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history : the surf ski 

the development and design of the surf ski
This paper was prepared following an email from Murray Palmer, October 2007, enquiring into the possible origin of a timber Prot-Craft surf ski, circa 1948.
See #328
I would like to acknowledge the contribution of Ray Moran and the resources of the Manly Surf Life Saving Club. Many thanks to Kay Browne, Port Macquarie-Hastings Local Studies Librarian, who provided valuable information and research assistance.
Thanks also to David Payne at the Australian National Maritime Museum, Mick Mock (Manly), Tony Broomfield (Shoalhaven Heads), Mr. Wally Prott of Boronia Park and Catherine Roberts and Shirley Neil of the Manly Art Gallery and Museum.

The Surf Ski
The history of the development of the surf-ski, a unique Australian surfcraft design that has world wide impact, is poorly documented and largely overlooked by both surfriding and surf life saving historians.
Critically, it is possible that early models used hollow timber construction prior to the widely promoted designs by American, Tom Blake, who patented his work in 1931 and first published detailed plans and construction notes in Modern Mechanix magazine in 1933.
See Paul W. Gartner: Hawaiian Water Sled.

Alleyn Best, citing Barry Galton (2005?), notes:

"The first official ski was made 1912-1913 by  Port Macquarie fisherman, Harry McLaren, who saw it as an easy way for Harry and his brother to get about oyster beds in nearby Lake Innes".

Best, Alleyn: Chapter 5: Surf Lifesaving Technology, in Jaggard (2006) page 123.

Best does not comment on their construction, define "official" or indicate if their intial use extended beyond inland waters.
A similar claim was earlier identified by Lana Wells, however she dates the design as circa 1930.
Wells(1982) page 160.

Henry Thomas "Harry" McLaren (1897-19xx) was an oyster farmer and one of thirteen children who grew up on the banks of the Hastings River, Port Macquarie.

- Noted by Kay Browne, Port Macquarie-Hastings Local Studies Librarian, in conversation, October 2007.
Kay specifically identified as significant resources an article "Without Doubt" , incorporating interviews with McLaren family members, in the Port Macquarie News, 8th September 2000 and Charles Uptin's  A History of the Port Macquarie Surf Life Saving Club 1929-1979 (1979), the later available as an inter-library loan.

Port Macquarie was founded by:
"... convicts and officers who arrived to establish a penal settlement in 1821, and free settlers who flocked to the timber-rich farming and fishing district after 1840.
Late in the 19th century the wealthier citizens of Sydney and Newcastle recognised its leisure attractions.
Port Macquarie became Australia's first resort town."

Readers Digest: Guide to the Australian Coast (1983) page 262.

Amoung those attracted to the area, P. G. Hampshire introduced some of the surf life saving practices developed at the Manly and North Steyne (originally the Seagulls) Surf Bathing Clubs following their formation in 1907.

"A man from Manly, Mr. P. G. Hampshire (Dairy Officer for the area Manning to Nambucca), made his home in Port Macquarie in 1910.
'Born in the surf,' he was instrumental in the formation of Port Macquarie Surf Bathers' Club, on Town Beach.
Drill and swim trials for efficiency badges engendered rivalry."

Uptin: Port Macquarie SLSClub (1979) page 6.

Photograph left:
Members of the Port Macquarie Surf Bathing Club, 
circa 1914.

"In the picture (and that's a dressing shed; you stood behind it to change) are Kevin Flynn (bottom right), of Flynn's Beach family; two of the late Pountney brothers, and Barney Turner. 
P. G. Hampshire is next (left) to the man with his head bowed."

Uptin: Port Macquarie SLSClub (1979) page 6.

Note the board in the foreground is inscribed with the initials 
P.M.S.B.C  (Port Macquarie Surf Bathing Club).

Port Macquarie S.L.S.C. historian, Charles Uptin appears to consider the claims for the design of the surf ski of Harry McLean and "Saxon' Crackanthrop of Manly as concurrent:

"There is a local claim that the McLaren brothers, Harry and Jack ("Tacko") were the first to ride surf skis.
They built the somewhat monstrous, hollow skis, for use around their oyster leases and surfed with them for pleasure.

That was in the 1920's, before the Port Macquarie Surf Club was formed, and a Harry Crakanthorp, who was town clerk here in that period, surfed with them on their skis.

Manly Surf Club's 50 year history (Harris: Manly SLSC (1961) page 56) says the surf ski was designed and introduced by Dr. J. S. Crakanthorp in the 1920's.
Whichever way it goes, fact remains that Port Macquarie has had surf skis for as long as they have been about."

Uptin: Port Macquarie SLSC (1979) page 33.

Image right:
"This 1919 picture establishes 
Harry McLaren as the first 
maker of surf skis.
Harry is second from the left, 
with Ray Dick, Herb Reckless 
and Bert McLaren, left to right."

Uptin: Port Macquarie SLSC
(1979) page 34.

The photograph is at the front of a collection of boatsheds, one managed by the Reckless family, to the east of the mouth of Kooloongbung Creek and with direct access to the mouth of the Hastings River, Town Beach and Pelican Island.
- Noted by Kay Browne, Port Macquarie-Hastings Local Studies Librarian, in correspondence, November 2007.

Further significant photograhic evidence of Harry McLaren's design, detailed below, is online at the State Library NSW (PICMAN):

The earliest photographs show the board (the description surf ski is questionable at this early stage) was propelled in a sitting position with two small hand blades, which was probably not a highly efficient method to negotiate the surf zone.
The deck is flat with a bung plug at the rear and a nose ring with a leash, possibly originally required for mooring.
The rails are square and there is pronounced rocker.
The boards' obvious bouyancy undoubtedly indicate hollow construction (confirmed by Uptin, above); probably thin boards of cedar fixed longtitudinally down the board.

Also see:
State Library NSW   "At Work and Play - 05005
Three men on surf skis.
The skis were built by Harry McLaren, one in 1912 (Spring) and the other Xmas 1913, to his own design - Port Macquarie, NSW."

