The Shortboard Revolution

Believe it or not, surfers have been riding waves for thousands of years. The ancient Peruvians first rode waves as a utility when they went on their daily fishing excursions.  Surfing didn’t really turn into a sport of pleasure until the Duke Khanomuku started a surf club in Waikiki. They rode extremely heavy, long, wooden boards cut from the forest.  Throughout history, surfboards have slowly progressed into a lighter and smaller form.  When the shortboard was first introduced in the 70’s it changed the overall sport of surfing: the sport’s style became more aggressive, more mainstream, and it became widely recognized as a rebellious sport.

Before the 1970’s, longboarding was a sport of finesse; it was all about being in trim on the wave, style, and riding the nose. This orthodox style changed drastically at the height of the Vietnam era.  The shortboard opened up completely new possibilities as to what kind of maneuvers could be executed on a wave. It was more difficult to catch waves on a shortboard because it was less buoyant, but one wave equaled about three longboard waves in the amount of manauvers a surfer could do. Essentially, a surfer could get more quality waves rather than quantity. Shortboarding was all about speed, open-face turns, and riding more hollow (quicker) waves. The shortboard created a whole new evolution: “The bodily displays signaled to the spectator a particular version of masculinity based upon aggressiveness, power, and assertiveness.” (47) This leads on to my next point regarding the shortboards effect on surfing society.

By the summer of 1968, the shortboard revolution became the new fad in the surf culture.  The big five longboard manufacturers: Hobie, Weber, Jacobs, and Noll began to change their inventory from longboards to shortboards because everyone wanted one.  Other shortboard companies penetrated the new market, which ultimately weakened the “big five” because no consumer wanted to be associated with a longboard brand: “It was more than just outdated equipment. Because long-boards weren’t cool, any company that had made its reputation during the longboard era, by association, wasn’t cool.” (251) Although there were plenty of surfers continuing to ride longboards simply because that was their style, it slowly started to revolve into a less dominant subculture within the sport. Shortboarding began to take on a dominant role in surfing.

Not only were the 1967 Vietnam War protests and Civil rights movement taking action, but they affected the surfing era as well with the creation of the shortboard. During the height of the shortboard boom, media articles were showing anti-conformist behavior in their ads.  An early Surf Magazine from the late sixties put out a wetsuit ad campaign that “showed a nude model with her short john pulled down to her waist.” (253) Not only were these ads portraying sexualized images, but also drugs became the biggest part of surfing’s counterculture.  Weed became the number one drug associated with surfing because its effects fit well with “being one” with nature.  This turned into a norm for surfers.  Famous surf movies such as Big Wednesday portray the rebellious attitudes surfers had during this time period, but the ironic part about it was that it was all tied together to the shortboard revolution.

Overall, the shortboard revolution had a huge impact on the sport of surfing because it changed its culture. Surfing went from the traditional, smooth, longboard style to speed, power, and turns.  The sport became that much “cooler” for anyone because the shortboard became hegemonic.  Everyone wanted to try it, and be a part of it.  It showed its effects on the culture of hippie surfers in the water, and this paralleled the psychedelic generation that revolted throughout the 60’s and 70’s. Surfing equipment progressed a lot during this time, yet it still continues to innovate even today.





Warshaw, Matt: The History of Surfing, Chronicle books LLC, 680 Second Street, San Francisco CA. Pg. 251-253

Wellard Ian: Sport, Masculinities and the Body, 2009 Taylor & Francis, 270 Madison Ave, New York, NY 10016 Pg. 47

Referred to Rhinehart, Robert: To The Extreme, 2003 State University of New York, Albany. Surfing and Society Pg. 316






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2 Responses to The Shortboard Revolution

  1. Sarah McCullough says:

    This is a great summary of the effects of the shortboard on surfing. It seems that you found some good sources to create a summary about its rise and association with the counterculture. As someone who is also studying counterculture and sports (in mountain biking), I find this fascinating. That time period was a moment of significant cultural innovation around what I would call “simple” technologies, and adventure sports. I theorize that the reason for this was because the counterculture created a site of value around bodily sensation (drugs, music, TM, etc). This attention to bodily desire opened up the possibility of spending significant amounts of time in leisurely pursuits geared toward moving the body into altered states of being, including moments of being at one with nature or feeling the “flow” of a moment. I’d be curious to chat about how you see such connections in your research on the shortboard.

  2. adelorme29 says:

    Ofcourse! Surfing is a sport that is all about flow. In fact, I think it is one of the few sports that has that kind of feeling. It is such a distinct feeling because there are so many different kinds of waves in terms of different types of surf spots (point breaks, reefs breaks, and beach breaks.) Every wave breaks differently depending on its location. That “flow” feeling varies with the type of equipment a surfer rides too. For my research paper I talked about the shortboard revolutions effect on the sport. As you know there was a lot of social change going on throughout the 60’s which was ironic to the innovation of the shortboard. The invention of the shortboard was more of an accident than intentional. I believe it was a guy by the name of George Greenough who was trying to shape a 9′ longboard, but he simply didn’t have enough materials; he just made a “shorter board” around 6′ or so, and discovered that it rode really well. Since then, the industry blew up.

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