changes that have developed it will hold for its future.


Surfing did not originate in Hawaii, as many think it did. It was brought to Hawaii by Polynesians who settled there and passed on their knowledge to the Hawaiian Kings(Parry, 1979, pp.9-10).

The sport, which became popular in the 1920's, needed one piece of essential equipment, the surfboard. The surfboard was a solid timber plank of redwood or pine which weighed between fifty-five and sixty-five kilos (Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia 1995). The objective was to slide diagonally across the wave's face while keeping ahead of the breaking foam (Hull, 1976, p.5).

"it is a royal sport for the natural Kings of the earth. The waves are a mile long, bull-mouthed monsters, and they weigh a thousand tons, and they charge into shore faster than a man can run" (Jack London - 1870, cited in Pearson, 1979. p. ).

The Evolution of the Short Board

The surfboard being the most essential piece of equipment in surfing, has undergone many changes in the sports history, but none more dramatic than the transition of the longboard to the short board. One of the earliest known changes affecting the surfboard was developed by Bob Simmonds, a Californian surfer who was forced to find a lighter weight board because of an arm injury in 1948. His idea was to sandwich styrofoam between plywood and glass over it (Parry, 1979, pp.41-42).

Perhaps the most recognized pursuer of short board evolution was David Nuuhiwa (left), a top American surfer. However, the conversion was not easy, nor instantaneous as long and short board riders were still competing against each other in 1969. Some surfers were reluctant to give up their longboards as it was well known that paddling and being able to catch more waves in poor quality surf was possible (Gabrielson, 1996, p.2). The short board designs didn't make a large impact in large surfing contests until late 1968, while the short board evolution was complete by 1970 (Gabrielson, 1996, p.2). In defense of the short board, the lighter, smaller board gave the rider the freedom to move more and change direction more rapidly on the wave (Gabrielson, 1996, p.2).

Once they arrived, many older surfers refused to accept the short boards and disagreements with younger surfers meant the surf clubs suffered. During the 1960's, many college-age surfers were sent away in the services and the anti-war demonstrations and unrest in the country led to the further downfall of surf clubs (Gabrielson, 1991, p.2).

In 1968, Huntington Beach, California had a rule that board surfers were not allowed to surf after 11:00am. Kneeboarders were allowed as long as their boards were under four foot in length. David Nuuhiwa, mentioned earlier, had a broken longboard which was cut to three foot eleven inches in length. After attaching a fin, he paddled out to surf with the kneeboarders. Nearly twenty world ranked surfers watched from the pier and after David caught the first wave in, they were ecstatic.

The evolution of the short board had begun (Gabrielson, 1996, p.2).

Weeks later, many different types of short boards began to appear. Boards such as the 'fish', a split tailed, twin fin short board was invented by David Nuuhiwa and Steve Lis. Another early short board big wave design, the pocket rocket was developed by Reno Albelara in Hawaii. The balsa version of the "Pocket Rocket" built by Bruce Gabrielson and LaRoy Dennis was a board which could handle big waves but was built out of balsa for stability purposes (Gabrielson, 1996, p.3).

Another design was developed by Matt Kivlin and Joe Quigg, called the 'Sandwich Board'. It was originally a board made for Joe's wife, and as she rode it, the two men were amazed at how well she surfed with this lighter, shorter board. Now, because of the introduction of the short board, surfing had become a sport for all (Parry, 1994, pp.42-43).

Women's Surfing

Women's surfing was barely recognized until around the late 1960's, when the short boards became popular. While the introduction of women to the sport is not particularly a technological change, it has shaped the future of the sport to the effect that surfing is no longer viewed as male-only, and there have been videos and magazines aimed at women surfers in particular in the hope of attracting a wider audience world wide (Jenkins, 1997, p.2). For the conditions in women's surfing to improve, the sport must recognize these women competitors as totally committed to enhancing their sport like their female counterparts did in golf and basketball (Jenkins, 1997, p.2). These women surfers are often well respected by their male colleagues and they thrive in an atmosphere of gender equality (Jenkins, 1997, p.2). Kylie Webb, a top ranked international surfer stated "Once you hit the water, it doesn't matter whether you are male or female" (Parry, 1994, p.54).

The Wetsuit

The use of wetsuits became recognized around 1965. One of the most important technological developments in surfing history, the commercial distribution of neoprene rubber suits a lot like the suits worn by scuba divers, made a huge impact on the sport (Hull, 1976, p.7). Surfers usually refer to these rubber suits as 'wetsuits' and they are available for purchase at most sporting outlets and surf shops (Hull, 1976, p.7). Mild hypothermia can affect a surfers judgment and performance, so a Santa Cruz surfer called Jack O'Neill developed the wetsuit. He intended to make a suit that would protect the bare skin from the shock of exposure to the sun, wind and water temperature (Parry, 1994, pp.44-45).

In 1966, a type of wetsuit known as a 'vest' was introduced to surfers. It covered the upper abdomen and left the arms exposed, since then wetsuits have developed in such a way, that certain types of wetsuits cover all parts of the body except the face (Hull, 1976, p.7).