Note that this photograph is not dated as 1913, and is probably  taken sometime after the craft's construction.
It is comtemporary with the other image, dated 1919, noted above.
Kay Browne, Port Macquarie-Hastings  Local Studies Librarian, noted that the images of the McLaren's were probably taken by a member of the Dick family, who were relatives with a interest in photography.
Thomas Dick would be renown for his images of Australian aborigines taken in the Port Macquarie area in the 1920s, some of which are held by the Australian Museum.


- Noted by Kay Browne, Port Macquarie-Hastings Local Studies Librarian, in conversation, October 2007.

Citing documents held by the Manly SLSC and identified by club historian Ray Moran, Bill Beale, reported:

"Harry McLaren was only 15 when he came up with the original design in 1912.
Prior to that, Harry had used his Uncle Ern's duck hunting canoe to 'shoot the breakers' near Pelican Island.
But the canoe would 'bury its head' when coming down the face.
' … I got a brainwave then if I built something that was on the style of a porpoise and made the front of it fairly round and tapered off at the stern and gave it a spring up in the front it would shoot the waves fairly good.
That was when I was a kid 15.
Round the latter part of 1912 I made one out of New Zealand Kauri and nailed it all together … after Christmas in 1913 I made another one for my brother … then I went off to the War.
I still have photos of the two skis'."

Beale, Bill: History of the Surf Ski

Note that McLaren saw the craft from inception as a wave riding vechicle, and makes no reference to it's use on oyster leases.
Pelican Island is an inland sand island adjacent to the mouth of the Hastings River and with extreme tides and/or swells it had recognisable surfriding conditions, although substantantial land reclaimation and the construction of a breakwater (circa 1938) have since dramatically reduced the wave action inside the river.
Similar surfriding breaks are found along the NSW coast, for example Port Hacking south of Sydney.

With their craft stored at a boat shed on the banks of the Hasting River, the McLaren brothers had direct access to both Pelican Island and were able to paddle to Town Beach (see below), the first beach seaward and south of the river mouth.
"Without Doubt" (Port Macquarie News, 8th September, 2000) repeats the claim that the original board was built in 1912 and notes that the family holds a copy of "original plans", dated 12th July 1919.

- Noted by Kay Browne, Port Macquarie-Hastings Local Studies Librarian, in conversation, October 2007.

Harry McLaren enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on the 26th July 1915, in company with four other Port Macquarie residents.
He embarked from Sydney on HMAT Euripides on 2nd November 1915, achieved the rank of Temporary Captain in the Royal Engineers and was recommended for the Military Cross.
He was stood down/demobbed in 1919?

Australian War Memorial Service Records, Canberra.

It exact design of "Uncle Ern's duck hunting canoe" is unclear as these craft are largely undocumented.

In its most simple form, a duck hunting canoe was a flat bottomed punt with low gunnels, sometimes a mere four inches deep.
It was widely used on NSW coastal waters and the standard method of propulsion was with small hand blades, as adopted by Harry McLaren.

- Noted by Ray Moran, Manly SLSC, in conversation, October 2007.

Shoalhaven Heads antique enthusiast, Tony Broomfield, in a phone conversation noted that duck punts (duck canoes) were originally an English design.

Used for the once fashionable sport of punt-gunning or wildfowling, the duck punt or gun punt was a type of shallow flat-bottomed craft pointed at each end and covered over at bow and stern.
It was used in the marshes, estuaries and rivers of the fens and the Wash, and was usually propelled by a paddle but could also step a mast for sailing.
The fore part of the gun punt, shaped something like an Eskimo kayak, supported the long barrel of a muzzle-loading cannon used for shooting waterfowl including geese, teal and shellduck.
The single occupant was the gunner who fired at flocks of game birds, a single shot in a day might kill as many as fifty birds.
The craft, however, was difficult to control and easy to capsize, its navigation fraught with dangers and discomforts.
A good example of the use of a Gun Punt can be seen in the Royal Armouries Museum at Leeds."

Jim Shead: Rowing and Sculling Boats

In Australia, Tony Broomfield indicated these were not recreational sporting craft but a commercial hunting boat, fitted with a large bore "duck gun" primed with "grape-shot"  (nails, sinkers, metal off-cuts) to bring down a maximun number of birds with a single blast.
One shot in the Shoalhaven district was said to have yielded 76 birds, usually sold at Greenwell Point for transport by ship to the Sydney market.
Tony provided the photographs of one example from the Shoalhaven area, see below, and noted that a second example he observed included the original hand paddles, as reportedly used by McLaren on his board.
These were made of a lightweight timber with thumb holes that were comfortable to grip.

Image above:
Duck punt, Shoalhaven River, circa 1920.
(Dimensions unrecorded.)

Image left:
Duck punt stern.

Image right:
Duck punt bow with duck gun mounting.

Image below:
Duck punt bow with gun mounting 
and illustrating flat panelled bottom 
and metal nose guard.

All photographs circa December 1995.
Courtesy of Tony Broomfield, Shoalhaven Heads.
Many thanks to Tony for his contribution.

While slightly adjusting the template and incorporating substantial rocker would certainly improved this duck hunting punt's performance in the waves, critically McLaren added a full-length, water-tight deck panel to the existing design that eliminated the potential for the craft to be swamped in the surf zone.

In the USA, similar craft were known as "sneakbox" and were substantially more sophisticated - a shallow draft boat with a panelled deck, usually propelled with oars and occassionally sail.

- Noted by David Payne, Australian National Maritime Museum, in conversation October 2007.

The fixing of thin timber sheets over a timber frame (carvel construction) was an established method of small boat contruction before the turn of the century.
It was used in racing scull or racing shell building in England since the mid 1800s.

"Eight-oared shell (modern rowing boat)
Dating back to 1855 when this keelless eight-oared racing boat made its appearance at Henley on
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.
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."

Jim Shead: Rowing and Sculling Boats

In Australia the sport of sculling enjoyed great popularity, the first national championship was held in 1892, and it was considered that Australian craft were lighter and faster than some English models:

"Practice boats, of course, differ in different localities, but the light racing craft in Australia are all of the usual "best and best" type - carvel built.
Without doubt the Australian-built boat will bear comparison with any in the world.
Some few years ago a prominent New South Wales sportsman presented an English-built eight-oared boat to the Rowing Association, so that, if possible, the New South Wales crew should be better boated than their rivals.
Out of compliment to the donor the boat was used in one race; but it was generally recognized that the crew was in reality handicapped by the sturdy craft, and after the race she was housed - and forgotten."

