SURFBOARD RESTORATION PROJECT
The paddleboard dominated the surfing world for nearly 25 years from the early 1920s until the late 1940s. Prior surf board designs, including those boards dating back to ancient Hawaiian culture, were made of solid wood slabs, sometimes weighing as much as 200 pounds. The new, lighter paddleboard designs were well received by the surfing community and proved to be an important step in the evolution of the modern surfboard.
The Avalon History Center, home of the Avalon Historical Society is pleased to have in its permanent collection, one of the few remaining hollow, wooden paddleboards in existence today. Built and used by Avalon Lifeguards Bill Eaton and Howard Bacon nearly 80 years ago, the paddleboard is a perfect example of surfing innovation. Recently restored by Master Shipwright Timo White of the Tuckerton Seaport, the board is in magnificent condition and ready to again ride the waves of Avalon.
American Thomas Blake is credited with the invention of the first hollow paddleboard design. Prior to Blake’s creation, surfboards were solid wooden slabs often weighing between 75 and 150 pounds. Traditional Hawaiian Olo boards were even heavier, many weighing over 200 pounds and measuring over 16 feet long.
Blake, a lifeguard in Waikiki, first attempted to alter traditional surfboard designs in 1926 by drilling holes through the solid board and covering it with a thin veneer. This process lightened the surfboard by at least 20 pounds. By 1929, Blake began carving out hull chambers – allowing him to set two world speed-paddling records in 1930. Finally in 1931, he created a design that employed transverse bracing covered with a thin veneer to create a completely hollow hull. Built like an airplane wing, the design reduced the board’s overall weight to approximately 50 pounds while increasing its strength. Blake earned a U.S. Patent in August 1932 for what he named the “Water Sled.”
In 1933, Modern Mechanix Magazine published the article “Hawaiian Water Sled is Easy to Build” by Paul W. Gartner, a friend of Thomas Blake. The article described how to build Blake’s paddleboard - complete with plans and a materials list. The article increased the popularity and accessibility of Blake’s paddleboard design.
Blake’s hollow boards were manufactured from 1932 to the early 1950s by four companies - The Thomas Rogers Company, The Robert Mitchell Company, the LA Ladder Company and the Catalina Equipment Company. The design eventually became the preferred equipment for water rescues and was adopted by the Pacific Coast Lifesaving Corps and used for instruction by the American Red Cross National Aquatic School. A version, based on Blake’s original design, is still in use today by rescue teams around the world.
History of the Avalon Beach Patrol Paddleboard
The Avalon paddleboard, believed to be the first hollow board used by the Avalon Beach Patrol, was originally built and used in the 1930s by Patrol Captain (1928-1941) Bill Eaton and Lifeguard (1937-1940) Howard Bacon. Eaton is recognized as one of the longest serving Lifeguard Captains in the history of the Avalon Beach Patrol. He is also credited with establishing the hollow paddleboard as standard rescue equipment for the Patrol in the 1930s.
Howard Bacon kept the paddleboard for nearly 50 years, giving it to Avalon resident Doris Hanna in the 1990s, who donated it to the Avalon Historical Society in 2001.
The paddleboard’s exposure to salt water and air had compromised the integrity of the board and its relevance as an historic object. The back panel was completely missing and the top panel contained holes that exposed the interior braces. (Insert pre-restoration images) In order to preserve this rare piece of Avalon’s history, the Avalon Historical Society embarked on a complete restoration project in January 2008. The Society contracted Master Shipwright Timo White of the Tuckerton Seaport Museum to restore the paddleboard. Following the original plans and materials list published by Modern Mechanix Magazine in 1933, White completed the project in April 2008. The restoration reclaimed the beauty and grandeur of the paddleboard, allowing it to remain an essential part of Avalon’s history. (Insert post restoration images)