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  history : tom blake 1935

1926 - 1935
Tom Blake Quiver # 200, 1935

Eight-oared shell (modern rowing boat)
Dating back to 1855 when this keelless eight-oared racing boat made its appearance at Henley on Thames.
Designed by Matthew Taylor, for the Royal Rowing Club, it was built, with an outer skin of bent or moulded cedar wood, bottom side upwards on the moulds.
Ribs were fitted inside the skin after the boat had been reversed.
Oxford University launched a similar craft of their own, at Putney in 1857, 63 feet in length and 25 inches in beam.
Over the years the dimensions and fittings varied but these were prototypes for most racing boats into the 20th century and is used in the University Boat Race crewed by a coxed eight.
Hulls were made of cedar wood imported from Central America which although only three sixteenths of an inch thick could withstand pressures of 8,000 pounds below the waterline.
During the 1970s experiments were made with fibreglass, and other materials, which has led to the modern rowing eight and the four which now dominate the sport..

The Hollow Paddle Board, a timber frame with plywood skin, was developed by Tom Blake in Hawaii.
Around 1926, Tom Blake attempted to recreate some of the larger ancient Hawaiian solid wood Olo designs that he had restored for the Bishop Museum, Honolulu.
"Strange as it may seem, three old-style Hawaiian surfboards of huge dimensions and weight have hung on the walls of the Bishop Museum in Honolulu for twenty years or more without anyone doing more than wonder how in the world these great boards were used, as they were too heavy and long to be practicable."
Blake, page 59.
Chief Paki's Olo 15ft 7'' circa 1830   #502
Held by the Bishop Museum, Honolulu, Catalogue No. 298
Image : Margan and Finney, page 23
 "I too wondered about these boards in the museum, wondered so much that in 1926 I built a duplicate of them as an experiment, my object being to find not a better board, but to find a faster board to use in the annual and popular surfboard paddling races held in California each summer."
Blake, page 59

This board successfully performed to Blake's expectactions, however the extreme weight was a major difficulty. His first experiment, hollowing out a solid board, had been attempted previously -

"As early as as 1918 Claude West had experimented to make a hollow board, chippig and gouging out a solid redwood slab and fitting a small sealed and screwed deck.
The experiment was not a success; plywoods were not yet, nor plastic glues, timbers were sun dried intead of kiln dried as now, and sun-cracks quickly gaped to let in water.
'Snowy' McAllister of Manly...also experimented with chipped out boards.
He, too, was unsuccessful, though he improved on the West model, also steamling the tail in the hope of gaining more speed."
Maxwell , pages 239-240.

Probably similar attempts at hollowing boards had been made by other surfers before Tom Blake...
however a combination of drilled holes and extended curing  made a noticable difference in weight

"This surfboard was sixteen feet long and weight 120 pounds."  Blake, page 59
Blake also reported the length of this board as 14 ft 6 inches in 1935, see below.

"hollow - length, 14 1/2 feet; width 20 inches; weight 120 pounds"
Tom Blake's First Experimental Hollow  1926 -1928 14 ft. 6 inches
Image cropped from a photograph by Thomas Edward Blake,  1930
"Waves and Thrills at Waikiki "
National Geograghic Magazine May 1935 Volume 47 Number 5  page 597

Nat Young personally interviewed Tom Blake for his recollections of this period, published in 1983's The History of Surfing, and although the length varies from  Blake's 1935 notes, the account is detailed...

" He purchased a solid slab of redwood 16' long, 2' wide and 4" thick.
It weighed around 150 pounds - too heavy to be of service as a surfboard, even when shaped.
So to lighten it he drilled hundreds of holes in it from top to bottom, each hole removing a cylinder of wood four inches long.
Then he left the holey board season for a month.
After the wood had fully dried he covered the top and bottom surfaces with a thin layer of wood, sealing the holes. I
t finished up 15' long, 19" wide and 4" thick, looking like a cigar.
It's weight was only 100 lbs, because it was partly hollow."
Nat History page 49

The second edition of History of Surfing (1994) is dedicated to Tom Blake who died May 5, 1994, aged 92.

The complete photograph, see below, notes a third length for this board of 14 ft 6 inches.
There is some confusion as to these board's actual lengths.
It is possible that the board's length was reduced between 1926 and 1930, due to modifications or repairs - it certainly reduced in weight..

