Surf Museum

THE BALSA SURFBOARD 1956-59 — A BRIEF HISTORY

By December 19, 2017 No Comments

The Balsa board first made waves at the Melbourne Olympics in 1956. Though Surf Life Saving wasn’t counted as a legitimate sport – a Surf Life Saving carnival was held at Torquay Beach in Victoria that was in conjunction with the Melbourne Olympics.

Riders from all over the world gathered on this beach, donning swimwear from their home clubs, demonstrating their skills in the surf and showing off their latest boards.

When the American’s arrived – everything changed for Australian surfing. While the Australian riders showed up with their toothpicks, riding their waves largely straight into the beach hence sometimes on their bellies, the American’s showed up with Balsa boards that they surfed exclusively on their feet sliding sideways on the wave face. They could perform cutbacks, flick turns – and they could even walk to the very nose of their boards.

This was something Australian’s had never seen before.

These balsa boards, also known as ‘Malibu Chips’ were thin and allowed the riders to ride the face of the waves and maneuver them accordingly. At the carnival, surfers and board makers were offering pretty pennies to any American that would sell their board. Overnight Aussie surfers ditched their toothpicks and went for the Balsa boards, and within a week production of these Balsa boards began in Australia.

It wasn’t just the design that had Aussies so intrigued, it was the materials too. Balsa was widely available in the States as it had been the material used to make military planes. After the war, there was an excess of it. Balsa was lightweight and easy to work with which made it easy to shape. In Australia, it was extremely rare.

This is reportedly one of the first balsa board made at the Freshwater Surf Club in 1957 a club that holds a prominent part in Australia’s Surf History.

Because of the soft and absorbent nature of the balsa wood, very few have survived – even ones that were originally treated with high-quality marine varnishes and oil-based paints and later through the early use of fiberglass matting.

 

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