The Evolution of the Surfboard

Guest writer Wayne Winchester is a surfboard maker and restorer with a collection of 150+ vintage surfboards.

“Since the beginning of surfing in ancient Polynesia, the surfboard has connected us to the rhythm of the ocean.

Over the decades surfboard designs have changed dramatically and technology has provided new materials and manufacturing techniques, but the essence of surfing remains. We ride waves for pure joy and exhilaration and the surfboard allows us this pleasure.

I started making boards as a 15 year old in my parents backyard shed in the early 1970s. We lived in a suburb of Perth, just south of the river. I grew up surfing the Perth metro breaks and down as far as Mandurah. But as soon as I had my driver’s license, I was drawn to the Yallingup to Margaret River coast nearly every weekend. My early boards were pretty rough and were shaped mainly for myself, my brothers and a close band of mates but as the quality improved over the next few years, more and more clients came knocking at the door.

The late ’60s and early ’70s were such a dynamic period for surfboard design. Radical changes in shapes defined the era and experimentation was the norm. It was an exciting time for me to start my surfboard making career and like many other shapers of the era, we shaped all sorts of different boards just to see how they went in the water.

Many weren’t so good and after a few test-rides, inevitably ended up relegated to the scrapheap in the back corner of the shed. It wasn’t until the mid to late ’70s that the classic single fin emerged as the board of choice. They were, and still remain, sleek and magnificent objects of art and beauty. If I had to choose a favourite era of boards, it would be these single fins.

Things soon changed again though with the twin fin revolution and then the emergence of the three fin thruster of the early 1980s.

After years of making boards in the backyard shed, demand forced me into a factory in the mid-’90s. I ran the production side of the factory and my wife, Carol, ran the front end retail section, plus all the administration and accounts. We were only a relatively small concern, but still managed to employ shapers, glassers and an apprentice. With all the overheads that followed, it soon became evident that design was driven by dollars rather than by experimentation and innovation. The demand for the three fin thruster surfboard was such that there was little time, or need, for further experimentation.

I eventually became stifled by this constraint and ultimately lost the passion for making boards. It also became increasingly impossible to compete with the mass-produced surfboards that were starting to flood our local market from China and Asia. In my mind, surfboard manufacturing had lost its way. I needed some fresh air and a new direction.

We sold the factory and moved to the south coast of Western Australia between Albany and Denmark. On a small farm adjoining the Southern Ocean, I rediscovered my surfing and shaping soul. I drew inspiration from the forest that surrounded my shaping bay and from the rhythm of the ocean that I could here just beyond the dunes and cliffs in front of the farm.

I soon found a new passion for vintage boards. All those relics that were stored in the back corner of the factory and moved down to the farm with me became the beginnings of my obsession for restoring and collecting. I started to see them as more than just a vehicle to ride a wave, they were beautiful pieces of art and design that also had significant historical value. They captured a timeline of surfing sub-culture through colour, shape, and form.

Over the past 20 years, I have restored many hundreds of vintage surfboards for numerous clients and along the way added to my own personal collection of about 150 boards. I have put together an exhibition called Evolution of the Surfboard which features about 60 boards from my collection. It is designed to take the visitor on a journey from the beginnings of surf culture in ancient Polynesia, through to how Australia developed its own surfing culture from the 1950s to the present day.

The exhibition captures the radical changes in surfboard design over the decades and provides an insight into the surfing sub-culture of the time. The exhibition also features a vintage Super 8 surf film from the mid-’70s that was captured by my brother Mark and myself on our many surf trips all around Australia. We also have a significant collection of canvas mounted surf photos from the same era.

I pride myself on breathing new life into the old boards and allowing others to enjoy their beauty. I love the challenge of undertaking authentic restoration work, drawing on my manufacturing experience to use the correct techniques, resins, tints, pigments, glass and colouring relevant to the era that the board was made.

Some restored boards simply become beautiful pieces of art and history to hang on a wall, whereas others become riders that feel the saltwater running through their veins again with a new energy, a new soul and a new beginning.

I still surf regularly along my beloved south coast, but at this stage of my surfing life, my happy place is at Ocean Beach, Denmark with my longboard. Every now and then, some of the old vintage boards disappear from the shed for a few hours of saltwater therapy.”