Paddle Boards beginnings
Surprisingly enough the paddle boards have been around for a long time – since the early nineteen hundreds. Thomas Edward Blake is credited as the pioneer in paddle boards construction. In 1926, Blake built a replica of the previously ignored olo surfboard (traditionally made from wiliwili wood) ridden by ancient Hawaiian kings. He lightened his redwood replica by drilling it full of holes and then covering them, creating the first ever hollow board. Thus the the first modern paddle boards were created. Two years later, in 1928 using this same 16 ft (4.9 m), 120 lb (54 kg) paddle board, Blake won the first ever Mainland surf contest, the Pacific Coast Surf riding Championships, an event integrating both surfing and paddling. Blake’s love for the paddle board was shown back in Hawaii where he would go on to break virtually every established paddling record available. He set half-mile and 100-yard records that stood until 1955.
Using his ~60 pound, drastically modified chambered hollow-board in 1932 Blake out-paddled top California watermen Pete Peterson and Wally Burton in the first ever Mainland to Catalina crossing race (29 miles in 5 hours, 53 minutes). He avidly promoted his creation over the next decade as a lifeguarding rescue tool and Blake-influenced hollow boards (called “cigar boards” by reporters and later “kook boxes” by surfers) would be used in roughly equal proportion to solid plank boards for both paddling and surfing until the late 1930s Hot Curl innovations led wave-riding in a new direction. The fundamentals of Blake’s 1926 design remain relevant even today for modern paddle boards – only the advancements in materials technologies have made boards much lighter and more versatile in design.
Paddle boards experienced a rebirth in the early 1980s after Los Angeles County lifeguard Rabbi Norm Shifren’s “Waterman Race”. This 22 mile race from Point Dume to Malibu inspired surf journalist Craig Lockwood to begin production on a high quality stock paddleboard—known as the “Waterman.” This design remains a popular choice today. Surfboard shapers, Joe Bark from L.A. and Mike Eaton from San Diego began production of paddle boards shortly after the historic race, and soon became two of the largest U.S. paddle board makers. Eventually the two began producing nearly half all of the estimated paddle boards made each year in the U.S. today. L.A. lifeguards Gibby Gibson and Buddy Bohn revived the Catalina Classic event in 1982 for a field of 10 competitors. Around the same time in Hawaii, the annual Independence Day Paddle Board Race from Sunset to Waimea was drawing a few hundred competitors, many using surfboards due to lack of proper paddle boards on the Islands. As paddlers began ordering paddle boards from the Mainland, local surfboard shapers like Dennis Pang (now one of Hawaii’s largest paddle board makers) moved quickly to fill the local niche. On both fronts, paddle boarding has been consistently gaining momentum and popularity.