The surfing industry involves continual evolution in design. Contemporary surfboards are dramatically different (at least to those who surf) in geometry, curvature, shape, and material compared to the boards ridden during the early days of modern surfing. As surfing styles and technique have progressed over time, so has the need for modifications in essential functional elements, such as volume, rail shape, curvature, nose and tail shapes. Some ideas were quickly forgotten but others have persisted and become staples in surfboard design. Take, for example, the swallow-tail, a tail shape that has become the standard style for fish-type surfboards for maneuvering in small or mushy waves. The swallow-tail was originally developed by Ben Aipa, a surfing pioneer from the 70s and this tail shape has is now ubiquitous in surfboard shops, replicated by individual shapers and mass producing surfboard companies alike. Imagine, however, if Aipa had patented his swallow-tail design.
Although Aipa is widely known as the father of the swallowtail surfboard, the patent for this tail shape was issued in 1981 to Michael Slingerland (USD258516S). It is quite likely that legal protection for innovative surfboard design, at least during the 1970s, was not the foremost priority for surfboard shapers. Shapers are often driven by a great passion for the sport rather than by financial motivation. After all, the time and effort required to create a quality surfboard requires a combination of focus, commitment, and expertise in the physics of wave-riding that few possess. If Aipa had obtained a patent on the swallowtail soon after conception, he would have had control over the production and sales of this popular style of surfboard. For 15 years post-issuance, the financial benefits from the rise in popularity of the swallowtail would have been awarded in full to Aipa.
There will certainly continue to be new designs that will have the lasting impact of Aipa’s swallow-tail. Trinity Boardsports, a small company based in Spain, is promoting a novel surfboard shape incorporating parabolic rails that may potentially change the face of surfing. The technology originates from the same basis as parabolic skis which has come to revolutionize the world of skiing in the 90s. The company has already patented this technology and it will be a fascinating progression in wave-riding agility and control if this innovative design takes off. Hopefully other small surfboard companies will follow this route and protect their new designs, allowing them the opportunities to establish financial stability in order to continue growing and pushing the limits of surfing.