Inglis(1912) page 207.

In the image below, note that McLaren's design esentially joins the enclosed nose and tail sections of the illustrated craft and any experienced boat builder of the period would be able to replicate McLaren's design.
Also note the splash guard at the prow, a feature on surf skis of the1940s.

"The New South Wales "Eight" of 1911."
Inglis(1912) facing page 210.

By the late 1920s, McLaren (and others) appears to have used the craft in a range of surf conditions, neccessitating a board rack to be fixed to the tray of McLaren's business truck for transport to the beach.
Image right:
"The 'original' surf skis, 
and ' Tacko' McLaren's 
transport for them."

Uptin: Port Macquarie SLSClub
(1979) page 33.

Note the shallow long-base keel on the tail of the three boards, another innovation accredited to Tom Blake, circa 1935.
The State Library holds several photographs that are contemporous with this image, but they accredit the vechicle to Harry (Henry Thomas) McLaren, not his brother "Tacko" (Jack),  which appears confirmed by the signwriting on the driver's side: "H.T.McLaren".
State Library NSW "At Work and Play - 05022
Harry McLaren's 1928 Chevrolet truck with surf skis he built.
Hand paddles can be seen on lower ski.
Taken in backyard of 23 Gore Street - Port Macquarie, NSW."

Around this time, a stalwart of the Manly surfing scene, Dr. J. S. 'Saxon' Crakanthorp (various spellings) apparently encounted the McLaren brothers in the Port Macquarie area and was sufficiently impressed with their craft's surfriding potential to arrange the purchase a board.

Apart from the attractraction as a holiday resort, Crakanthorp probably had family connections with the area before 1930 - his brother Hereward Harvey "Harry" Crakanthorp, also a member of the Manly SLSC, served as Port Macquarie's Town Clerk from 1938 (?) to his death in 1974 (?).
As an official of the surf life saving movement, Crackanthorp's visit coincided with the development of the Port Macquarie Surf Life Saving Club, formally established in 1929 with the assistance of members of the Manly and Bondi clubs.

- Noted by Kay Browne, Port Macquarie-Hastings Local Studies Librarian, in conversation, October 2007.

Certainly Harry Crakanthorp (Crakanthrope) was an active participant, Charles Uptin notes:

''The present Port Macquarie Surf Life Saving Club was formed at a meeting held in the Town Hall, on 24th October, 1929.
Officers elected were: Patron, Mr. A. A. Cumming; President, Mr. H. J. Blair; Vice-presidents, Messrs. Cyril Lewis, H. Crakanthorpe, A. Lonsdale, W. McMillan, G. Prentice, A. C. Elliot; Treasurer, Mr. L. Atkinson; Secretary, Mr. A. Henderson.''

Uptin: Port Macquarie SLSC (1979) page 6.

Manly was a centre for surfcraft with a significant number of boardriders and the first surf life saving club to adopt the surfboat.
Specifically, J.S. Crakanthrop may have been influenced by  Russell Henry 'Busty' Walker, who during the 1920's used a canoe to act as a judge at the buoys at Manly Surf Carnivals.
.Harris: Manly SLSC (1961) page 90.

Manly was not the only beach were a variety of craft were in evidence, as shown by the late 1920s photgraphic montage, right.
Probably taken on the eastern beaches of Sydney (possibly Coogee), they include a surfing canoe, an inflatable canoe and a novelty inflatable toy, perhaps a crocodile.

Image right:
Phillips: Beaches of Sydney (1930) page 20.

State Library NSW "At Work and Play - 05010
Surf ski built June 1930.
One made in July 1930 and was sold to Mr Crackenthorpe for 3 pounds and is now in Manly museum - Port Macquarie, NSW."

The surf ski is held by the Manly Art Gallery and Museum, catalogue number ??
The dimensions are 350 cm x 64 cm x 15.5 cm.
Imperial: 11 foot 6'' x 25'' x 6''
Specificaions: Timber frame, cedar planking, plywood bottom, timber keel, canvas seat.
Accredition: Made by Harry McLaren, Port Macquarie, 1933.
Providence: Donated by Mrs. A. Crakanthorp, 1985.

- Noted by Catherine Roberts, Manly Art Gallery and Museum, in conversation, November 2007.

Significantly, the providence confirms the photographic evidence.

Note that the photograph includes a belt attached to the nose leash, an accessory perhaps only used by Harry and pre-dating the general adoption of the leg rope by surboard riders (circa 1975) by forty-five years.
Bill Beale writes:
"Of particular interest, when using his ski, Harry McLaren did not use the now conventional double-bladed paddle.
He used two square butter-bats (like square table tennis bats, 15 cm wide by 35 cm long) strapped to each hand.
He used these while kneeling on his surf ski.
"They work a damn lot better than today's paddles … if knocked off, a ski paddler would not be separated from the paddles.'
The rider also had a rope tied to the waist and the ski.
Harry also proffered that the kneeling position offered less wave resistance than the present seated method."

Beale, Bill: History of the Surf Ski

Indeed, if others followed Harry McLaren's advice and used the separate hand blades and rode and paddled in a kneeling position, then the craft would be a surfboard.

Importantly, Crakanthrop significantly improved propulsion, and surf suitability, by introducing a two bladded canoe paddle instead of McLaren's two small hand blades.
Also note the short stub keels at the tail, noted above, are illustrated in this image.
"At Work and Play - 05011
Three surf skis on the back of a 1928 Chevrolet utility in the backyard at 23 Gore Street.
The paddle on the side belonged to Mr Crackenthorpe from Sydney - Port Macquarie, NSW
January 1931."

