“The Father Of The Modern Surfboard” Has Passed Away - Stab Mag
Imagery by the Quigg Collection

“The Father Of The Modern Surfboard” Has Passed Away

Few lived like Joe Quigg.

news // Jun 23, 2021
Words by stab
Reading Time: 4 minutes

It’s with a heavy heart we share news that Joe Quigg, often referred to as the Father of the Modern Surfboard, died over the weekend.

For those unacquainted with the man, we’ll recommend this excellent little short from the Surfing Heritage and Culture Center, and Jake Howard’s condensed history:

Born in Los Angeles in 1925, Joe Quigg ranks among one of the most important surfers and surfboard builders of the modern era.

Growing up in Santa Monica, he first took to the water when he was only four years old, building himself a crude billboard. By the time he was 13 years old he had made his first redwood board, complete with a preliminary attempt at creating nose and tail rocker.

Years later, Quigg would say that his early experiments with rocker was his greatest contribution to surfboard design and performance.

Highly influenced by pioneering watermen such as Pete Peterson, Lorrin “Whitey” Harrison and Gard Chapin (Miki Dora’s stepdad), Quigg fell right into the L.A. surf life of the 1930s.

“When I was 6 and 7 years old, I watched Peterson ride at the Santa Monica pier. He lifeguarded there and jumped in from the pier. He was just magic to me—so easy, so talented, and such a great athlete,” recalled Quigg in a 1998 Surfer’s Journal interview with Steve Pezman. “Lorrin Harrison would come up to see Peterson. He was a little wilder in his mannerisms and his personality—the way he surfed. He’d wave and jump and tear all around. When he was young he was quite a wild guy. Peterson was a better surfer, but he didn’t try to be wild like that. I thought Gard Chapin was the living end. When I started going to San Onofre, Hermosa, and Palos Verdes, I’d see him there and he would come up to Malibu and just run circles around everyone.”

During World War II, Quigg spent four years in the Navy, eventually returning to Santa Monica in 1947. It’s during this time after the war that Quigg began focusing more of his time around Malibu and designing boards with the likes of Bob Simmons and Matt Kivlin.

In ’47, Quigg crafted an experimental balsa-redwood hybrid for Darrylin Zanuck, daughter of Hollywood mogul Darryl Zanuck. Thinner and lighter than any other boards of the era, the 25-pound “Darrylin” model became the precursor to the Malibu chip. 

It’s during this time that Quigg and Simmons also began to develop the first polyurethane foam-core boards, an all-fiberglass fin, and a narrow-base raked-back fin. He also began to develop the first pintails, designed to handle better in bigger surf.

Quigg opened a production-retail surfboard shop in Santa Monica in 1950, followed by a shop in Honolulu in 1953, after he relocating to Oahu. He moved his shop to Newport Beach from 1959 to 1969 before returning back to Hawaii.

Settled in the Islands, Quigg continued to design and built aquatic craft of all types, including boats, canoes. He eventually retired from full-time production in 1987. 

On Quigg’s passing, shapers and surfers with a reverence for the foundational cultural icons had much to say about the man, though as is often the case, Matt Warshaw’s was the most thoughtful take: 

In 1947, Joe Quigg, one year out of the navy, was a GI Bill photography student at Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles. He was also a weekend boardmaker. No other 22-year-old in America had as much surfing experience; Quigg made himself a bellyboard at age four and had been riding waves ever since. He was a solid performer and was earning a reputation as a first-rate craftsman too. It might take a few weeks, months even, to get a Joe Quigg surfboard, but each one was a thing of beauty.

That summer, Quigg got a board request from Tommy Zahn, his best friend and fellow navy vet. Zahn had just started dating Darrylin Zanuck, the tiny blond 17-year-old daughter of Twentieth Century Fox mogul Darryl Zanuck. Zahn asked Quigg to make a board small and light enough for Darrylin herself to load into the backseat of her new Chrysler Town and Country convertible and drive up to Malibu. That would be the first Malibu chip. ⠀

The boards Quigg helped design during this period were first and foremost a better-riding—light and forgiving. But they were also a touchstone for a group of surfers who helped to change the sport’s disposition. In the hands of people like George Freeth, Tom Blake, Bob Simmons, surfing often looked to be the province of loners and misfits. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, and they helped give the still-new sport its own particular energy and independence.⠀

But Quigg and the rest of the chip innovators were closer in spirit to Duke Kahanamoku. They smiled their way through the whole process, from designing boards to wave-riding. They were sociable. They opened things up to girls and beginners, and managed the difficult trick—rarely managed in decades to come—of presenting the sport as both cool and friendly.⠀

Joe Quigg died yesterday, five days short of his 96th birthday.

“Thank you Joe Quigg. One of the architects of the modern surfboard,” wrote Chris Gentile. “innovator of the sailboard, master craftsmen, outrigger canoe builder, body surfer, photographer, sailor, and gentleman. Thank you for your contributions to our world from an extraordinary life lived. Rest In peace and paradise.


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