Tom Blake; Revolutionized Surfboard Design

<i> From Times Staff and Wire Reports</i>

Tom Blake, whose surfboard designs revolutionized surfing and marine safety, has died. He was 92.

Blake died May 5 in Ashland, where he returned in the early 1980s after a career as a lifeguard and surf innovator in Hawaii and Southern California.

Inspired by Hawaiian surf champion Duke Kahanamoku, Blake moved to the West Coast in 1921 at the age of 19 to take up surfing.

He became a national distance swimming champion for the Los Angeles Athletic Club and competed against Johnny Weismuller, who went on to portray Tarzan in a series of films.


Blake first caught the eye of the surfing community when he entered a surfing competition with a board in which he had drilled holes to reduce weight. His board weighed 30 to 40 pounds less.

Skepticism turned to awe and grudging respect when Blake easily captured top honors in the event, the 1928 Pacific Coast Paddleboard Championships. He soon patented his hollow paddleboard.

Blake’s enduring contribution to the sport came in 1935, when he noticed a metal fin on the bottom of a boat and decided to add a fin to a surfboard.

The boards became so fast and sturdy that lifeguards made them a standard piece of lifesaving equipment.


Blake would say he was happiest when straddling a surfboard in the ocean, a place he would call “the blessed church of the open sky.”

He worked with the Waikiki Beach Patrol in Honolulu and as director of recreation and swimming for the Portuguese Bend Club and other swim clubs in the Palos Verdes Peninsula.