7 Surf icons who changed the sport

Norbert Ferenczi
1 of December 2023
7 Surf icons who changed the sport

Surfing has come a long way since Polynesian people used their boats to use the energy of waves in order to reach the shore faster and of course to get some extra fun on the way back. 

Undoubtedly there are people who gave less to the evolution of the sport and there are a few icons whoes names are going to be shining forever in our history books.

Let us introduce you to a few of these legends!

1, Captain James Cook

Not a rad surfer but the first westerner who witnessed wave riding in 1778 before it became a sport. 

He never tried the activity personally but he became the first fan of it . He describes with his own words. 

“I could not help concluding this man felt the most supreme pleasure while he was driven on so smoothly by the sea.”

2, Duke Kahanamoku

He is considered the father of modern surfing. The Hawaiian won five Olympic medals as a swimmer, but he also showed off in the movie industry, politics, and business life. Many describe him as the ultimate waterman whose charisma helped to popularize surf. 

He introduced the sport to the east and west coasts of the United States and visited Sydney in 1914-15. Between his Olympic medal-winning feats, Kahanamoku traveled internationally performing swimming and surfing demonstrations. It was during this period that he popularized the sport of surfing, previously known only in Hawaii.

“Anytime Duke surfed, a crowd would gather,” said Matt Warshaw, founder of the Encyclopedia of Surfing and former editor of Surfer magazine. “He was so compelling, he was so handsome, and had this black hair combed back. He … could do this amazing new thing, and he made it look so incredible.”

3. Tom Blake

Thomas Edward Blake is one of the most important figures in surfing, and probably the most important single person in the history of wooden surfboards. It was Blake whose experiments and innovations through the 1920s and 30s led to lighter paddle boards and surfboards, alternative (and widely accessible) construction techniques, the introduction of the fin and a rudimentary leash.  

Esteemed surf writer Drew Kampion credited Blake with transforming surfing from a Polynesian curiosity into a 20th century lifestyle, and rightly so.

4. Hugh Bradner

He is the “official” inventor of the neoprene wetsuit.  Surfers owe this American physicist the ability to surf in conditions we previously could not.

While working at the University of California at Berkeley, Bradner was working on research when he had to do several underwater dives.

Staying in cold water for long periods was a serious problem – for him and others – so he developed a suit that didn’t need to be dry to work.

Although Hugh Bradner tried to market the new neoprene wetsuit, he paved the way for Jack O’Neill and Body Glove to introduce it to the water world.

5. Gerry Lopez

So called Mr.Pipeline is a legendary surfer and iconic surfer who made surfing history. He is the one who started shaping and using shortboards which helped him figure out how to surf more powerful hollower waves like Pipeline. In a short time he became the top dog at the North Shore of Hawaii. 

He also discovered and surfed for the first time perfect tubes in Indonesia like Uluwatu or G-Land.  Gerry Lopez is still an important figure in surfing culture. He is actively involved in environmental organizations, working to preserve the waves and the ocean for the future generation. He founded a non profit organization called “ Save the wave Coallation” 

6. George Downing

Downing was the first big wave surfer and an experimenter in the surfboard shaping room.

When Makaha was still the premium surf spot on Oahu’s North Shore, George Downing had already built a complete quiver suitable for all surf conditions.

He built the first surfboard for big waves and developed the first changeable fin system. Downing studied swell charts and maritime weather forecasts.

His nicknames – “the guru” and “the teacher” – say it all. George Downing is probably the world’s first complete surfer.

7. Kelly Slater

 The 11th time World Champion of surf, considered as the greatest surfer of all time. 

Throughout his career, the Floridian-born athlete won 11 Championship Tour (CT) titles, 55 elite events, and many other second-tier trophies, including the US Open of Surfing.

Kelly Slater is the first professional surfer to compete at the highest level, aged 51 and still on tour winning events!

He also invented the technology of wavepool, Kelly named his project Surf Ranch. His ultimate dream is to design a surf pool that allows surfers to ride waves indefinitely.

Not everybody shall change the sport as drasticly as these icons above…but who knows, grab a board and figure out yourself. Worst case scenario you will just have a great time!