Wednesday, February 28, 2007



Pretty remarkably short board given the era...probably the 1930's. Tom Blake is one of the pioneers of modern surfing.

Thomas Edward Blake was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on March 8, 1902. In 1919, Tom Blake headed west. He adapted to life on the California beaches easily and was considered a "natural" waterman and became a world class swimmer, racing against legends like Duke Kahanamoku and Johnny Weismuller aka "Tarzan".

Working as a lifeguard at the Santa Monica Swimming Club in 1924, Blake found an old surfboard being stored and paddled out into the surf, getting his first successful ride...and apparently the surfing bug. Tom traveled to Hawai’i that same year to surf in the warm water, and would, over the next thirty years either live in or travel to, Hawai’i every year.

In the 20's and 30's surfboards typically weighed between 90 and 150 pounds, with some of the Hawaiian 16-foot long Olo boards weighing as much as 200 pounds. In an effort to eliminate weight Tom Blake designed and built his first hollow board in 1926. This board was a redwood plank with hundreds of holes drilled through the deck then layered with a thin sheet of veneer, top and bottom.

The next evolution of the hollow board involved carving chambers in the hull. And finally, Blake utilized a transversely braced hollow hull, using ribs for strength, much like an airplane wing is built. This resulted in a sturdy 40 to 70 pound board, depending on length. These hollow surf and paddle board soon could be found worldwide.

From the 30's to the early 1950s, Blake's hollow boards were produced by manufacturers like the L.A. Ladder Co. and the Catalina Equipment Company. His hollow paddle rescue board was later adopted by the Pacific Coast Lifesaving Corps and used by the Red Cross National Aquatic Schools for instruction. Blake's rescue paddle boards were used on many beaches where lifeguards were employed.

In 1928, Blake won the first Pacific Coast Surfriding Championships at Corona Del Mar, California, using his hollow surfboard. He is considered the first surfer to ride the waves at Malibu. In 1930, he built the first waterproof camera housing for surf photography. In 1932, he started the Catalina Paddleboard Race and took first place. In 1932, he also invented the sailboard. In 1935, Blake placed the first fin on a surfboard and wrote his first book, "Hawaiian Surfboard". Soon after he wrote "Royal Hawaiians", and in 1959, authored "Hawaiian Surf Riders". His final book appeared in 1969, "Voice of the Atom".

Tom Blake was recognized by the National Surf Life Saving Association of America for his contributions to aquatic safety and his personal accomplishments in ocean lifesaving. Their statement, "And most important, the thousands of lives saved because of his inventive contributions in the interest of fellow human beings" pleased Blake immensely.

Tom Blake was a complex, intensely creative yet simple-living man, and is considered to be one of the most important watermen of 20th century. He passed away at age 92, on May 5, 1994, in Ashland, Wisconsin.

~adapted and condensed front the California Surf Museum website...


Mary said...

Do you have information on Tom Blakes family? My mom is related (cousins) and would like to contact them.

Mary said...
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