Sunday, November 27, 2005

The truth about Hollow surfboards

1930-- Tom Blake and his amazing Hollow Surfboard

Back in the early 1930's, Tom Blake (one of the original surf pioneers) came to the conclusion that solid, heavy, wood surfboards didn't make sense. they were too heavy! So, as an innovator & craftsman, he began to construct surfings first hollow board out of plywood, waterproof glue, screws, and nails. Guess worked!

The result was an enormous reduction in board weight (due to the air core) resulting in completely different flotation and feel while surfing which dramatically affected turning, paddling, and ease of take off.

The only drawback was that the slightest pinhole or crack in the shell created a leak. Water inside the structure was a problem as there was no way to 100% seal the inside after construction. His design was so unique that the plans were published in Popular Science Magazine. For the next forty years nothing much was done on the development of hollow surfboards.

World war ll helped make surfing popular as it produced fiberglass and polyester resin. When used as a covering for a balsa wood core, resin and glass resulted in the first lightweight, water proof surfboard which was introduced in the early 1950's. Balsa and glass boards were the standard until about 1959 when Dave Sweet, Hobie Alter, and a few others (Foss & Walker) began experimenting with some new stuff called polyurethane foam.

In 1959, Hobie hired a young surfer (who had just graduated from Claremont college in Pomona) to help him develop a urethane foam surfbord blank that was shapable. His name was Gordon "Grubby" Clark. (He was called "Grubby" beacuse he would sleep under his car on surf trips.)

One day Hobie himself (or one of his workers) poured too much foam mixture into one of the concrete molds and it exploded, blowing the rear wall out of Hobies Dana Point surf shop. Hobie threw up his hands and decided to give up on the foam blank program.

Grubby asked Hobie if he could have the molds. Hobie said "sure". The rest is history.

1971--The development of the Hollow W.A.V.E.

Then, in about 1970, Karl Pope (formerly of Morey-Pope Surfboards) partnered with Bob Johnson (now the owner of Island Packet Yachts in Florida) to develop the first lightweight, water proof, hi-performance, hollow surfboard ever made called the Hollow W.A.V.E. (W.A.V.E. stood for Water Apparatus and Vehicular Engineering which was their corporate name). Designers like Dick Brewer, Tom Morey, & Larry Gordon (of G&S) provided the original patterns from which the molds were made. Each Hollow W.A.V.E. was fabricated using epoxy pre-empregnated fiberglass in a 1/4" sandwich with aluminium honeycomb as the core of the 1/4" thick shell. The top and bottom of each board were molded separately and then glued together. The resulting rail seam was glassed over by hand and the board was painted.

From 1971 to 1974 over 10,000 Hollow W.A.V.E. surfboards were made and sold world wide. Many are still in the water today. Mike Purpus was the W.A.V.E competition surfer and won several pro contests on his 6'10 Brewer Hollow.

At first, Grubby Clark simply ignored the Hollow W.A.V.E. concept. But then, as these hollow boards showed up more and more in the water, he began a smear campaign which culminated in a face to face interview between Clark, Pope, and Johnson covered by surfer magazine about 1973. At the peak of production, W.A.V.E. was molding over 400 boards a week with 60 employees in Saticoy, California.

Then, in late 1973 the gas shortage hit. Long lines at the gas station were common. to make matters worse, sources for epoxy and epoxy pre-pregs dried up. With no materials available, W.A.V.E was forced to shut down in early 1974 and was sold in June of that year to a investor group of non surfers. It went out of business permantly in 1975. Grubby had won.


After re-entering the surfboard business in 1999 (after a 22 year hiatus), Karl Pope began manufacturing a new two piece version of the 1964 Morey-Pope Trisect in Ojai, California, which he called the Pope Bisect. Iinitially, Pope Bisects were fabricated conventionally using a hand shaped polyurethane foam core, then glassed as usual. The difference was that special plastic "clamp boxes" were first installed in the foam blank, then, the board was glassed and completely finished all the way through glossing. At that stage, Pope and his staff would cut the board in half (bisect it) and bore the foam for the internal carbon sleeves. Several steps later, the Pope Bisect was a reality!

Even though the conventional Pope Bisect was highly successful, Pope still felt that a hollow structure fabricated with vacumn pressure using high temperature carbon fiber prepregs, would result in a lighter, stronger, hi performance two piece surfboard which would weigh less than a conventional one piece board. He was right. In 2001 he made the first Hollowcarbon Stealth and in 2002 won the Popular Science "recreational product of the year " award. The Hollow carbon Stealth was here to stay. The Stealth is impervious to water damage and is an exact replica of the designers original. If it is punctured you simply open the drain plug, drain out the water, and repair the damage with two part epoxy (and fiberglass if necessary).

