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Surfers rely on petroleum to build surfboards, to coat them in wax and to get to the beach!

Surfers rely on petroleum to build surfboards, to coat them in wax and to get to the beach!

Nobody knows when the Polynesians invented surfing, but during the first voyage of famed British explorer Captain James Cook back in 1767, European shipmates made written recordings describing the way some Tahitians rode the waves on wooden planks.

For almost 200 years, surfboards were made out of wood from koa trees. They were about 15 feet long and incredibly heavy, which limited the number of people who could take part in the sport. Without the inventive application of petroleum-based products, it’s fair to say that surfing would’ve never taken off the way it has across the world. Also, nimbly cutting through waves large and small while pulling off aerial tricks with small, super-light modern boards would be nothing more than a pipe dream.

Thankfully, a British engineer working for an insulation company in the early 1960s invented the first polystyrene surfboard. They evolved quickly from there, getting smaller and lighter every decade or so. As the shape and weight of boards changed, the sport got, well, more sporty! Smaller boards allowed surfers to adopt a lower, more aggressive stance, all while getting closer to the wave than ever before.

Today, surfboards are amazingly lighter and shorter than the original models, with longboards tending to be between 7 and 9 feet long and only weighing between 5 and 7 pounds. That’s because modern surfboards are made of polyurethane or polystyrene foam, then covered with layers of fiberglass cloth and polyester or epoxy resin. All of that futuristic, petroleum-based material makes for a graceful and resilient surfboard that’s both buoyant and agile.

Recent developments in surfboard technology include carbon fiber and Kevlar composite boards.

They all come in many different shapes, depending on the size, experience and style of rider. However, all are now designed with one or more fins on the bottom rear of the board, which improves directional stability.

But owning a surfboard isn’t all the gear you need to go surfing. Surfboard wax is a necessity. Synthetic surf wax has to be applied to the deck of a surfboard to help keep the surfer from slipping off the board when paddling out, not to mention riding a wave.

And just in case you’re wondering — yes, they make shark repellent surfboard wax.