The inventor of the hollow surfboard, Tom Blake was born in 1902 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. At age 18, living in Detroit, Michigan, he met the gold medal Olympic swimmer Duke Kahanamoku. Being a swimmer himself, he was inspired by Duke to pursue a swimming career, and moved to Southern California in September 1921.
The first time Tom tried riding waves on a surfboard was also in 1921. He did very badly and waited three years before his next attempt. Tom first went to Hawaii in 1924, becoming the first mainlander to migrate back and forth to surf both Hawaii and California. In Hawaii he surfed with the Kahanamoku brothers at Waikiki.
Tom started building his own surfboards in Santa Monica in 1925. It is said he was the first to surf Malibu Point a year later.
Surfboards at that time were typically made of redwood and were 10 feet or longer, 22-inches wide, 3 to 4 inches thick and weighed over 100 pounds. There were just a handful of surfers active in California during this era.
During Tom’s visit to the Bishop Museum of Honolulu in 1926, he became interested in the ancient surfboards owned by Chief Abner Paki. These surfboards had been neglected and left in poor shape for many years. Tom was able to convince the museum staff of the importance of these boards and was given permission to restore them.
Blake made copies of these ancient boards, drilled holes in them, then covered the surface with plywood to lighten their excessive weight.
Encouraged by the results, in 1929, Tom — while using the original templates — developed hollow surfboards and paddle boards. This new invention was called the cigar box or "the kook box." It was designed much like an airplane wing. These surfboards were half the weight of solid wood boards of the time and popularized the sport of surfing for a wider range of people.
In 1929, Tom Blake applied for his first U.S. patent on a hollow surfboard. In 1934 its construction was perfected. In 1935, he was the first to put a fin on a surfboard, which helped control forward motion riding on waves. Tom had numerous patents over the years not only for surfboards, but for paddleboards and life-saving equipment as well. He was also one the first to make a water camera. Duke Kahanamoku was the father of modern surfing, while Tom Blake was its inventor.
Tom Blake died in Wisconsin on May 5, 1994, at the age of 92.