What will the surfboard look like in 2020?
It's estimated there are 23 million people worldwide who surf at least once per year. That’s just one million people less than Australia's current population.
An ancient pastime originating from the Polynesian islands, surfing gained worldwide popularity in the 1950s and has continued to grow as a water sport ever since.
With surfing making its Olympic debut at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo in 2020, it’s clear it has surpassed the stereotype of a 'beach-bum' pastime to become a serious professional sport.
The modern-day surfboard
Although surfing styles and surfboard designs have evolved since ancient Hawaii, the rapid technical and design advances in surfboard evolution happened mostly between 1967 and 1970.
In those few years, heavy boards were replaced with shorter, faster boards and leading the revolution was Australian shaper Bob McTavish, credited with introducing the short board as well as the ‘vee bottom’ design seen in almost all modern surfboards.
The wave of technology
During the 40 years since the surfboard revolution led by McTavish, professional surfing has grown at a rapid rate, with the world's best performing tricks that were once unimaginable.
The cutting-edge turns of the 1960s have been replaced by aerials, 360s and even somersaults. And because of this, the surfboard has shrunk and become lighter, with surfboard technology focusing on light yet durable materials to give competitors the best platforms to work from.
While professional surfing has advanced and grown in popularity, enough to become recognised as an Olympic sport, so has the popularity of recreational surfing – along with the discrepancy between the capabilities of recreational versus professional surfers.
Once, recreational surfers were preoccupied with imitating their surfing idols and believed they required a surfboard exactly like Kelly Slater's to surf like Kelly Slater.
Intermediate to advanced recreational surfers still want performance from their surfboards, but they also want a strong and durable design. A board with volume which allows easy paddling can be used in small or poor surf conditions, while still allowing the surfer to perform all the tricks in their repertoire without compromising performance.
Changing forms, functions and fittings
While some have been experimenting with motorising the surfboard, others have successfully created the surf-like hoverboard – based on the same principles as an aeroplane – which can only successfully be ridden on waves by the most skilled surfers. It's a simple Aussie invention that's really got the sport excited.
In 2016 Shark Shield was released to the market. It's an electronic shark deterrent device that can be applied to any surfboard. The Shark Shield works by emitting electromagnetic pulses which interfere with a shark's electric field, causing spasms. With no harm or long-term damage caused to the shark, it’s the first deterrent that protects both the surfer and the shark.
International surf brand Rusty, in partnership with Shark Mitigation Systems (SMS), has released a surfboard with a zebra-patterned bottom to be sold in Australia and New Zealand. It's said to deter sharks from mistaking surfers as a food source.
Arguably, most surfers are concerned with the environment which provides them with so much joy. As a result, further development of shark safety and deterrent products which will keep both the surfer and shark safe will be seen in the coming years.
But it’s not just ocean and shark conservation; in the past few years many surfers have become concerned over the production process of surfboard manufacturing.
The production process requires toxic chemicals, which are bad for the health of shapers and the planet. There has been a noticeable shift among surfboard manufacturers to find and use environmentally sustainable materials and practices.
So, what will the surfboard look like in 2020?
The first 3D-printed surfboard was released at 'The Launch Circular Innovation Summit' in the United States in March. Made from recyclable and compostable materials The Dolphin Board of Awesome is already cheaper and more durable than most conventional surfboards and is set to officially launch within a couple of months.
As technology advances so will surfboard evolution, however, if the backlash of Samsung’s Galaxy board is anything to go by, the development will be strictly for performance, safety, environmental and enjoyment factors. Samsung’s digital board may have been a huge feat in communication technology, but surfers made it clear – they do not want to be called or texted mid-surf.
“Surfboards in 2020 will be available in a variety of legitimate designs, with an added sprinkling of madness”, McTavish says.
And of course, “Some true eco boards will emerge, thankfully.”