Certainly these developments in northern NSW occurred independently of the hollow board experiments carried out, most famously, by Tom Blake in Hawaii from 1926 to 1931, and others elsewhere.
By 1932, the "boards" were ridden in a sitting position and  propelled with a double bladed paddle, convieniently attached to the nose leash, and  fitted with foot straps, thus definitely identifiable as surf skis.
McLaren also sold other surf skis, in some cases less than the premium paid by Dr. Crackanthorp.

State Library NSW "At Work and Play - 05008
Surf skiing off Town Beach.
All skis built and designed by Harry McLaren.
Sold one ski to his cousin for 10 shillings - Port Macquarie, NSW c 1932."

For other photographs of Surf skis in surf circa 1932, see 05006, 05007 and 05009.
05020 notes:
"Three men with surf skis at Town Beach.
Ray Dick bought his ski from Harry McLaren for 10 shillings and a carburettor - Port Macquarie, NSW c 1932."

From the earliest days of surfbathing, Town Beach was the easiest accessed location for most residents.
It was  prefered to Flynns Beach, which was later to be developed and became the site for the Port Macquarie Surf Life Saving Clubhouse in 1956.
From the late 1930's, surfriding conditions at Town Beach were substantially modified with the construction and extension of breakwaters at the mouth of the Hastings River to maintain a navigatable entrance.

"Before the southern breakwall was extended sightly, before the original north wall was completed (it was also extended) favourable surfing conditions prevailed at Town Beach towards the southern wall, and the beach being handier to town it was more infavour than Flynn's Beach."

Uptin: Port Macquarie SLSC (1979) page 7.

The image of Town Beach below is circa 1935, before the construction of the northern breakwater between 1935 and 1939.
- Noted by Kay Browne, Port Macquarie-Hastings Local Studies Librarian, in correspondence, November 2007.
It illustrates the extensive banks in the river mouth to the north of Town Beach and lines of swell running upriver towards Pelican Island.

Town Beach, Port Macquarie, circa 1935.
Uptin: Port Macquarie SLSC (1979) page 7.

Bill Beale reports a version that approximates the above account based on the photographic evidence.

"J S Crakanthorp's brother, Harry Crakanthorp, was the Town Clerk of Port Macquarie from 1938 till his death in the early 1970s.
According to a mutual friend of the Town Clerk, Mr R Lindsay of Wamberal, Harry Crakanthorp always attributed the building of the first surf skis to Harry McLaren of Port Macquarie.
Harry Crakanthorp's brother , Sacka, had visited him at Port Macquarie, had used McLaren's ski, and took its measurements and the idea back to Sydney."

Beale, Bill: History of the Surf Ski

The surf ski purchased from McLaren is likely the craft Crakanthrop brought back to Manly, accredited as his design by C. Bede Maxwell in 1949:

"Maroubra, too, has become tlle favoured home of that purely Australian invention, the surf ski.
This contrivance represents what is more or less a logical development of the hollow surf-board, and it made its first appearance under the hands of Dr G. A. ("Saxon") Crackanthorp (sic), an enthusiast who couldn't acquire the trick of managing a standard surfboard as well as he wished to.
He fashioned a something that was wider in the beam, with a turned-up nose, the centre of gravity set low, and presently found he could negotiate even the biggest breakers without capsizing. Hollow-decked, buoyant, steered and driven with a paddle, the surf ski sets the rider above water, and possesses all the advantages of a canoe, plus stability.
It also lacks the disadvantage of likely filling up, and is easier to control; the rider sitting with his feet in straps can lean inboard or outboard in any direction that the requirements of balance dictate.

The first skis were built of cedar planking, so heavy that it took a man all his time to carry one.
Later, laminated plywood bonded with resin was substituted.
The earliest models were about 8ft. by 28in., with a 6-inch depth and a l2-inch spring in the keel. Competition drew these out longer, often narrower.
Big modern "double" skis are almost as long as a standard surf- boat."

Maxwell (1949) page 245.

While the length is probably under-estimated by Maxwell (the photographs indicate a length of approximately ten feet), the other dimensions appear consistent with the Port Macquarie photographs.
Note that she does not specify a date for the introduction of the surf ski and considers it as "a logical development of the hollow surf- board" as designed by Tom Blake and first built in Australia by Frank Adler at Maroubra in 1934.
Maxwell (1949) pages 240-241.

Critically, the development of the hollow surf ski by Harry McLaren at Port Macquarie would appear to pre-date or, at least, coincide with Blake's experiments in Hawaii.
Specifically the report that "the first skis were built of cedar planking" would appear to describe McLaren's design based on the duck punt and a construction method familar to Sydney boat buiders, and not derived from Blake's hollow surfboard.
The earliest publication of Blake's design in1933 indicated the use of plywood or (the structually questionable) "Masonite Tempered Presdwood" over a spruce frame.
 Paul W. Gartner: Hawaiian Water Sled, page 86.

Dr Crakanthrop is subsequently credited with the design of the surf ski by John Bloomfield (1959) and Reg S. Harris (1961), probably based on the Maxwell's report.
Note that Bloomfield dates the introduction of the surf ski as "about 1933", consistent with the claim of Crakanthorp and Toyer's patent and before Maxwell's (and his own, page 61) report of the first hollow surfboard,  circa 1934:

"The surf ski is a cross between a surf board and a canoe.
It can now be seen on most Australian surf beaches, and is also popular in South Africa, New Zealand, Ceylon and England.

The ski is purely an Australian innovation, having been invented by Dr G. A. Crackenthorp (sic) of Manly Surf Life Saving Club about 1933.
The early model was heavy and short compared to those we see today, being only 8 feet long and 28 inches wide, 6 inches in depth and with a 12-inch spring in the keel."

Bloomfield: Know How in the Surf (1959) page 69.

Harris' account notes Saxon Crakanthorp's surfing and athletic abilities, consistent with his interest in the surf ski, but does not record a relevant date for the introduction of the surf ski at Manly.

"The surf-ski was designed and introduced by Dr. J. S. Crakanthorp, who was one ot our outstanding members in the club's golden era of success- the 1920's.
In addition to being one of the club's strongest swimmers, with a long string of wins in the belt and in Cecil Healy Memorial Shield events, Saxon Crakanthorp toured New Zealand with the N.S.W. Rugby Union team of 1923."

