According To

The most influential surfboard shapers of all time, according to Matt Biolos

| posted on July 29, 2014
Matt Biolos. Photo: Ellis

As the founder of …Lost Surfboards, Matt Biolos has been at the forefront of board design for more than 20 years, and his high-performance crafts can be found under the feet of world champions and elite freesurfers alike. Photo: Ellis

“Tom Blake is the most influential surfboard designer of all time. In the 1920s and ’30s, his contributions and inventions to overcome the performance limitations of the surfboard were borderline Edisonian. With virtually no precedent to work from, he was the first to hollow out the solid wood boards of the time, reducing the weight by almost half, which allowed him to glide faster than anyone before. Soon after, looking for more control in steeper waves, Blake contemporaries like Wally Froiseth and Fran Heath started to shape the outlines and pull in the tails of their “Hot Curl” boards. Taking note, Blake then gave us the single greatest contribution ever made to the surfboard: he added a fin. Before Blake, the few surfers in the world seemed content to glide along in one direction on gentle, sloping waves. With reduced weight, a wider range of people could carry, paddle, and control a surfboard. And with a true fin on the tail, the first performance surfboard was created. The ability to turn, the quest for critical positioning, and the rumblings of a counterculture were born. On top of all that, Blake is also credited with the first-ever waterproof camera housing, and he was probably the first to make twin-fin and swallow-tailed surfboards.”

Tom Blake Photo: SURFER Archive

Tom Blake Photo: SURFER Archive

“Their bold combination of P.T. Barnum savvy and Henry Ford industrialism basically birthed the surf industry through manufacturing, merchandising, and marketing. Like Henry Ford and his motorcars, they didn’t invent the surfboard, but Dale Velzy and Hobie Alter did turn them into a viable business and make them available to everyone. They started a ripple that turned into a wave that is still rolling today. Alter (with partner Gordon Clark) is more responsible than anyone for the introduction and widespread use of foam and fiberglass surfboards. Separately and simultaneously, Alter and Velzy built massive factories and developed large-scale production lines, capable of cranking out hundreds of boards per week. They came up with the techniques, tools, and materials still used in nearly every board factory around the globe today. They opened retail shops along the coasts and developed wholesale businesses, allowing others to open shops and carry their boards globally. They hired team riders and built “team models,” and they created ads featuring these riders and models. For better or worse, they made the surfboard available to everyone and created the template for starting a surf company, which is still followed, over and over, around the world.”

Hobie Alter Photo: SURFER Archive | Dale Velzy Photo: Servais

Hobie Alter Photo: SURFER Archive | Dale Velzy Photo: Servais

“If you were to look for a point between the Gidget and Kelly Slater eras at which surfing made its greatest leap, none is more significant than when Australian shaper Bob McTavish built a series of competition boards for Nat Young leading into the 1966 World Championships. Working together with, and inspired by, Californian expat George Greenough and his flexible scooped-nose kneeboards, they hacked the lengths down dramatically, kicked up the nose rockers, and cut deep vee panels into the tails. This allowed Young and his large, powerful frame to turn more radically on a wave than ever seen before. Almost overnight, board lengths began to drop—along with a lot of psychedelics—and the Shortboard Revolution was on. Hawaiian shaper Dick Brewer immediately used these design concepts to create a whole new style of Hawaiian “guns” for surfers like Jeff Hakman, Gerry Lopez, and Reno Abellira, allowing them and others to almost instantly push performance levels in tube riding and radical maneuvers in large Hawaiian waves.”

Bob McTavish Photo: Stoner | George Greenough Photo: Witzig

Bob McTavish Photo: Stoner | George Greenough Photo: Witzig

“Where would we be without the Thruster? From the Campbell brothers’ Bonzers to many others attempting to add rear stabilizers to twin-fins, it’s no secret that people had put three fins on surfboards before. But Anderson’s “Thruster” was different. His combination of three like-sized fins clustered together had no real precedence. Furthermore, you’d be hard pressed to find an earlier example of his groundbreaking outline—the narrowish nose and bump-wing squash tail—to which he married his three-fin setup. Like the great Mark Richards, who won his four consecutive world titles on self-shaped twin-fins, it’s the surfing that Anderson did on his self-made craft that really hammered the message home. In one year, on self-designed, self-shaped equipment, Anderson won two of the world’s most prestigious surfing events: the Pipe Masters and Bells Beach, showing the design’s versatility. It was a performance and design leap as impactful (or maybe even more so) than anything before or since. Within a year, the twin-fin was all but forgotten. By the summer of ’83, nearly every stock board, in every surf shop, in every country looked like a copy of Anderson’s boards. Unfortunately for him, the name he gave his board model, “The Thruster,” was plagiarized by everyone and essentially became public domain.”

Simon Anderson Photo: Crawford

Simon Anderson Photo: Crawford

“While no singular design or manufacturing first can seemingly be credited to Al Merrick, the founder of Channel Islands Surfboards has been more influential to surfers and surfboard designers than any single person over the last quarter century. Merrick was already a skilled and accomplished board builder when Simon Anderson’s Thruster came along. With California prodigy Tom Curren, and a bevy of other talented surfers, he was able to jump on this design and take it to new heights. We were all watching, including Kelly Slater. Under Slater’s feet, Merrick refined this design and took the rest of us along with him as he pushed into a bold new realm of minimalistic, precise, high-performance surfboards. Kelly Slater is the most influential surfer of our time, and he has done the vast majority of his surfing on boards built by Al Merrick. You do the math.”

