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Blake, Thomas E. 1902 - 1994 | Wisconsin Historical Society

Historical Essay

Blake, Thomas E. 1902 - 1994

Blake, Thomas E. 1902 - 1994 | Wisconsin Historical Society
Dictionary of Wisconsin History.


surfer, surfboard innovator, and a pioneer of the surfing lifestyle; Blake was born in Milwaukee on March 8, 1902. Left motherless as an infant, he was brought up by relatives in Washburn, Wisconsin.  A chance meeting with Hawaiian Olympic swimming champion and surfer Duke Paca Kahanamoku in 1920 led Blake to Hawaii in 1924. He became fascinated by the history and techniques of surfing and designed a lighter-weight hollow surfboard which was more buoyant and maneuverable than the solid wood boards then in use. Blake introduced the new board to California at the first Pacific Coast Surfing Championship in 1928. He patented and manufactured his boards, adding a fin, or skeg, to his design. He also designed the rescue paddleboard, was an innovator in surfing photography, and wrote a book "The Hawaiian Surfboard" in 1935. Blake served in the US Coast Guard during World War II, retired from full-time surfing in 1957, and spent the rest of his life in California, Arizona, and Wisconsin. He died in Ashland County, Wisconsin, May 5, 1994. He is the subject of a biography by Gary Lynch, "Tom Blake: the Uncommon Journey of a Pioneer Waterman."
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