If you are looking for a new board, or just browsing all of the wonderful board options there are out there right now, you might have noticed how amazing they all look now. Gone are the days where surfboards and wakeboards are simple colours. Now, they can be an entire range of colours, with incredible art and creative design.

Looking at where we used to be and where we are now with surfing design, you might be wondering how this happened. How did we go from focusing on the function of the board to choosing between incredible works of art? To find the answer to this question, we asked the pros at Wakeboard Buddy for their input. Now, we are going to take you on a stroll through the history of surfing design and culture.

Where it all began

Of course, when we think of surfing today, two places often come to mind: Hawaii and California. Actually, surfing really began in the Polynesian Islands and was imported into American culture through Hawaii. In fact, the first known depiction of surfing was back in 1790, where there was an engraving that said “View of Karakakooa, in Owyee.” This was obviously far before American surfing was a pastime.

Polynesian Surfboards

Polynesian surfboards were much simpler than the ones that we have today. They were either longboards, made up of 25 feet of wood, or the smaller 16 feet of wood. The longboards were reserved for the nobility. Normally, surfboards were made up of heavy redwood. They were very heavy as well and easily weighed up to 100 pounds. They weren’t known for any kind of exquisite art, but the carving was done extremely well, utilizing the natural wood grain.


When missionaries arrived in Hawaii, surfing was suppressed. The missionaries did not understand the activity and labelled it as “uncivilized,” trying to stop the cultural sport in its tracks. That is why it took well into the twentieth century for the sport to gain traction in the United States, especially after Hawaii became the fiftieth state in 1959.

Even before statehood, however, the sport had gained more attention. While the traditional longboard was 16 feet in length, the board was reduced in size by George Freeth down to an easier to manage length between 6 and 10 feet. It was also lighter and faster as a result. Redwood was also phased out and a lighter balsa wood was used in its stead.


As surfboards were brought into the American beach culture, their length was not the only thing that was changed. They started having design elements, including different colours of wood, and crests or insignias were painted on. These were still considered tame by modern standards, but the shift toward more elaborate designs had already begun to take traction.

During World War II, Styrofoam technology had started being used. This was lighter, shinier, and more colourful than any of the predecessors. This of course changed to the polyurethane foam that is still found today. The foam was coated in fiberglass and polished to keep it from falling apart on you.


As the materials that they were made out of shifted, the designs had more possibility, so they changed as well. The polyester resin pigments were easier with the new boards and designers could add colour directly to the core of the board, before it was sealed in with fiberglass. The materials really provided more options to surfboard makers.


Now, into the 1960s, surf art was a rising phenomenon. Artists were able to take on the new materials that were used and add in new colours and aesthetics that had previously not been considered. Since then, modern surf art has continued to evolve, becoming more elaborate as time goes on.

You can even buy customized surfboards now from artists who will be able to place whatever kind of imagery you want on the boards and allow it to be used safely on the water. There are many different surfboard makers out there who can do this for you.

If you would like to be part of the surf art world, you should consider getting a custom board for yourself.