History of wooden bodyboards & belly boards
Pre 1960s Surfing, Paipo boards & Surf-Riding
Long before people stood up on ‘Malibu’ surf boards in Britain in the 1960s, they surfed the Atlantic rollers lying down on thin flat wooden surf boards. The board design was based on the ancient Hawaiin Paipo boards (Paipo meaning short or small board). In Hawaii people learnt the art of riding prone on these short wooden boards before they attempted to stand up on the longer "alaia" boards.
These days most people call these boards wooden bodyboards or bellyboards or even wooden boogie boards but originally they were called surf boards, surf rider boards or surfing boards.
These boards have an amazing heritage. They were the Original British Surf Sport. According to the Surfing Museum of Britain this type of surfboard was used in British waters as early as the 1800s, although it was not until after the first world war when veterans returned home in the early 1920s that the sport of "surf riding" started to become widespread.
In "The Art of Surf-riding" (1934 edition) author Ronald S. Funnell wrote ‘ A new and exhilerating sport is rapidly gaining many fans in England "surf-riding" and deservedly so, for its health giving as well as invigorating relaxation and pastime.
Surf riding had its golden era during the 1950s and in 1953 Funnell published a ‘Coronation edition’ of his booklet in which he claimed “ the keen interest in surf-riding has become intensified owing to excellent photographs” which had been appearing in the national press. The author refers to a mention in The Times and recent articles in Post magazine and The Daily Mail.
Ronald Funnell had a wooden surfboard made for him which was called the Featherweight "Crest Rider" . There are a few rare models still in existence today. In "The Art of Surf-riding" Funnell describes the Crest Rider model as “ A surfing-board specially made to beat the Atantic breakers” and enthuses “visitors are recommended to pay a little more and purchase a Featherweight “Crest Rider” ....as it is made from a timber called Gaboon which is “sufficiently light but durable and at the same time waterproof. Unfortunately owing to freightage charges, carriage and purchase tax these boards are not now marketed in this country.
Reading about the Crest Rider boards inspired us to use Gaboon wood in our high performance boards. We're thrilled that sixty years on we are able to bring back the featherweight lightness of these premium surf rider boards and let people know about their special heritage.
The Boogie Board Revolution
The late 1960s saw the advent of white polystyrene surf boards called ‘Floatinas’. They were very popular until it was discovered they caused skin irritations. Then in 1971 an American called Tom Morey invented and registered the ‘Morey boogie board’ . The foam boogie boards soon began to out number the original wooden surf boards and by the 1980s and 90s the traditional British wooden bodyboards and bellyboards were at risk of becoming extinct.
During the 1960s and 70s the definition of Surfing also began to change. If you were riding the waves lying down Surfers started to call it bodyboarding or bellyboarding to differentiate their type of surf riding to catching the waves lying down.
Wooden body boarding revival
The World Bellyboard Championships, held each year at Chapel Porth in Cornwall, has helped to revive Britain's Original Surf sport. The event started as a memorial to Arthur Traveller in 2002 with about 20 entrants but in the last few years it has attracted international media attention and more than 150 competitors from as far afield as Australia, the USA and the British Virgin Islands!
In 2004 Australian based surfboard shaper Tom Wegener visited the Surfing Heritage Museum in Hawaii and was inspired to start making Hawaiian style wooden boards from Paulownia wood. Tom has been a powerful driving force behind the revival of interest in surfing on wooden surfboards - both stand up and prone and his boards have been riden by some of the World's most famous surfers.
At The Original Surfboard Company we are on a mission to preserve and revive the traditional British made wooden surf boards and the Art of Surf riding. We just love their heritage. Some boogie boarders think that their foam boards are an upgraded version of the wooden bodyboards & ply bellyboards, but we believe that prone surfing on a wooden board is a unique type of surfing that gives a very different wave experience. When you're not using them in the surf - these boards also look cool on display. You can personalise them, create artworks on them and use them as publicity boards and signs.
If you have any early photographs of these boards and are happy to send us copies - it would make our day!