The history of surfing in the 1930s can be said to have been marked with Tom Blake’s development of the hollow surfboard and paddleboard.

For the world as a whole, however, the 1930s became known as “The Great Depression,” because of the impact of the financial markets meltdown. All families who lived through it remember it vividly and all families were forever changed because of it. For many, it resulted in death. For most, The Great Depression meant hardships of many kinds.

Surfers, though, did not feel the impact of the financial hard times as much as most people. They were not spared by any means, but in more than a few cases, they even reveled in their “make do” lifestyle.

“Well, as far as surf was concerned,” pioneer California surfer, photographer and dentist Doc Ball pointed out to me, most surfers weren’t that affected because swell responded to the natural flow of the planet, not the financial. “Of course, we had a little trouble getting’ gasoline, but then it was 7-cents a gallon in those days… that’s the way it was. It [the Great Depression] kept us kinda limited in certain ways, but we had surfin’ to take care of everything. Long as there’s waves, why, you didn’t have to pay for those. All we had to do was buy the gas to get there.” It certainly didn’t hurt that surfers were mostly young and many not thoroughly integrated into the work force."

It has been estimated that by the start of the decade, there were over a hundred surfers in Hawai‘i – most all on the south shore of O‘ahu. Less than fifty surfers rode the waters of Southern California, and fewer than that in Australia and New Zealand.

Tom Blake returned to the United States Mainland in 1932, most likely to oversee the construction of his first production hollow boards made by Thomas Rogers. 
“Well, there’s one thing that’s deeply impressed in my mind,” Wally Burton remembered about Tom Blake. “I worked for the County of Los Angeles, I was nineteen [in] 1929. I remember sitting on the doorsteps of that guard station there. And I vividly remember Tom Blake, because as the sun was setting one evening; he was standing there motionless looking out at the ocean. And I betcha he stood there just absolutely motionless, his silhouette etched against the sunset. And when it was all over, he finally walked away. And you could just tell he was just dreaming. He was a dreamer. And I walked up to him after it was all over and I said, ‘What were you doing there, Tom?’ He said, ‘I was just thinking about what’s beyond that sea, you know.’ Just like that. And he just stood, kind of looked at me for a minute, and he just walked off quietly. He wasn’t the kind of guy to talk very much… But when he said something, you had to listen, because it was something that was, you know, sincere from his heart. I was very much impressed with Tom, but I always considered him a dreamer.”

“I liked the guy a lot,” Wally said of Tom. “I admired him an awful lot. I guess he was one of my heroes, really, and I looked up to him. And I also looked up to Pete Peterson. Pete, I think, was a better surfer than anybody ever gave him credit for. He surfed in the Islands, did things, you know, when they take these gals [tandem] and put them on his shoulders? Pete did an outstanding job in surfing and won so many trophies… Although I admired Tom for a lot of other things – the dreaming aspect of it all and his innovative deals. Pete was equally innovative in a quiet sort of way.”

Tommy Zahn, Tom’s protégé later on, explained that by 1932, Tom Blake hollow paddleboards and hollow surfboards had been available, commercially, for less than a year.


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