Harris: Manly SLSC (1961) page 56.

Uptin's  claim in The History of Port Macquarie SLSC (1979) that:

"Manly Surf Club's 50 year history says the surf ski was designed
and introduced by Dr. J. S. Crakanthorp in the 1920's" - page 33.
appears to be a misreading of the above text.

By the early 1930s, Bronte, Bondi, Maroubra and Freshwater SLS Clubs had tested a variety of canoes in the surf and a canoe race was listed in the program of the 1930 Australian Championships at Manly, an event noted for its large surf.
No results were recorded but canoe races were popular at carnivals between 1931 and 1935.
Maxwell (1949) page 237, Galton (1984) page 43, Myers (1983) page 85.

In 1933 Jack Toyer of Cronulla and Dr. J. S. Crakanthrop (the later possibly looking to recoup his initial investment of 3 pounds) registered a patent for the surf ski.
Wells:Sunny Memories (1982) page 155.

Harry McLaren's recollections appear to confirm these developments:

"He (Crakanthorp) was entrepreneurial and took out a patent on it.
Harry said that during the winter of 1933 he read in the Evening News ' …that there was to be a new surf boat of some description to be introduced to the beaches in the spring of 1933.
Then Dr Crakanthorp got the credit of inventing the surf ski … But he didn't make them.
He had a friend called Jack Toyer who was a boat builder … I met him and he said they'd made a lot of money …'."

Beale, Bill: History of the Surf Ski

Note that E. J. Thomas, writing of surf skis at the Dee Why SLSC, adjusts the players and the locations but the dates correspond roughly with the McLaren-Crakanthorp account and also parallel the dates of Blake's Hawaiian experiments.

"first appearance on Newcastle beaches during the 'twenties, and came to Deewhy about 1932."

Thomas (1962) page 31.

As introduced to Manly by Dr. Crakanthrop, the surf ski proved popular (detailed in C. Bede Maxwell's assessment, above), probably due to the the ease of paddling as a result of the high bouyancy in comparison with the solid timber surfboards of the period.
Compared to canoes, the enclosed deck completely avoided the possibility of the craft being swamped by a wave.
Critically, the high floatation, the stability of the rider while sitting and the ability to adjust the craft speed by paddling meant that the rider could avoid the breaking curl and safely take a straight line towards the beach, similar to surf boats.
While the skis could (and did) tranverse the wave face, this feature encouraged their use at many beaches that generally did not have suitable conditions for quality (that is, transverse) surfboard riding.

Construction would be further improved in with the replacement of cedar planking with plywood (replicating Blake's hollow board specifications) and the design made more surf friendly with the addition of footstraps.

Interestingly, the nose leash, now affixed to the paddle, continued to be used into the 1940s before disappearing with the construction of longer and narrower skis more suitable for SLSC competition.

Initially paddled and ridden sitting on the board, in the hands of skilled riders the skis enjoyed a short period of popularity ridden standing up, possibly at the time rivalling surfboards in populatity.

Image right:
Standing surf ski rider, circa 1937.
Margan and Finney (1970) page 131.

The riding of surf skis while standing probably faded as skis established a rescue and a racing role for the SLSC and as surfboard builders moved over to a similar hollow construction that was vastly more bouyant than the solid timber surfboard designs.

It is impossible at this point to assess to what extent McLaren's hollow surf ski design impacted on the development of the hollow surfboard in Australia.
While Harry McLaren's relative isolation in Port Macquarie certainly implies he was unaware of Tom Blake's experimental boards, it is possible that Crakanthrop became aware of Blake's patent of 1931.
He may have seen a copy of Blake's plans (including mention of the patent) published in Modern Mechanix magazine in 1933 and recgonised an opportunity, with possible financial advantage, to apply for an Australian patent.

An analysis of the claims for the first successful hollow surfboard in Australia is outside the scope of this paper, suffice it to say a current favoured candidate is Frank Adler at Maroubra, circa 1929-1934.

As the 1930s progressed, Blake's potential influence grew with further publications; his book, Hawaiian Surfboard, and its companion National Geographic article were printed in1935 and further board plans published in 1936 and 1940.
There were also a number of promotional brochures prepared by US companies, initially the Thomas Rodgers Company, that manufactured a range of Blake boards under licence from 1932 to 1940.
See Lynch and Gault-Williams (2001).

It is highly probable that some of this literature was acquired by Australian boardriders and board builders.
There is a possibility that before1940 Australian travellers encounted, even purchased and imported,  Blake's designs in Hawaii or mainland USA.

In Australia this was a period of vibrant experimentation in surfcraft design.
There was continued development of the surf boat, the introduction and refinement of the surf ski and the Dr. Ernest Smithers "Surf-o-plane", the hugely popular rubber surf mat.
See #146
At selection trials for the 1939-1940 Pan Pacific Games at Honolulu, Australian boardriders (strictly in this context, board paddlers) used a variety of hollow timber designs.
In particular note the metal sheathing on the nose of the three shorter boards, a feature unique to Australian surfboards up to 1940.
Note that similar metal sheathing is also present on the bow of the duck punt detailed above.

Image left:
Entrants for paddleboard race, 
Northern beaches, Sydney,
circa 1939.

Note the variations in board 
length and design.

Longhurst (2000) page 78.

Blake's hollow board designs were fully examined, and later replicated, by Australian boardriders when they competed in Hawaii 1939-1940.
After World War Two, Australian hollow boards, often known as "the Racing 16" (foot), replicate Tom Blake's design.and by 1947 official plans printed by the SLSA essentially reproduce Blake's design of 1933, without  accreditation.
ASLS Handbook, June 1947, pages 208 and 209.

In 1935 "G.K." , Manly Surf Life Saving Club’s 7th surfboat, was carvel built by E. & A. Townes, of Newcastle.
This design was substantially lighter than the standard clinker hull and later  adopted by many other clubs.
Harris (1961) pages 45-47.

