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Rare Tom Blake 12’11 Hollow Hawaiian Surfboard “The Kind The Lifeguards Use” made in the mid-late 1930’s. This incredible piece of surfing history has been meticulously preserved over it’s 80+ years of life. This example has an interesting provenance as it was gifted to the current owner’s family by the son of Eli Lilly, founder of the 140 year old Eli Lilly Pharmaceutical company.
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History of Tom Blake surfboards
Thomas Edward Blake was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on March 8, 1902. By 1919 he left his hometown taking various jobs in New York, Florida, and finally California. The California lifestyle suited Tom well as he was a natural waterman and lived a healthy lifestyle. His natural abilities were immediately recognized. After only one year of formal training he became a world class swimmer, competing against legends such as Duke Kahanamoku.
In 1924 Tom worked as a lifeguard at the Santa Monica swimming club and one day stumbled upon a surfboard being stored there. He took it out for a ride and was immediately hooked. Soon thereafter Tom headed to Hawaii to surf in the warmer waters of Waikiki. During this era surfboards weighed over 100 pounds and were a pain to drag into the water. By 1926 Tom started to experiment with surfboard design and came up with his first hollow surfboard concept. The boards evolved over the years from a design with hundreds of holes drilled into it covered with a thin wood veneer, to a design with carved chambers in the hulls, to finally a much more sophisticated design using a transversely braced hollow hull with ribs for strength, much like that of an airplane wing.
By 1931 Tom Blake had filed a patent for his hollow surfboard and paddle board design. From the early 1930’s – 1950’s his boards were being crafted by four major builders, Roger Mitchell, Thomas Rogers, Catalina equipment company, and L.A. ladder co.
Tom has a long list of accomplishments in addition to his revolutionary surfboard design. In 1928, Tom won the first Pacific Coast Surfriding Championship at Corona Del Mar, California on his hollow surfboard. He is also credited as the first surfer to ride the waves at Malibu Point, California. In 1930, Tom invented the first waterproof camera housing used for surf photography. In 1932, Tom started the Mainland to Catalina island paddle board race and won first place. Later that year Mr. Blake invented the sail board. In 1935, Tom placed the first fin on a surfboard and wrote a book called ‘Hawaiian Surfboard’. He would later go on to write three more books, ‘Royal Hawaiians’, ‘Hawaiian Surf Riders’, and ‘Voice of the Atom’. Surprisingly his accomplishments don’t end there. He even worked as a stunt double on dozens of movie sets in Hollywood with stars like Clark Gable.
Thomas Edward Blake passed away on May 5, 1994 in his home state of Wisconsin. Mr. Blake is without a doubt one of the most important waterman in history having revolutionized the sport in many ways. The lives his inventions saved and the lives his inventions improved are countless. His memory lives on through each surfboard and paddle board ridden to this day.