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Cumbersome boards from the 1930s back in the water

By Jake Howard

Proving that what’s old is new again, Dane Gudauskas and Capo Beach-based surfboard builder Donald Brink last year wanted to dip their toes in the waters of a bygone era. In their collaborative pursuit to explore different sensations in surfing, they sought to recreate the magic of the old wooden “kookbox” designs of the 1930s.

With the Surfing Heritage and Culture Center in San Clemente closed due to the pandemic, they were able to spend some uninterrupted time in the museum’s collection and examine all the different outlines and construction techniques of the classic old boards.

Originally engineered by early surf pioneer and waterman Tom Blake, the historic boards on average are about 12 feet long and weigh an average of 40-50 pounds.

Considered a huge innovation at the time, the hollow, chambered construction allowed Blake to shed considerable weight from the surfboards of the previous era, which clocked in between 60 and 100 pounds. By comparison, most of the boards ridden by pros today weigh less than six pounds.

Dane Gudauskas and Donald Brink inspect the progress of the wooden kookbox surfboard they collaborated on together at Brink’s shop in Capo Beach. Photo: Courtesy of Dane Gudauskas

When he was 18 years old, Blake, originally from Milwaukee, happened to meet the great Duke Kahanamoku. By 1924, he had embarked on his first trip to Hawaii and by 1929 had developed what he called his “cigar box” design.

The boards remained common in lineups in Hawaii and California throughout the ’30s and ’40s, and even today there are a number of people who enjoy the challenge of trying to tame these unwieldy wooden beasts, including Dana Point’s Brian Bent, who’s dedicated his surfing and art to this throwback aesthetic.

Fast-forward almost a century, and Gudauskas and Brink are among that small crew. Curious to see what would happen if they built and rode one of the boards today, turns out, it works pretty well.

Brink went to work in his Capo Beach shaping bay/skunkworks, and the craftsmanship and attention to detail he emerged with is simply stunning. The board is as much a piece of art as it is a functional surfboard. Brink builds some beautiful surfboards, but he may have outdone himself on this one.

And stunt pilot Gudauskas flies on the thing at San Onofre.

If you’re into surf history and have an open mind about what constitutes “performance” surf craft, check out the video “Finding The Line: Experimentations on a 14 Foot Tom Blake Inspired Kookbox Surfboard” on YouTube.

Jake Howard is local surfer and freelance writer who lives in San Clemente. A former editor at Surfer Magazine, The Surfer’s Journal and ESPN, today he writes for a number of publications, including Picket Fence Media, Surfline and the World Surf League. He also works with philanthropic organizations such as the Surfing Heritage and Culture Center and the Positive Vibe Warriors Foundation.

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