The wetsuit was originally designed to keep the surfer warm, and this was best achieved by the use of titanium which improves the retention of body temperature.

Flexibility is also a major concern as it is essential that there is plenty of room around the hips, thighs, shoulders, and chest. Wetsuits in the 1990's have been equipped with such things as shoulder zips which allow fifty percent more stretch and less water entry to ensure the comfort and flexibility of the surfer (Parry, 1994, pp.44-45). The introduction of the wetsuit has encouraged those who did not like to swim or surf in cooler water, to participate and remain active participants all through the year (Hull, 1976, p.7).

Leg Ropes

Leg ropes were invented by a man by the name of Jack O'Neill, inventor of the wetsuit, in 1973. His idea was to attach a piece of surgical tubing that had a wrist band at one end and a suction cup attached to the nose of his board at the other end. The idea came about because he grew tired of losing his board into the cliffs at Steamer Lane, California. However, Jack O'Neill lost his eye due to his board bouncing back on a big wave in Santa Cruz (Personal Communication, Gabrielson, 29/9/97) causing a change in the way leashes were used.

The leg rope, also known as a leash, 'leggy', or life line has gone through many changes after this initial invention. Surfers realized that they needed longer leashes in bigger waves. The leashes were made out of specially formulated urethane, a compound that is able to be stretched up to eight times its original length (Prestige, 1997, p.2). In the 1990's, leashes are fitted to boards by a railsaver which is attached to the board through a leg rope plug. The purpose of this is to eliminate the possibility of damage to the board caused by the urethane cord cutting into the rail of the board. Leashes are also detachable which enables the surfer to change cords from board to board (Prestige, 1997, p.2).

Influence on Society

Because surfing has become one of the most popular sports world wide, its affect on society and how it has influenced organized sport is quite interesting. For a sport to survive as surfing has, the key is for it to be exposed to a receptive and committed population (Hull, 1976, p.8). This exposure was originally due to travelers who promoted surfing to people in areas where surfing was not already popular, such as how surfing caught on in Hawaii (Parry, 1994, pp.9-10). Now, exposure is mainly in the form of modern communications such as television, the Internet, magazines and videos.

There are three main ways surfing is presented to the public. Firstly, the media coverage of the sport has become quite large and this is how the sport has become popular in France. Secondly, the influence of surfers traveling through an area and passing on their knowledge of the sport to the people there, influenced places like California. Lastly, the sport being observed elsewhere and then brought back to an area by those who have taken a fancy to the sport influenced places like Peru (Hull, 1976, p.8). >From areas such as these to become so heavily influenced in an otherwise unheard of sport, surfing obviously has had a large impact on society and in turn, how the sport has altered within these areas.

Surfing has since become not only a leisure pursuit or part of high school sport, but for some, it has become a profession, a way of life, an essential part of their day (Johnson, 1997, p.1).

The evolution of the short board, and the introduction of women's surfing, wetsuits and leg ropes have enabled and encouraged the public to participate in some form of surfing throughout their lives. Surfing over the past twenty years has changed considerably through the technological changes mentioned in this essay. It was the evolution of the short board which opened up the sport to all people and enabled surfers to display radical maneuvers (Gabrielson, 1996, p.2). Surfers suffering from the cold and annoyed by having to retrieve their boards over sizable distances, became accustomed to the uses of wetsuits and leashes respectively (Parry, 1994, pp.44-45).

Through the commercialization of surfing and the influence travelers have had on people in many countries, surfing has become one of the most popular sports and recreational activities during the summer season in most countries around the world (Parry, 1994, pp.9-10). Its impact on society has been wide spread and the success of surfing has been due to its ability to be promoted in an area in which the audience has been both interested and receptive (Hull, 1976, p.8). This acceptance has influenced society, enabling organized sport in general, to be positively affected as surfing was in the late 1960's.


Gabrielson. Bruce., (1991). "History of Huntington Beach Surf Clubs." p.2

Gabrielson. Bruce., (1996). "The Evolution of the Short Board - a talk presented to Atlantic Surfers Organization." September, 1996. pp.2-3.

Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia (1996). Version 7.0. Licensed by Mindscape.

Hull. Wayne., (1976). "A Sociological Study of the Surfing Subculture in the Santa Cruz Area." pp.5-8.

Jenkins. Martha., (1996). "Martha Jenkins". SURFERGIRL MAGAZINE. March 1997, Volume 2, Issue 3. p.2.

Johnson. Valerie., (1997). "The Day the Real Locals Showed Up". SURFERGIRL MAGAZINE. July 1997, Volume2, Issue 7. p.1.

Parry. Glen., (1994). Stoked! Real Life, Real Surf. Allen and Unwin, New South Wales. pp.9-43.

Pearson. Kent., (1979). Surfing Subcultures of Australia and New Zealand. UQ Press, St Lucia. p.

Personal Communication: Dr. Bruce Gabrielson - Dr. Gabrielson founded the first official high school league and varsity surfing team in America at Huntington Beach High School. His personal communication is a first hand source, marking the relevance of surfing through his lifetime.

Prestige, Todd., (1997). "Ocean and Earth". OCEAN AND EARTH MAGAZINE.