The board's paddling performance was demonstrated in 1928 when, after a slow start, Tom Blake emphatically won the 880 yards paddling race at the Pacific Coast Surfing Contest, Balboa, California. Blake, page 59

The  long white board above was the first reproduction of the ancient Hawaiian OLO chiefs board, however it was hollow to lighten it. Duke Kahanamoku also rode this board. Thos. Blake"

Uncredited photograph and hand written notes by Tom Blake from a copy of Hawaiian Surfboard, 1935.
Hawaiian Historical Society.
reproduced in Lueras,  page 83.

Encouraged by his initial experiments, Tom Blake's second proto-type was a major advance...

"In the later part of 1929, after three years of experimenting, I introduced at Waikiki  a new type of surfboard;...but in reality the design was taken from the ancient Hawaiian type of board, also from the English racing shell."
Blake, page 51

The construction of this board is unclear, in Blake's notes does "English racing shell " refer to the template, the ribbed construction or both?
It may have used...
- the drilled hole technique
- laminated with chambered strips, or
- built form a timber frame and covered with a layer of the newly developed marine grade ply- wood, in the manner of racing shells or canoes of the period.
or some combination of these methods.
Given the reported weight of only 60 pounds, one of the latter methods seems most likely.

The template of this board was radically streamlined compared to it's predecessor.

The application of a light skin over a ridgid frame for boats dates back to the Irish chonicle or the Innuit kayak.

"It was called a 'cigar board', because a newspaper reporter thought it was shaped like a giant cigar. This board was really graceful and beautiful to look at, and in performance so so ggod that officials of the Annual surfboard Paddling Championship immediately..."
Blake, pages 51 - 52.

 "a light, hollow 16 footer, broke all paddle-race records at Waikiki."
Tom Blake's  Hollow Paddle board, 16 ft  60 pounds1929
Image cropped from a photograph by Thomas Edward Blake,  1930
"Waves and Thrills at Waikiki "
National Geograghic Magazine
May 1935 Volume 47 Number 5  page 597

A third hollow board followed...
"The riding model, 'Okohola', came a month later (after a paddling competition), December 1929.."
Blake, page 59

" ... a riding board sixteen feet long. The new riding board was a great success and Duke Kahanamoku built his great 16 - foot hollow redwood board along about the same time. He is an excellent craftsman and shapes the lines and balance of his boards with the eye; he detects its irregularities by touch of the hand."
Blake, page 52

 "a reproduction of the ancient Hawaiian rider."
 Tom Blake  Hollow Wave riding board 15 ft December 1929
Image cropped from a photograph by Thomas Edward Blake,  1930
"Waves and Thrills at Waikiki "
National Geograghic Magazine May 1935 Volume 47 Number 5  page 597
This success of the design, primarily as a paddleboard, was followed by the  common hollow design of plywood covering over a light wood frame, with a bung.

He rapidly incorporated current aircraft and boat building techniques into surfboard design and his design of a light timber frame covered with plywood panels resulted in a huge weight reduction.
On 18th April, 1931  Thomas Edward Blake submitted three pages with a detailed drawing for a ' Water Sled'. and was subsequently granted US Patent No. 1,872,230 by the US Patents and Trademarks Office, Washington DC.
Initially viewed with scepticism, the paddling advantages were emphatically demonstrated as Tom Blake dominated paddle races in California and Hawaii in the 1930’s.

Aware of the life saving potential of such a craft and an enthusiastic promoter of his sport, Tom Blake gave his design international exposure by publishing  the blueprints and construction details, principally in various Popular Mechanics Magazines of the period. See below, or  Plans and Specifications.

From: Tom Blake : Riding the Breakers on this Hollow Hawaiian Surfboard -
Popular Mechanics Magazine
July 1937 Volume 68 Number 1
pages 114 - 117
 Publication saw the design rapidly adopted around the world, notably  Australia, New Zealand, Peru and South Africa.
In these countries it had an extended life due to the lag before these countries caught up with the developments in fibreglass and foam.
In Australia the design first appearred as the Racing 16 and was later modified to a finned Malibu or Okinuee (1956-1958) while in New Zealand the lag was even longer and hollow Malibu boards were manufactured up to 1961.
Maxwell pages 240-24.

Circa 1934 Tom Blake added a small water ski type fin/skeg to one of his hollow boards.
Although an significant addition, because of the emphasis on paddling, the small size relative to the board, the increased danger and the difficulty in attachment, many riders do not consider fins as a necessity.
It rarely appears on Australian examples of long Hollows.

Tom Blake's first fin with Big Surf Handle
Photograph and hand written caption by Tom Blake.
Surfer Magazine,
March 1981, Volume 22, Number 3, page 37.