In 1936 Jack Toyer of Cronulla, the joint surf ski patent holder with Crakanthorp, extended the surf ski to improve paddling speed, but at the expense of wave riding.
Length would increase up to 17 feet and widths narrowed to 22 inches.
Bloomfield (1959) page 69

Concurrently, 'Mickey' Morris and 'Billy' Langford at Maroubra SLSC developed the double ski, whose length could reach 23 feet, although their first model proved too narrow.
Maxwell (1949) page 245.

The surf ski officially became became part the surf life saving movement when, after a period  extensive testing at Maroubra, it was adopted as standard life saving equipment in 1937.
Maxwell (1949) page 245
At the end of the year it was included in the Australian Chamionships as a rescue event with a paddler and patient.
Galton (1984) page 79.

The Surf-ski was first seen on film in Movietone News 8/51 in 1937 at Manly, the riders riding sitting and standing with the paddles attached to the nose by rope.
Thoms (2000) page 40.

In 1937 at Hurstville, NSW, a company ("the only surf ski manufacturers") marketed a surf ski at seven pounds and fifteen shillings, packing and delivery by rail or boat for two shillings and sixpence, or fifteen shillings deposit and payments of three shillings and sixpence per week.
Wells (1982) page 155

Image right:
A high quality surf ski, Manly Surf Life Saving Club, circa 1940.
Margan and Finney (1970) page 132.
The extreme width is typical of surf skis of the period that were suitable to be ridden standing.
Note the intricate timber work, splash guard, foot board and straps, rear concave deck, painted seat area, painted text, nose leash, decorated paddle blades.

Circa 1938, Manly surfboard champion, 'Snowy' McAlister replaced his solid timber board with a hollow longboard and several seasons later converted it to a surf ski.
Wells (1982) page 160.

Several surf skis were constructed in Western Australia in the late 1930s, possibly based on reports or from surf life saving club members in the Eastern states.

Image right:
Allan Riou and decorated Surf Ski, Leighton Surf Club, circa 1938.

Margot Riou, Allan's daughter contributed the image and noted:
"It's a photo of my Dad with his pride and joy taken at Leighton about 70 years ago.
He looks a bit like an aboriginal, but he spent so much time in the sun he was always really brown.
The funny little wooden building behind him is the original club room. 
Their  first-aid room was an old tram painted white sitting in the sand hills. 
He was a foundation member of Leighton Surf Club and the captain of the surf boat for a few years, then he had to go to the war.
Dad and his friend "Wattie" Dawson made the first two wooden ones on the coast, I believe, and painted all the decorations themselves.

Previously they were wooden frames with canvas skins.
I still remember sitting in front of him when he took me out on it at Leighton.
Sometimes I would stand up and Mum would be on the beach having a fit.
She couldn't even swim."

-Margot's original email was posted (January 2008) to her friend, Jill Marfleet, to be forwarded to her son who is known to have an interest in surfriding history, Henry Marfleet.
Thanks to Margot Riou and Jill and Henry Marfleet.
Margot also provided another surf ski photograph, post 1945, see below.

In the early 1940s,  an Australian surf ski was accquired by Duke Paoa Kahanamoku, possibly a gift by the Australian team at the 1939-1940 Pan Pacific Games at Honolulu, see above.
Hall and Ambrose (1995) Page 83.

Film of the period illustrates Kahanamoku riding the surf ski at Waikiki, with remarkable skill.

After the Second World War, the hollow timber surf ski resumed duty on Australian beaches, along side the reel and the surf boat, as a resue craft and for racing at SLSC competitions.
In this form it was exported around the world to British Commonweath countries as the Australian surf life saving movement expanded internationally.

Despite it's intoduction at Port Macquarie, the surf ski apparently disappeared from the local beaches until it was re-introduced in the late 1940s:

"In the 1940's, Harry Morris, shire engineer at Wauchope, built a ski of wooden frame and canvas
Johnny Elliott, a junior of the club, bought the ski in the 1951-52 season.
'The Green Hornet', as it was known, was a ski of massive dimensions and weight ...
Elliott and a few friends began to build their own craft, experimenting with designs at frequent
They rode these skis at every possible opportunity for the sheer thrill of challenging a big wave."

Uptin: Port Macquarie SLSC (1979) page 33.

Port Macquarie SLSC had several successful surf ski competitors, notably the Pullen brothers and their double ski partner Peter Hennessey:

"In 1956 Larry Pullen gained his bronze medallion and it soon became apparent that Port Macquarie
had a champion in the making, not only as a ski rider but as a rower, sweep oarsman and board rider;
in 1960 he went within six inches of winning an Australian championship."

Uptin: Port Macquarie SLSC (1979) page 33.

in 1946 W. F. "Wally" Prott started his marine centre, with the assistance of his father, on returning home from World War Two.
The business was located in rental premises at 65 Parramatta Road, Five Dock before the puchase a building at 8 Parramatta Road, Five Dock.

The company built a range of small recreational craft under the Prot-Craft label in timber and plywood including dinghies, runabouts, surf skis, surfboards and waterskis and retailed water sports accessories, for example waterski ropes.

Surf skis ranged from a wide 11 foot 6 inch (a recreational model, that is #328) to a narrow 18'' x 18 feet racing competition design used by the surf life saving movement.
They were usually fitted with leather foot straps fixed with screws onto the deck.
Apart from the domestic market, Prot-craft surf skis were exported to Lord Howe Island, Honolulu, Saigon, Madagascar, South Africa and Florida.

- Noted by Wal Prott, Boronia Park, in conversation, October 2007.

Image below: Prot-Craft Surf Ski, circa 1948.
Photograph by Murray Palmer. Click image for craft specifications.

The design was spread further by the availabity of published construction plans, indicating the acceptance and popularity of surf ski as a recrational craft.
In 1948 Seacraft Plans Pty Ltd of Sydney advertised a large number of boat  plans for sale by mail, including surfboards (14 ft and 10ft models) and a surfski.
These were priced at 8 shillings.
As an indication of the growing use of motor vehicles, an adjacent advertisement offered metal and rubber suction cup roof racks to transport a small boat or surf skis.

