Monday, August 15, 2016

Surfs Up!

QUESTION: I recently found an old surfboard at an architectural salvage store. I’m not exactly sure what it was doing there, but I bought it anyway since the price was right. I used to surf as a kid at the beach. I never owned my own board but would rent one from the surf shop at the beach where my family went for its annual summer vacation. The board is light in weight and in fairly good condition. What can you tell me about it?

ANSWER: It sounds like your board is made of fiberglass, perhaps over a balsa wood core.  While boards like this are still made today, their heyday was during the 1960s and 1970s.

Long before Sandra Dee became the face that launched a thousand surfboards, the kings and queens of Hawaii rode the waves on carved slabs of wood. Balancing on solid planks up to 18 feet long, Hawaiian royalty dominated the seas in a display designed to reinforce their dominion over their subjects.

But Christian missionaries and the subsequent immigration of Europeans to the islands nearly wiped out surfing by the turn of the 20th century. Missionaries forced native Hawaiians to abandon their surfboards and devote themselves to their new religion. Fortunately for surfing enthusiasts, a young Hawaiian named Duke Kahanamoku almost single-handedly saved the sport from extinction.

Kahanamoku became a celebrity when he won a gold medal in swimming at the Olympics in Stockholm in 1912. While swimming was his sport, surfing was his passion. His surfing exhibitions caused a sensation that fueled interest in the sport along the Southern California and Australian coasts. As the sport exploded in those places, his influence revived the tradition of surfing in Hawaii and by the 1920s several hundred boys regularly surfed the beaches there whenever the surf was up.

Even with this renewed interest, however, the surfing subculture mostly paddled quietly along until 1959, when the movie “Gidget” rolled into the public awareness like a 20-foot wave at Waimea Bay. By the mid-1960s, surfing was in full swing with the younger set.

Post-World War II boards shifted in composition from solid wood to balsa. Bob Simmons made the first balsa boards which are highly sought after by collectors. Today, hollow balsa wood boards by any maker in good condition command top dollar at auction. But a surfboard's composition isn't necessarily an indication of its age.

Boards from the 1960s are readily available and highly collectible. However, avoid "popouts," the mass-produced boards manufactured to meet the overwhelming demand for surfboards in the 1960s to early 1970s. These relatively inexpensive boards have little value as collectibles.

The most desirable boards are those hand shaped by a surfboard craftsman. A "shaper" refines the profile of a board that has been produced in surfing world because their expertise can make a board faster or easier to turn. Many shapers sign their surfboards on the "stringer"—usually a strip of wood that runs down the center of the board to add strength. Many of the best surfers shaped their own boards, and these are hot collectibles. Also highly collectible are name brand, commercially made boards, such as Hobie, Gordon and Smith, or Greg Noll.

Placing value on surfboards can be difficult because so many things, such as name recognition, condition, age, composition, general design, and eye appeal, affect a board’s value.

Unfortunately, surfboards are prone to dings, holes, loss of the fin, and water damage. This means it's hard to find a vintage surfboard in all original condition. The more damage, the greater the negative impact on value. It’s important to see boards closeup, so serious collectors don't even consider buying them online.

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