The basic principle that Tom Blake used some 75 years ago... still applies. Reduce the core weight to zero (air) then put the strength (and original core weight) back into the skin. The result is the highest possible strength to weight ratio no matter whether you use plywood and glue or carbon fiber and epoxy! You can't change physics. Just ask Grubby Clark. He was a physics major!

Now it's 2005 and others have attempted to copy Pope's basic design. They will never catch him. The remaining challenge is to get the price of the Pope Bisect to a lower level with the highest level of fit and finish. That stage is just around the corner.

As Pope has always said, "If surfers don't have to give anythng up (price, weight, performance)...all surfboards would be in two pieces". It's just a matter of time.


  1. The truth about hollow boards, in my humble experience, is that they are too corky. I dunno about these bisect things but I have tried those surftech hollow boards and I find them to bee nervously floaty, as if you just don't all the contact with the water. Also, these things are stiff! And stiff ain't necessarily bad, but when speed and wave size pick up then I don't think a bouncy stiff board is my idea of fun. What really bugs me with this latest rage in factory boards is that they are killing the guy who spends hours making a board that is just right for you. Lots of good shapers and glassers are going hungry because some factory in asia is pumping out ten thousand copies of Robert August's famous 9-0... At my local break I swear the last two years have seen a swath of folk spending big bucks on these factory boards and why? Because they read nothing else and the local shaper has left the scene.. I mean, heck everybody has a right to buy and do what the please but having experienced both floaty hollow things and a hand shaped custom, I know what I like and it ain't plastic, it's clarkfoam and elbow grease.

  2. Hey J.J. Moon...
    How did you get your blog to be so good? Originally I was out trying to locate new surf board related information, but your post ' The truth about Hollow surfboards ' got my attention and stopped me in my tracks :) Glad I found you because I'm trying to improve my site about new surf board and your blog here gave me some excellent ideas. Thanks J.J. Moon for the good read and I think I'll mention your blog to my cousin (if that's okay...)

    Keep up your effort ~ and good job.

  3. To bad Karl uses Chinese labour to produce these monstrosities. It's bad enough manufactures that relied on Americans to build up thier business are resorting to this in order to produce higher profits. I can only hope that people wisen up and stop supporting surfboard manufactures that outsource to china. That and these boards ride like poop. I've surfed all the modles and they actually surf worse then the original epoxy bisects, I was shocked because those were horrible.

    To boot airlines charge you for transporting these boards,they are not free. It's a false promotion of their product, that and the Bisect is heavy and ackward to carry around. They don't fit into rental cars, they flex like mad when you surf them. The Bmiller boards ride better and are easier to carry as one piece boards and the Carbon Fiber boards are just expensive junk.

  4. Wow. Where can I find into on `bmiller boards` and surftech hollow boards?

    I can't find any info anywhere!

    Also, which is the biggest bisect to fit inside suitcase size aircrasft allowances?

  5. I painted my 9'0" Wayne Rich carbon fiber hollow stealth to make it more stealthy. In fact it is a very stiff and light high performance longboard that surfs extremely well in quality overhead surf. I further disguised my travel board by painting graphics on the padded travel case suggesting it is a portable massage table. Hey J.J. Moon, are you also J.J. Luna?

  6. Hello J.J., You can sign up Party Pokerwith CODE: RB2006 to get bounus :20% upto $100. regards

  7. Interesting article on surf history, I first learned to surf in the summer of 68 and have been a waterman ever since. I love the two current boards that I currently ride my 9'6" Skip Fry Summer Magic and my 10'0" ACE and have owned many many boards over the past decades but the one that hangs on my wall as if were a trophy is my 6'9" Hollow W.A.V.E. Water Skate given as a gift for Christmas in 1972. This board has traveled from Northern Cal. throughout Baja on more than one surf trip. It has been used to teach dozens of kids to surf including my two Son's, it has been dropped, used as a stretcher for some guy with a broken ankle and feel off the roof of a car, forgot to strap it down in 74 "must have twisted up a few to many that day". And through all of this time of its uses and abuses all it needs is some wax. I retired the board about five years ago but consistently was asked questions about it with several people asking where they could find one. It may have its purist detractors and I can agree with some of what they have to say but a few things are for certain it is a board that has lasted throughout the decades like no other, will be around to teach my grand children to surf and if I was ever going to take another surf trip again I know I would only need to take only one board.
    Mark in O.B. 92107

  8. I would like to receive news and comments from who still have one of this board. My 6 11´" is still fine mono keel green and my company since the 70´s