Outdoors and Fishing Magazine, Hudson Publications, Sydney, December 1948.
Document contributed by Mick Mock, Manly, with thanks.
In Victoria, a flat-water surf ski derivative became extremely popular for use on bays, rivers and lakes during the 1950s.
A large number of these "Paddleboards" are still in existence and it is likely they ranged from commercial models manufactured by professional boat building companies to back-yard models by home-builders.
The later were possibly based on plans available in contemporary sporting magazines, similar to the Seacraft surfboard and surf ski plans available from Sydney in 1948, noted above.
 When traded, these craft are regularly accompanied by a two bladded paddle and are occassionally, but probably innocently, mis-represented (surf ski or even surfboard).

Approximate dimensions are 8 to 9 feet long, about 23 inches wide and 5 inches thick.
Using  (the now common) hollow timber board construction, they are a plywood skin over a timber frame, often with a bung, and many examples have either painted decor or are fully coloured.
The template has a wide square nose and tail with a slight curve in the rail outline.
The deck and bottom are almost flat with very little rocker and the rails square.
There are no deck mountings such as splash guards of footstraps, which were not required for flat-water  use, but some examples feature a shallow long-based keel.
Victorian surfriding historian, Bob Smith, reported:

 "The paddle boards you mentioned were very popular as ocean craft on Port Phillip bay. 
I used to holiday on the bay at Rye and Rosebud as a kid and these paddle boards were very popular, used for paddling, fishing and a bit of exercise. 
They were also popular at ocean towns where there was a river meeting the sea eg Anglesea, Barwon Heads.
Some had a long keel type 'fin' but most had no fin."

- email correspondence from Bob Smith, in reply to an enquiry to Jeff Arkinstall at Surfworld Museum, Torquay, Victoria, November 2007.
Thanks to Bob and Jeff for their contribution.

In Western Australia, surf ski design resembled the models developed in Sydney and featured distinct rocker, splash guard, leather foot straps and a metal ring and leash on the nose.

Image right:
Allan Riou, Margot Riou and Surf Ski, Swan River, North Fremantle, circa 1948.

Margot Riou, Allan's daughter contributed the image and noted:
"Allan Riou ... was quite prominent in the early stages of surf lifesaving in WA.
He was quite a famous oarsman on the river in his youth ( have have some newspaper clippings that mention him plus photos) and was chosen to represent WA in the Kings Cup race, but couldn’t afford to go.
I’ve attached another old photo of the two of us on another ski he made.
Unfortunately it doesn’t show much, but it is a later one, as I was about 3.
This was on the Swan River at North Fremantle, where Leuwin was later built."

- Image and notes contibuted by Margot Riou in January 2008 following an earlier email  to Jill and Henry Marfleet, see above
Thanks to Margot Riou and Jill and Henry Marfleet.

The status of the surf ski as a rescue and racing craft would become further entrenched from 1957 when the increasing popularity of the fibreglass surfboard was seen as a threat to Life Saving Club dominance.

In 1965,  Surf Life Saving Australia sent a team to California, possibly in conjunction with the formation of an national surl life saving organisation.
Amoung the team was surf ski and Olympic canoe paddler Phil Coles, who was later a long-serving Olypmic official.

"He won 25 national canoe championships and was national surf lifesaving ...
He captained the first Australian surf lifeguard team to compete in California in 1965."

- Coles AM, Mr Phillip - Sport Australia Hall of Fame - Member Profile

Merv Larson

"Merv Larson bought this ski in late 1964.
The story is as follows...
This is actually the 3rd ski brought to the US from Austraila.
The first 2 came with Phil Coles and Gordon Jefferies for a Surf lIifesaving Team event with LA county.
This is a spec ski for lifesaving, not a wave ski as many of your comments thought.
No rudder, no footwells and barely an indent for your bottom..something like 45 lbs and 18' long.
Merv saw them paddle these skis in Carpinteria racing around the oil rigs with the Dorys.
The skis were so far ahead, Merv ordered one on the spot.
The ski in the picture is located at the Maritime Museum in Santa Barbara, another one is displayed in the Bath House, East Beach, Santa Barbara.
The location of the 3rd one is unknown."

- Patrick and DeAnne Hemmens: OceanPaddleSports News, Fri, September 25, 2009, viewed 13 September 2013.

Also see
Santa Barbara Maritime Museum.
The Cabrillo Pavilion Bathhouse at 1119 East Cabrillo Boulevard, built in 1927.

With the introduction of poylester foam billets in the early 1960s, surfboard designers embarked on an intensive ten year experimental program that saw surfriding performance soar and board volume shrink.
Circa 1967, American lifeguard and Olympic kayaker, Merv Larson revolutionized surf ski design  and riding performance on a short fibreglassed ski without a fin.
Larson initially started with an Australian surf ski, purchased following the visist of an Australian team to California in 1965, see above.
A combination of footstraps and a seat belt (Larson's major innovation) bound the rider and craft, similar to a kayak, and virtually guaranteed he could survive the most extreme wave riding situations.
The craft would later be termed wave skis.
In 1970, with the leg rope still four to five years away for the general surfriding population, Larson noted:

"In three years, I've never had to swim."

- Unaccredited: The New Adam
Surfer Magazine, May 1970, Volume 11 Number Two page 56.

Larson's performance was eclectic - using the rail and the paddle blade, he carved hard high speed turns comparable with best surfboard riders of the period.
Alternatively, (without a fin) he could side-slip and spin the surf ski in a combination of extreme stalling manourves.
Merv Larson's surfriding is documented in John Severson's Pacific Vibrations (1971).

Merv Larson bottom turn
Rincon, California, circa 1970.
Photograph by Glen Fye.
Surfer Magazine
May 1970
Volume 11 Number Two page 59.

Surf Kayaks, 1970.
In the early 1970s, the use of modern fibreglass shell kayakas for surfriding developed as as alternative to board riding, notably in England and South Africa where surfriding was heavily influenced by a long term association with the Australian Surf Life Saving movement.
This was initially termed paddle surfing.

"A group including Paul Brockman, Rippon Morford, and Jack James started paddle surfing, as it was known in South Africa, back in 1972.
River canoeists, who enjoyed taking their kayaks into the surf, and would-be surfers who found boardriding too hard, soon swelled the ranks.
The competitive nature of South Africans resulted very quickly in the formation of clubs and organised competition.

