Shaper's Corner


Currently housed in the Heritage Room at the Freshwater Surf Life Saving Club in Sydney and insured for a cool million Aussie bucks.

Description: Surfing arrived in Australia in a blaze of publicity in 1915 when Duke Kahanamoku – fresh from his first Olympic Gold swimming medal win – toured the country to show off his new swimming techinique: the front crawl. At a demonstration in Freshwater Beach, Duke took his hand-shaped sugar-pine board out into the 6-foot waves in front of thousands on the beach an untold number in the newspapers that were following the Olympic swimmers’ every move. Ever the showman, he even threw a few headstands in there.

Cost new? On his visit to Oz Duke asked the Sydney-based wood merchant George Hudson if he could donate a piece of sugar pine cut to a shape of 9-foot by 2-foot by 3-inches. Hudson obliged and Duke finished if off with sandpaper and planers down to an 8’8” ‘church window’ shape, though no money changed hands. Were he to have paid for it, such a plank might have cost the equivalent of $20 today.

Expect to pay now: A million bucks, give or take a few cakes of wax. The board is currently housed in a glass case in the Heritage Room at the Freshwater Surf Life Saving Club in Sydney and allegedly insured for a cool million Aussie bucks. That’s about €800,000 in real money.

Why So Valuable? It’s the moment surfing kicked off in Australia, helped by the absolute father of modern surfing, who shaped the board by hand himself. What more could you ask for? Duke gave the board to local swimmer Claude West when he sailed back to Hawaii, and West later donated it to the Freshwater Life Savers in 1953. It was well-used by then, and even in the 1970s it was regularly taken out by the club members for a splash in the surf. In 1976 it was damaged after falling out of a truck, and Freshwater Club decided it was probably about time they took a little more care of it. Now it’s behind glass.

Anything Else? Duke made three other boards while he was in Australia – one he gave to Cronulla surf-club member Ron Bawden, and the other most likely ended up with Sprint Walker in Victoria. The third’s whereabouts are unknown. Cue spooky music and dollar signs in your eyes…

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