Al Merrick Photo: Motil

Al Merrick Photo: Motil

BOB SIMMONS *the wild card
“He developed rocker, foam sandwich construction, and multi-fins…in the ’40s! Bob Simmons’ star shone bright for too short a time. California in the post-World War II 1940s was a playground paradise. Armed with a knowledge of military hydrodynamics and postwar, new-age materials, Simmons used the time and space well, continuously driving and surfing up and down the uncrowded coastline, crafting and testing his futuristic designs. His unprecedented use of rocker, concave, “Styro” foam and wood-veneer sandwich constructions, as well as consistent work with multi-fin boards, is well documented. Combined with his untimely drowning in large La Jolla surf, his legend has grown to epic proportions among groups of cavalier craftsman and stalwart surfers alike. More than 60 years after its inventor’s death, the Mini-Simmons is now collectively known almost as a basket name for any extremely short, flattish plank with a parallel outline. The evangelistic tribe of maverick, underground, backyard, and garage shapers around the globe praising and preaching the mantra of Simmons continues to grow daily.”

Bob Simmons Photo: SURFER Archive

Bob Simmons Photo: SURFER Archive

  • Gerrie Warner

    Missed Larry Felker and his Venturi Concave …

  • Dav

    Dave Sweet?

  • Paulo Mendonca

    brewer ?

  • Dave

    “From the Campbell brothers’ Bonzers to many others attempting to add rear stabilizers to twin-fins…”
    ^this statement makes me wonder if mr. biolos has ever actually looked at a bonzer before. in no way can the bonzer design be looked at as a twin w/ a stabilizer.

  • ha

    “From the Campbell brothers’ Bonzers to many others attempting to add rear stabilizers to twin-fins…” They did not create the bonzer to stabilize a twin fin. The little you know Biolos.

    • discodisco

      he wasn’t talking about the campbell brothers…. key word: OTHERS

      • Dave

        the phrasing mr. biolos used seems to lump them all together as a group, working to stabilize twins w/ rear fins. hence the minor uproar from bonzer devotees like myself. there is already so much misinformation floating around about the design that even “historians” like matt warshaw can’t get it right.

  • ConKiller

    For Shear Volume; Phil Becker

  • esj

    Where is doc lausch…..and cole?

    • NSU


  • choo

    Might want to consider the EAST a little fellers

  • Dano

    Mark Richards

  • landlocked

    shaun thompson’s 7lb 7’0

  • byron bay

    Geoff McCoy?

  • SurferKing88

    Bill Stewart.

  • Matt Biolos

    “Ha” and “Dave”,
    Obviously Bonzers are not twins with Stabilizers. Its simply my writing style that listed the Bonzer (which is best described as a single fin with canards) along with the many shapers adding rear stabilizers to twins as multiple examples of assorted surfboard designs with three fins, that pre-date Simons thruster.

    Paulo M,
    Brewer is in the story I wrote, just not in my top five..its simply my opinion. Not the bible, or the last word by any means.

    • Naked Viking Surf

      Every short list is going to be fairly subjective (see “according to Matt Biolos”) and leave out a few. In this case, it’s nearly impossible to consider all of the influential figures in the world of surf craft design and innovation, there have been heaps! Many of them will fade into relative obscurity… unless the subject is discussed more widely.

      The primary aim of a piece like this is to educate, and to get people thinking/talking about something. It’s a starting point. One from the perspective of someone who, frankly, is more of an authority on the matter than essentially everyone who will read the feature. Take it in folks. Enjoy learning a thing or two, proffer some input if you feel so inclined, and enjoy the opportunity to partake in a discussion with your fellow aquaphiles.

    • Nick Dee

      In one year, on self-designed, self-shaped equipment, Anderson won THREE of the world’s most prestigious surfing events: the Pipe Masters, SURFABOUT and Bells Beach,

  • D Day

    What about two of the Greatest shapers I have ever know Mike Diffenderfer and Dick Brewer??? Two Icons .

  • GhettoSurf

    Sometimes people have a tough time reading. You’re the man! Keeping the list to five (although your expansion) is a tough thing to do. In any event, thank you for everything you’ve done for me!

  • Duncan Campbell


  • Eireguy

    John Carper? I have two of his boards that I have enjoyed for years. No reason to change.

  • GreenSurf Recyclable Surfboard

    New surfboard manufacturing technology is emerging… Zero emissions here we go

    • Naked Viking Surf

      “Zero” emissions is a lofty goal, but laudable and important. Where can we read a bit more about ‘GreenSurf Recyclable Surfboard(s)’ ?

  • freerider

    What about Bob Simmons also?

  • Dave

    “they didn’t have the pivot of the thruster” you were doing it wrong; my bonzers pivot at least as well as any thruster i had did.

  • Andrew Hook


  • Da Moose

    Al Dove,,,Teached Me a Trick or 2

    • Post Corner

      Do you know where Al Dove is these days? Still alive?

  • Terry Meehan

    What about Gary Linden?

  • Roberta Doherty

    Dave Sweet was the
    major influence on shaping and surfboard commerce

  • shorebreak

    This story has already been told…… Watch the documentary Boardroom – Legends of Surfboard Shaping

  • Naked Viking Surf

    Shapers, instrumental to the evolution of surfing are good and all. What we really want to know is who designed Simon Anderson’s ‘2SM radio’ top?!

    THAT, my friends, is influential.

  • Gary Lynch

    Each decade produced new shapes and shapers. One cannot discount old technology or new technology. I do not believe there is ‘the greatest shaper of all time’. Each decade is very different.

    Gary Lynch
    Tom Blake biographer

  • Jason Wigand

    Any fans of Bob Pearson out there? I’m one. Best boards I’ve ever ridden.