Aust wood fin, 1957 circa 1935
Nub Fin/  Keel
Tom Blake
solid timber 
2 x 12 b @ 6? inches  (Approximation)

Photograph: Bjorn DeBoer  :
Vol 4 No 5.  1996
page 68

In the area of design, although many surfers maintained an aliegence to the Alaia, the pioneering of large surf at Makaha and on the North Shore saw the development in 1937 of the Hot Curl.
A solid wood no-fin gun-template board with deep V bottom at the tail was built by John Kelly, Wally Froiseth and Fran Heath in Hawaii.

He stands before his redwood favourite, 11 feet long, 23 inches wide, and 31/4 inches thick, square-edged on the bottom for steadiness.
Number 2, of red cedar and a foot longer, is for fast paddling.
For big waves, the third, hollow - length, 14 1/2 feet; width 20 inches; weight 120 pounds - has proved easier to handle than the fourth, a reproduction of the ancient Hawaiian rider.
The fifth, a light, hollow 16 footer, broke all paddle-race records at Waikiki.
The last, solid and heavy, is a training board."

Boards and self portrait by Thomas Edward Blake 1930.
Photograph and notation published in
"Waves and Thrills at Waikiki "
National Geograghic Magazine May 1935 Volume 47 Number 5  page 597

Notes :
1. This portrait introduced a portfolio of seven duo-tone surfing photographs with notes, that were also reproduced in Tom Blake's The Hawaiian Surfboard, 1935.
However,  these are in blue duotone,  especially selected by Blake for this printing.
2. The photographs, taken from Blake's board in his home made water-proof housing, were a major inspiration to other surf photographers, notably Don James and 'Doc' Ball.
3. The last photograph of the portfolio is of outrigger canoe surfing - one of the passengers is aviatrix,  Amelia Earhart.
4. The photgraph was taken in the grounds of the Outrigger Canoe Club, Blake's boards are leaning against the member's surfboard lockers.
5. This is the first  known quiver portrait.
6. The image  was not included in The Hawaiian Surfboard, 1935
7.  Another photgraph from the same shoot, with Blake in the centre of the boards, is the more commonly reproduced version.
8. None of the hollow boards show evidence of a draining plug.
This is an almost universal feature of hollow surfboards from about 1940 to the present.
Structually, if the board is hollow it should have a drain or pressure plug to let out any water from dings and to equalise the pressure for climatic extremes.

The Runestone Museum, 206 Broadway, Alexandria, (320) 763-3160,
Admission $5. Closed Sunday mid-October to mid-May. Admission includes the Minnesota Lakes Maritime Museum next door, which includes a 40-foot replica of a Viking ship; dozens of vintage "Lady of the Lakes," ribbed-hull wooden fishing boats; and what the museum says is the first surfboard patented in the United States, by a local man named Erick G. Erickson, in 1929. : early aquaplane info needed
thompsonboatboy  Posted: Mon Feb 11, 2008 3:21 pm
I just grabbed the 1934 brochure from Thompson Bros. Boat Mfg. Co.
They had two aquaplanes pictured.
One is the "Hawaiian Surf Board" which is redwood 3/4 inch planks.
The other is the "Hawaiian Floater."
The latter is a hollow, built-up board.
It had a slight V shaped bottom, 6 feet long and 28 inches wide.

I have the Hawaiian Surf Board, with a great Thompson logo on it.

Both are painted bright red and varnished.

List price in the '34 brochure, $8.00 for the Surf Board and $12.00 for the Floater!

The Argus (Junior) Thursday 3 December 1936 page?
Make Your Own (Surfboard)
Two models - Free and Tow (Aquaplane with fin).

home catalogue history references appendix

1949 Maxwell, C. Bede  Surf : Australians Against the Sea
Angus and Robertson Sydney

1959 Bloomfield, John   Know-how in the Surf
Angus and Robertson 89 Castlereagh Street, Sydney

1961 Harris, Reg. S.The History of Manly Life Saving Club 1911-1961
Published by Manly Life Saving Club, NSW Printed by Publicity Press Ltd.

1964 Severson, John: Surfing Around the World
  Doubleday and Company, Inc, Garden City New York.

1965 Farrelly, Midget. As told to McGregor, Craig : This Surfing Life
 Rigby Limited, James Place, Adelaide

1966 Finney, Ben and Houston, James D. : Surfing – A History of the Ancient Hawaiian Sport
Pomegranate Books P.O. Box 6099 Rohnert Park, CA 94927  Reprint 1996

1968 Kahanamoku, Duke With Brennan, Joe:  Duke Kahanamoku’s World of Surfing
Angus and Robertson Publishers Sydney , Australia 1972 2nd Edition  A&R Paperbacks, Sydney , Australia

1968 Pollard, Jack (ed.) : Ampol’s Sporting Records
Jack Pollard Pty. Ltd., 42 Pacific Highway,  North Sydney NSW 2060
Reprinted 1969, 1971, 1973

1970 Margan, Frank and Finney, Ben R. :  A Pictorial History of Surfing
Paul Hamlyn Pty Ltd, 176 South Creek Road, Dee Why West, NSW 2099.

