The Secret History of Surfing

Rediscovering the traditional Hawaiian surfboard proved a laborious project initially met with skepticism, however Tom Wegener’s perseverance has resulted in a nimble board that slides and grips like no other

24 Aug 2012

The seed of Wegener’s inspiration was planted during a visit to the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, Hawaii, where the veteran shaper (surfboard designer + maker in lay terms) examined a collection of historic boards; ”I was blown away with the craftsmanship and thought that went into the lonely ancient relics” enthuses Wegener, “I could see the care taken with the wood. The delicate curves of surfboard were shaped over the hard knots in the wood and blended with perfection”. 

And yet the ‘Alaia’, as the slim, finless boards are called, was virtually unknown and even less understood in the surfing community. Their weak flotation and lack of fins were anathema to modern surfing, and yet in Wegener’s eyes the centrality of the sport in the local culture (he cites the story of a Hawaiian king who ”sailed back and forth from Tahiti looking for the perfect wave for his retirement”) made it impossible to believe their boards could be anything less than masterpieces.

And so began the Seaglass Project, an expensive, gradual process of refinement, with each successive prototype surfing a little better than the last. Trial and error, experiment, accident and sheer luck all played their part, but undoubtedly Wegener’s lifelong passion for surfing and shaping gave him the skill and instinct to slowly rediscover the aquadynamics he was sure the ancient Hawaiian board had possessed.

Two years into the five year project Wegener’s boards started to make an impression, top surfers such as David Rastovich, Tom Carroll, Dan Malloy, Mike Stewart and Rob Machado started using them and they began to attract some press coverage. The surfers’ responses reinforced Wegener’s confidence, with comments such as Tom Carroll’s, “It [was] was like learning how to surf all over again, and the second time may be better”. 

The end result did not disappoint; as Wegener explains “The finless…. feels more natural and it is definitely faster.  When you first catch a wave on a finned board, the fins anchor you to a certain track across the wave.  The tail of the board seems slow yet stable.  With the finless, the tail drifts out of the wave and you slide sideways down the wave until you put weight on the rail and engage the curves and flex of the board to grab the wave.  Finless you can grab and let go with control. With fins it is all grab”.

Tom Wegener’s finless boards are available from Global Surf Industries

The Seaglass Project