  9. I have recently bought a Pope Bisect Board and have been stoked on how well it handles. I was surfing both R.August and Stewart Boards. I orginally bought the board for travel but have used it a lot. I find it interesting that one comment indicated it doesn't fit well in rental cars. After being to Hawaii and Mexico 25+ times with boards I can honesty say the Pope fits far better then a 9+' board and bag does. Somebody else made a comment about them being manufacturered in China. The keyboard he typed on is, the t-shirt he is wearing is, the board shorts and wet suits he surfs in are. Unfortunatly that is the reality. Recently Alaska Airlines told me they will not take any board INLCUDING bag over
    9'. They charge $150 per way for that. Delta is now $200 per way and the 9' rule applies, Contential, and on and on.
    I am also from the 'Old School' and remeber how things were, but process has changed a lot of things whether we like it or not.
    I have not found the board to be bouncy.Hurkummer refers to shapers going by the way. This is called progress like it or not! Where is Clark-Foam today. How well did they treat the industry that they made a very substanitial living in for 30+ years?
    I am 63 years old and grew up surfing in San Diego. I remember the good old days, but we can't live in the past. Do you truly think that many of the name brand boards are not buying some blanks from China? What is more apple pie then Harley Davidson? Many of their components are made in China. We now live in a global economy. I grew up in the time that cheap inferior products were made in Japan. Where do you think your car is made? Your cell phone? your flat screen?
    I have a suv and now going to the best surf spots I throw my board in the back and then put it together when I get their( 2 minutes max). I personally feel that this is the coolest inovation for surfing in the last 10 years. Without this any long boarder or standup up paddler will not be able to travel with their personal boards. Bob-The-Builder said the airlines will charge for a Pope-Bisect. With the current regs 7-08 they may charge as a second bag, $25-50 (depending on the airline)
    still far cheaper then $200 or in my case I am not able to even take by 9'6" Robert August at any Price!
    A Bob Dylan said, "The Times Are a Changing"!

  10. 11-08 Be on the lookout for ZAZEN Surfboards from Connecticut, of all places! Hollow epoxy boards based on their previous experiences producing (by CNC)the inner framing for the hollow /wood "GRAIN" kit surfboards. First units will be test ridden this month in R.I.
    Check their website for continuing details. I've been tagged as a tester so I'll add comments later.

  11. I'd love to use a local shaper, but I insist on my boards being easier to carry - that means more waves in the first place

  12. I'd prefer a local shaper... but I have to have portable boards

  13. you left out Joe Quigg. He was in the mix with Grubby. Get your history straight!

  14. Your story is dated, and incomplete. In 2001, a company called Hydro Epic started making hollow, carbon fiber surfboards that were super strong, amazingly light, and DID flex. Designed by surf legends like Brewer, Merric, Walden and Hynson, they had 15 shapes and models by 2005. It took them four years and hundreds of test boards before Merric was satisfied enough to put his name and logo on them. Sure, hollow has been around a long time, but as our fellow bloggers know, they are way too stiff and corky. Pope's board was the worst because of the two huge carbon connecting rods.

    Hydro engineers pioneered and patented the concept of fusing a rib and spine system to the underside of the deck (like the skeleton of a shark). They had basically achieved a "tunable suspension system" and used it to adjust flex, stiffness, twist and buoyancy to optimize the different shapes.

    They stopped production in 2007, but I think their website is still up.

  15. I surfed the Hydro 9-1 competition longboard and it is phenomenal! It launches into a wave so well I could beat the punks on short boards! In the bottom turn it loads up and rockets out with unbelievable acceleration.

    I would love to have one. It is easily the most advanced board I have ever seen. Anyone know where I can get one? Why did they stop building them?

  16. interesting discussion, especially for me, as I still have a HollowWAVE board in my garage... haven't surfed it for about 30 years (been riding a series of boards, but the Morey Pope takes in a lot of water, due to several dings which were never repaired adequately, way back when...)

    I'm now interested enough to pull it down off the rack and try to make it watertight... the challenge is... do I use epoxy resin? do I open them right up, fill'em with epoxy and Qcell or just do a normal glass job with cloth, etc?

    If I can't get it floating again, I think I'll just sell it... but the feeling of riding this (73ST) board with its 'flex' in the deck might be fun again. For the interest of those who may like to know, it's one of the aluminium honeycomb models... I bought it off a guy called Peter Moscogianis at Noosa back in 1976 and loved it for a long time... there never were very many imported into Australia, but this is one of'em...

    any suggestions for effective repair would be gratefully received :)

  17. Aloha, I have a Hollow WAVE surfboard that I would like to sell. It's an older model although not sure exactly the year. I can send pictures to anyone who might be interested. Your comments should show up in my inbox but to ensure please email me at