Surfboards were not always 5 to 6 feet thrusters. Those are only the distant child of a long lineage of boards whose shapes have evolved over decades.

From Tom Blake’s Hollow Board (1932) to the Mini-Simmons (2006), we introduce in our Heritage of Surfboard Design series a selection of iconic boards that set the foundations of modern-day shaping and surf.

Bob Simmons in Malibu, Circa 1947. Collection: Les Williams Archives.

After World War II, surfboard design had fallen into the hands of Southern California-based surfers. Among them was an antisocial mathematician passionate about fluid dynamics: Bob Simmons. While in the 1940s most surfers rode either Blake’s Hollows, Hot Curls or Planks, Simmons knew none of these were optimal designs. In 1946, he opened a book that would change his fate and surfing forever:

“The Naval Architecture of Planing Hulls”

by Lindsey Lord.
Our original copy of Lindsay Lord’s book, displayed in Wavegliders surfshop in Ericeira. Come check it out!

Simmons applied the principles of hydrodynamics and aeronautics to surfing and approached it with an analytical perspective, whereas most shapers valued intuition and instinct. He studied the physics of ocean waves, the mass of a human body, and the deflection of kinetic energy by the rails. For him, speed would come from planning and width, not from pointy noses and tails.

He introduced curves to his boards, designed thinner and rounder rails, rounded the bottom and carved a concave area to reduce friction, and raised the nose and the tail, giving birth to the first “rocker”. Finally, he added not one but two fins near the tail, inspired by torpedo science, to keep his planning hull anchored to the wave, directing and controlling its speed.

Bob Simmon’s iconic car, 1950. Collection: John Ewell

As the war ended, the general public accessed technologies and materials developed for armies such as polystyrene and fibreglass. Breaking with the tradition of all-wooden surfboards, Simmons crafted foam pads “sandwiched” between a thin layer of plywood and balsa wood side rails, then covered with fibreglass. This revolutionary idea would make lighter boards, easier to carry and control: between 8 and 10,5 feet for 10 kilos. They were said to be gliding over the waves at top speed, making it looks like the surfer was flying.

The entire California surf community flocked to his parent’s garage turned into a workshop. Tragically, the genius disappeared in 1954, surfing Windanse Beach, San Diego, at only 35 years old. If he probably took many more revolutionary ideas with him, the “Father of Modern Surfing” had already paved the way for future design evolutions.

Bob Simmons, 1947. Collection: Bob Prosser

Fifty years later, John Elwell – who was a great friend of Simmons and had one of his 1950 original boards asked Joe Bauguess to restore it. Fascinated by his design, they got even more hooked as they found out that Simmons made a couple of 6 ft boards but rejected them at the time. These early-age shortboard attempts motivated them to build up the Hydrodynamic project, soon to deliver the first Mini-Simmons… But that’s another story!

In 2021, Nico build up himself a 10 feet Hydrodynamic Planing Hull based on Simmons’ 1950 design, as well as a Mini-Simmons, as the opening of a new Wavegliders project… Stay tuned.