Revving it up: The origins of Jetboarding
Since the inception of mankind humans have always been trying to take over the elements - and, occasionally, have some fun. And while surfing originated thousands of years ago, somehow the idea of adding an engine to boards came up relatively recently. Esurf, jetsurf, motosurf - sounds like quite a few options are offered. Today, we invite you to dive in (pun intended) the history of the latest instalment in the surfing family.
IN THE EARLY DAYS
Earliest mentions about engine powered surfboards go back to 1935 - when those were supposed to be used by the coastguards.
Couple of years later Emil Hansen from Bryn Mawr took another attempt at reinventing the concept of motorized surfing: they came up with the idea of adding a 7 hp engine in a waterproof aluminium hull to a simple wooden surfboard. The device weighed 54 kg, a fairly bulky and hard to transport piece of equipment.
“An important feature was the safety switch. This was first implemented with a rope and a simple mechanism to turn off the engine. If a person fell overboard with a rope tied to his or her leg, the engine turned off. Modern designers and manufacturers still use the same safety principle. The top speed was about 30 km/h”.
In 1948 inventor Joe Gippin used his motorized surfboard to successfully cross a river.
Somewhen in the mid-sixties an ex-Boeing engineer was rumoured to have tried turning a surfboard into a motorized water vehicle too. His name is lost in time, but we know a few things about the prototype - while some of them still remain an object of discussion on the topic of the first case of safety system implementation.
“It was designed to use an aircraft trim tab roller control with your foot for acceleration. There was a simple ingenious safety OFF switch, using a magnet that connected two electrical terminals across a point, located close by the engine's surface watertight hatch. The rider would attach a strap to his ankle with a flexible wire line to the magnet. When he fell off, it would stop the engine”.
This model utilised a smaller engine compared to jet ski and the likes of those, actually was a far relative of a chainsaw - as it was built upon the base of a, well, chainsaw engine. So yes, the idea of a jet surf is as cool as combining surfing with chainsaws.
“With its aluminium hull and unique flat lightweight custom Tecumseh 4.7 kW (6.25 hp) engine and its custom Phelon ignition, this board was indeed fairly thin. It was, however, remarkably buoyant with only the engine compartment, air vent feed tube and jet tube to nozzle stern, not being filled with flotation foam. Being that this board was only around five inches thick, made it much more like its big log board, non-powered cousins. In the later model, this original engine was further modified for reliability. Originally designed from a custom single-cylinder chainsaw motor with custom water-cooled jacket design, fed by the venturi effect of the enclosed jet prop that also bailed engine compartment water out through the jet drive's stern nozzle. This also carried the exhaust gases out the rear nozzle with a preventive flap to keep water from getting into the engine, when it wasn't running”.
But comfort comes with a price. The early models were extremely heavy, around 85lb, due to the need of using special aluminium alloys so the device could survive the aggressive environment of sea water. Using military grade materials also made the production expensive as hell - it was half the price of a new Wolkswagen beetle at the time!
Around that time the designer behind the original Batmobile George Barris presented Surf Woody, an electrical motosurf.
Alas, early inventions received little traction. Around six hundred boards were fabricated and distributed, and while some enthusiasts kept supporting and customising their rides, it never actually became very popular. Alfred S. Bloomingdale is known to be the last investor of the decade and chipped in because of his own displeasure of tedious paddling in order to get over to the waves.
“Here is a list of serial numbers and pictures of boards known to exist.
Apparently a company called Jet Board Corporation sold the boards starting in the 60s. I don't know how many are out there, or much other information, but I now know they sold for $1700 + tax when they were new. Here's what else I know:
The hulls were made by an aeronautical company called Sargent Fletcher in El Monte, California. The engine was derived from a McCullough chain saw engine. He thinks there were between 600 and 700 made.
I was told by email that Steve Gould, the curator of the North Shore Surf and Cultural Museum, was a lifeguard at the Kahala Hilton the day the first motorized surfboard was demonstrated in Hawaii. He said that these boards were the result of Alfred Bloomingdale's (heir to the Bloomingdale Department store fortune) distaste for paddling a surfboard. He used to come to Waikiki to play. The prototype was made of wood and was unsuitable. Later models were made of aircraft aluminium by an aircraft company in California. The working model debuted in1965. Bloomingdale died recently, but Robert H. Krewson of Waikiki, who worked on the development, is still around.
Jet Board Corporation was located at 9255 Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles”.
1982 marks the year of the first mass-produced motosurf designed by Neil Townsend.
“A 3-meter long motorized surfboard weighed 22 kg and was equipped with an electric motor featuring a nickel-cadmium battery”.
The first jetsurfs as we know them today appeared somewhere around the 2000s. And while little information is available, some companies have patented their creations and this allows us to draw the timeline. Read about it in the next chapter - we’d discuss the modern era of jetsurfs very soon. Stay tuned. And revved.
One of the first companies to reintroduce jetsurfs to the audience was JetSurf, founded by Martin Sula, who earned subliminal reputation through collaborations with Formula 1, Red Bull and other extreme sports powerhouses. The company was started in 2008, the golden decade of adrenaline fueled entertainment, when interest towards extreme sports skyrocketed.
JetSurf is known for their product line including both petrol (Sport, Adventure DFI, Race DFI) and electric powered boards (Electric).
In 2012 JetSurf also held the first MotosurfGP championship to draw interest to the reborn sports. By 2015 the contest attracted athletes from all over the world and is held annually to this day.
Another important name in the history of modern jetsurfing is Lampuga, a german-based company who rapidly took their place as one of the market leaders, managing to leave a tangible impact on the industry with The Air and The Rescue models.
Swedish Radinn added a bit of that Scandinavian chic to the design department. Just take a look at X-Sport, Carve and Freeride.
Lift Foils focuses on efoils and their LIFT series made a sustainable reputation in the industry too.
Nowadays the offering is abundant and the demand is high - as the market is coming to fruition we are positioned to witness the maturing of the whole industry.
Stay updated for the next parts of our study in the nearest future.