Far away in the UK, the British Canoe Union had for years been holding surf competitions for kayaks.
Certain devotees thought the kayak unsuitable for the surf and developed a short flat-bottomed boat called a surf shoe.
The surf shoe is actually the conceptual forerunner of the modern wave ski.
It was designed for performance surfing, unlike the early Australian surf skis which were hollow plywood and 17 feet."

Shackleton (1985) page 25.

The kayak, if the rider was properly sealed, firmly attached the rider and craft roviding a stable platform, replicated by Merv Larson's combination of footstraps and seatbelt on his surf ski.
Correct sealing also made the kayak particularly suitable for extremely cold conditions, and these craft retain their popularity in high latitude surfriding locations such as Scotland.

Paddle Surfing Competition, 1975.
In 1975 the first International Paddle Surfing Competition was held in conjunction with that years Gunston 500 surfriding competition at Durban, South Africa.
Amoung the Soth African competitors were Englishmen Tony Blackwell and Danny Broadhurst, the later currently living on the east coast of the USA.
Broadhurst organised a second contest at Atlantic City in 1976.

"The contest was attended by six South Africans, nine Englishmen and a group of resident Americans.
The competition was won by South African, Paul Brockman."

Shackleton (1985) page 25.

Concurrently, in Australia a similar amalgamation of kayaks and surf skis were used in competitive surfriding events.

"Gary Nelson of the NSW Canoe Federation had been holding regular surf canoe competitions and current World Champion, John Christensen, was one of Gary's regulars, using a surf shoe.
Toward the late seventies surf ski owners started to filter into these competitions.

A group of keen riders from Tamarama on Sydney's south side had been pushing the limits for some time, designing and making their own skis out of polystyrene foam and epoxy resin.
The group comprised Tom Blake (Tom introduced the others to wave skis), Westo, Phil Avalon and Alan Blake.
Alan Blake was another expatriate English canoe paddler.
He wasn't a very good swimmer.
When he started to ride a surf ski he attached a seat belt so that he could roll up if he tipped over.
Alan taught us all how to roll."

Shackleton (1985) page 25.

In the late 1970s, a series of competitive events, largely based in Sydney, confirmed the popularity of the wave ski:

"Gary Nelson's 1979 'Metropolitan Titles' were overrun with wave skis and all the surf shoes were outclassed.
This competition was won by Newcastle campaigner, Bernard Burns. and the scene was set for wave ski domination."

Shackleton (1985) page 28.

Surf Skis in Hawaii, 1979.

Mike Bennett (formerly the "Canadian Kook", South Bondi Board Riders Club, circa 1960) of Scottsdale, Arizona,emailed the following notes and images in June 2011 (edited):

"Read some articles in your 'surf history' about surf skis.
Have a couple of pictures of a great wave at Sunset Beach, Hawaii, about 25 years ago, see below.
Hayden Kenny pretty much introduced surf skis to Hawaii around 1979 when Grant Kenney won his first race.
It was the first year his son came to Hawaii to race 'long skis' from Molokai to Oahu.
They were purchased by some locals including John 'Wheels' Williams, Rick DeRuiter & myself.
'Wheels'  Williams was a resident at that time, he had permanently moved to Hawaii about 1967.
He sold us two of the 'short' ski's, and at least one of the traditional longer racing versions.
The shorter one a little less than 8 ft and the longer about 8 ft 8", and constructed in foam and fiberglass.

The skis have fin boxes and were 'adjustable.'
Up front for slower Waikiki type waves.
Further back for north shore/steeper waves.
Both short skis had belt fittings, Wheels took them  off his ski.
I don't think the longer ski had them."

Hoole/McCoy: North Shore Pictorial
Backdoor Number 13 January-February 1977, page 15. 

With the popularity of surf skiis in Australia being so high that
many breaks are "threatened" one place we can't forsee being
overtaken by skiis is Sunset Beach.
This guy was the only surf skier to make it out there this winter,
and although he shredded, we don't expect his performances
to encourage many others.

Mike Bennett, Hayden Wave Ski, Sunset Beach, Ohau, circa 1980.
"Sunset, not too big a wave but the inside section is pretty damn busy."

Sunset on waveski - take off.

Sunset on wave ski - inside section.

 John 'Wheels' Williams and  Mike Bennett, 
Hayden wave skis, 
Waikiki, 2006.

Above and right, images and captions by Mike Bennett.
Many thanks to Mike.

The Molokai  Channel Ski Crossing, 19??
"the unofficial World Championship of open-ocean racing."
First event 1979?
Hawaiian surf ski commentator, Joe Glickman noted:

"(Oahu native, Marshall) Rosa grew up in Hawaii surfing and paddling outriggers canoes from the time he could stand upright.
In the late 1970’s he was part of the winning Molokai six-man outrigger canoe team with the Outrigger Canoe Club.
'When the Australian surf ski invasion came to Hawaii in the early eighties,' Sandvold said, 'Marshall learned the sport from Hayden and Grant Kenny.
When Marshall was 40 he raced against Grant in the Molokai ski race.
He never beat Grant but he always gave him a good race till the very end.
Then the Big O (Oscar Chalupsky, 11 wins)came to Hawaii and much the same happened -- with Marshall being the only competitor to give Oscar a run for his money.' ”

- Joe Glickman (Saturday, 10 March 2007: A Rosa by any other name.

Stand Up Paddle Boards (SUPs), 2000.

Hobie Canoes, 20000.
Circa 2000, the American Hobie company, famous for their surfboards and the Hobie-Cat, produced a range of roto-molded "kayaks" or "canoes" (later termed "yaks") that incorporate a enclosed deck, essentially replicating the surf ski design.
Their advertizing claimed "Their mother was a sailboat, their father was a surfboard."
Perhaps "Their mother was an sailboat, their father was a surfki" would be more more accurate.
Note that Hobie's designs, typical of this innovative company, have a full range of accessories including paddles, outriggers, sails and the remarkable MirageDrive pedaling system.

Click for next entry #101
home catalogue history references appendix

Geoff Cater (2009 - 2020) : A History of the Surf Ski.