1964 Pollard, Jack (ed.):  The Australian Surfrider
K.G.Murray Publishing Co.P/L,142 Clarence Street , Sydney Australia

1972 The Best of Tracks   (Vol. I) Editors : Falzon, Albert; Stewart, John; Grissim, John. :
Tracks Publishing Co Pty Ltd. P.O. Box 178 Avalon, NSW.
'Bob McTavish’s Personal History of Surfboard Design – Pods for Primates Parts 1' (pages 120 – 122).

1992 Stell, Marion K. :  Pam Burridge
Collins Angus & Robertson Publishers (Australia) Pty. Limited
A division of Harper Collins Publishers (Australia) Pty. Limited
25 Ryde Road, Pymble NSW 2073, Australia

1979 Pearson, Kent : Surfing Subcultures of Australia and New Zealand
 University of  Queensland Press, St. Lucia, Queensland

1997 Warshaw, Matt : Surfriders – In Search of the Perfect Wave
Tehabi Books, Inc. Collins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022

1978 Warwick, Wayne A Guide to Surfriding in New Zealand Second Edition
Viking Sevenseas Ltd Wellington, New Zealand

1979 Young, Nat ; Photographs by McCausland, Bill: Nat Young’s Book of Surfing
A.H. & A.W. Reed Pty. Ltd. 53 Myroora Rd, Terry Hills, Sydney.

1983 Young, Nat with McGregor, Craig : The History 0f Surfing
Palm Beach Press,40 Palm Beach Road, Palm Beach NSW 2108

1997 Kampion, Drew: Stoked : A History of Surf Culture
 General Publishing Group Los Angles
 1998 Second edition by Benedikt Tashen Verlag GmbH, Hohenzollernring 53, D-50672 Koin.

1991 Carroll, Nick (editor): The Next Wave : A Survey of World Surfing
 Collins Angus & Robertson Publishers Pty Ltd 4 Eden Park, 31 Waterloo Road, North Ryde NSW 2113

web sites
Malcom Gault-Williams: LEGENDARY SURFERS

Tom Blake's Hawaiian Visits 1925 to 1950.
Notes by Judy Blake, 2007.
Posted by email from Gary Lynch in March 2007, with the note:
"FYI. Very interesting details recently unearthed by Judy Blake."

Hi Gary,

I've been meaning to get back to you on some info (interesting but not earth shattering) I discovered on Frances E. Cunningham Blake. She was born in Bartlesville, Oklahoma on July 8, 1907 and was 1/8 American Indian. Frances must have been very young when she married Tom. She and Tom were passengers on the Calawai which departed from Honolulu, Hawaii and arrived in San Pedro, California on Dec. 12, 1925. Frances was 18 and Tom was 23 at the time.

Frances' parents, Alfred and Laura Cunningham were each 1/16 American Indian. Her older brother, Edward was 14 years her senior. I don't know what happened to her dad, but Frances and her mom were living with the Lombard family in Los Angeles in 1920 and  Edward was still on the ranch in Oklahoma. Robert Lombard was her mom's brother. Frances was 12 years old when the 1920 census was taken.

I cannot find Frances (Cunningham or Blake) on the 1930 U.S. census. Either her name was misspelled, she was not counted, or she had died or remarried when the 1930 census was taken.

I have records of a few other return trips Tom had made from Hawaii but Frances was never on the passenger list.

Tom was on the list of  the Calawai when it arrived in Wilmington, Ca. on Nov. 1, 1930.

He was aboard the ship,  City of Los Angeles on Oct. 2, 1931 on it's arrival in Wilmington.

On June 18, 1932, he traveled on the Calawai from Honolulu to Los Angeles.

Tom arrived in Los Angeles aboard the Lurline on March 6, 1937.

The next record I have of his arrival from Hawaii was on July 16, 1941 on the ship, Matsonia. He just missed the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

The final passenger list I found with Tom's name was from the Lurline  on April 17, 1950.

Right after my last email in November, my mom was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She died on Dec. 18. My dad is still having a difficult time coping with the loss. They would have been married 65 years next month.

Judy Blake
home catalogue history references appendix

Geoff Cater (2000-2015) : Tom Blake and the Paddleboard, 1935