Woody “Spider” Brown began body-surfing in California on a carved wooden plank, using it in a style now known as Boogie-boarding. Realising that if he could stand up he could catch waves before they broke, he used glider construction techniques to build his first hollow plywood surfboard in 1936, a forerunner of modern boards.
“I started surfing right away. I first made these solid redwood planks, you know. You’d stand in the shallow water and shove off just like a Boogie board. But, then I began to go, ‘Gee, man, if you could just have a board that would hold you up; instead of, like, solid planks… then I could catch ‘em before they’re breaking. This way, I’m just catching white water.’ I thought, ‘Gee, then you could catch ‘em way out there and ride ‘em all the way in.’ So, that’s when I made the hollow little plywood box. About 9 feet long and about 4 inches thick [and 22 inches wide]. It was great. I could paddle out there and catch the waves and ride.”
Thinking back on how [his] second “plywood box” responded in the surf, Woody exclaimed, “It was just like these modern kids’ boards, now! I’m amazed, you know. Don Okey wrote to me from California and said, ‘You know, Woody, that old board you had, it was a wonderful board. It was so good, I feel we should make a duplicate because I think it was a forerunner of the boards, today.’ He said, ‘I’m gonna make another one.’ He asked me for the drawings. I sent him what I could remember and he built one. When I went over there [in 1993], he had one built! Exactly the same. And I rode it! And, you know, it was just like these boards, today. You don’t have to use your foot [“In the old days, you had to put your foot in the water in order to turn.”], you just lean and turn it like that! And, boards in those days, aw, you couldn’t do that. It rode really good! And, yet, that was way back in ‘36! Amazing, just amazing.
Although people had been surfing for years in the Polynesian islands, this was the first appearance of it in California.
For more manoeuvrability, he added a skeg, or small keel, a breakthrough normally accredited to another legendary American surfer, Tom Blake. Brown was happy to give Blake credit.
“about ‘36 or ‘37, somewhere in there; about the same time. But, I didn’t know anything about [Blake] and his experiments with adding fins to surfboards. See, we were all separated out. I was in San Diego and he was in L.A., way up there.”