Randy Bloom considers the late Greg Noll the Picasso of longboard shaping. “Whatever he did with this board – balsa, ash, alder – it was all about finding the best wood,” he says of the California big wave surfer. If Noll was nicknamed “Da Bull” for his fearless way of attacking the waves of Hawaii, when he entered the workshop, he was all finesse. “His collages [the joins], the way he cut into the wood – everything was precise,” says Bloom. “Man, you look for flaws, you can’t find them.”
Bloom, now 75, grew up in the California and Hawaiian surf scenes and has been collecting surfboards since the 1960s. He’s bought — and sold — too many to count, browsing Google and occasionally visiting dumps in search of forgotten gems. Of the 10 to 15 boards hanging in his San Clemente office, the star is a 7-foot-6 beauty sculpted by Noll from rare black walnut. Although made in the 1990s, it is a 60s style design, with a single fin, pointed nose and tail, and neon orange yellow logo. “People look at it and say, ‘It’s not a surfboard, it’s a sculpture,'” Bloom explains. But he still treats his collecting like a business. The Noll is worth at least $15,000; he bought another board from the 60s for a few hundred dollars and resold it for $28,000. “There’s a lot of money to be made.”
And “a lot of demand,” according to O’Neil Thompson, founder of the Hawaii-based vintage online platform. Treasure of surfboards, whether for longboards (the most popular style) or paddleboards. The number of sales from the site has more than doubled over the past year. And while a decent collectible now costs around $2,500, he recently sold surfboards for $22,000 (a 1960s longboard) and $31,500 (a 1930s paddleboard). “Record prices have increased significantly.”
While the increase matches a general increase in demand for vintage goods like sports cars, Thompson also attributes it to the inclusion of surfing in last year’s Olympics for the first time. “Millions of people have been able to see the sport in a new light,” he says. There is a “widening pool of wealthy surfers”, acknowledges Scott Bass, executive director of the prestigious California Gold Surf Sales. “The clientele is much larger than it was in the early 2000s.”
The appeal of retro surfboards is easy to grasp. “You don’t have to be a good surfer to appreciate the design,” says John Ridding, CEO of FinancialTimes, who has owned eight longboards since the 1950s. They are “simple” and “streamlined”, he says, combining “usefulness and grace”. And they remind us of the sexy, sunny world of films such as gadget (1959) and endless summer (1966). “It’s a fun culture to be around,” says Bass. “Surfboards are a little more fun than stamps.”
The most valuable boards are those made – and signed – by legendary shapers such as Noll, Gerry Lopez, Pat Curren, Dick Brewer and Donald Takayama. Ideally they are in pristine condition with a good story behind them. “The characters in our culture determine the value of boards,” says Bass. Surfboard Hoard currently sells a redwood board from the 1920s with “DUKE” engraved near its nose: it was the personal board of legendary Hawaiian Duke Kahanamoku (1890-1968), who became the “father of modern surfing” when he popularized the sport in the world. early 1900s performing graceful exhibitions around the world. “It’s museum quality,” says Thompson, estimating its value between $50,000 and $75,000.
Seeking to “revisit their youth,” collectors like to grab boards that date back to their teenage years, Bass says. It could be the freewheel of the late 60s and 70s, when there was a “tremendous amount of experimentation” with the designs, says wayne winchester, which displays 80 of his personal collection of 200 in his gallery in Western Australia. Right now, though, the 1980s are hot because it was the coming-of-age era for the new class of collectors: guys in their mid-40s – including a sizable cohort of Silicon Valley. “Really loud” foam and fiberglass concoctions with airbrushed murals and quirky neon airbrushed twin fins can fetch upwards of $10,000, says Thompson.
Although the majority of collectors buy boards for display, not for surfing, Ridding likes to kick things off. His motorized “Bloomingdale’s Jetboard” – an innovative design created by the heir to the department store fortune in the 1960s – is admittedly too “clumsy” for the waves, but his cream and green Takayama noserider “will take to surfing the spots near Biarritz on the roof of my car in the summer,” he says.
Tom “Pohaku” Stone, born and raised in Hawaii, builds models based on models ridden by his ancestors in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. He also thinks surfboards should be covered in salt water. He carves round-nosed creations in his Oahu garden from precious woods like breadfruit before selling them to collectors — and museums — for more than $35,000. He likes to take everyone surfing before sending them away. “I see them as functional parts of my culture,” Stone says. “It’s not just a piece of wood hanging on your wall, it’s a story: someone took it to the ocean and caught a wave on it.”