Surf mats opened the way to bodyboarding in the 1960s

Bodyboarding
Mat surfing: the original prone riding

In the beginning, water sports fanatics were riding a mat. No wax, no design, no hard slick bottoms, no leash. Just pure fun in the waves. Mat surfing is celebrating its 80th anniversary.

The magic carpet that glided over the surface of the waves had its glory days a long time ago. George Greenough is widely considered the father of modern mat surfing, although he is not the inventor of the object itself.

In the early 1960s, the creative rider born in Santa Barbara had already given birth to kneeboards. The air mattress revolution soon followed.

Greenough was not a fan of standup surfing. He believed you could feel the speed, power, and excitement of the waves if you were riding them with your eyes a few inches away from the water.

"The funny thing about mats is that they're the easiest thing to surf on a basic, beginner level, but they're the hardest thing to surf on an advanced level," George Greenough once told.

"It takes 10 years of experience before you can drive them anywhere near their potential. I've been riding mats day-in and day-out for over 50 years, and I'm still learning things."

"I've never been bored riding a mat, ever. They're just too challenging and too much fun."

Kelp, bumpy waters, swimmers, beach toys. A mat - and its variable shape - can easily adapt to any obstacle, except for rocks and reefs.

Surf mats: making the headlines in the 1930s

Surfoplane: Created in 1933

The original inflatable mattress usually had four or five tubes running its length.

The first brand in the market was Surfoplane. The company claims the introduction of mats in Australia in the early 1930s.

"The Surfoplane was invented in Australia by a Dr. Ernest Smithers and first demonstrated on Bondi Beach, in 1933," the brand explains on its official page.

"With the backing of Dr. Smithers's hero, the famous aviator Sir Charles Kingsford Smith, the Surfoplane was quickly adopted by beachgoers across Australia and beyond."

Contemporary bodyboarders will discover the roots of their sport in these mats. The early wave sports enthusiasts were "riding on air, in the surf."

Mat surfers: discussing the best air mat shapes | Photo: UK Mat Surfers

Surf mats: the original 4th Gear Flyer from the 1980s

The truth is surf mats have been around for 80 years. When Tom Morey introduced bodyboards in the early 1970s, consumers fell in love with the new sponge-shaped gear.

Air mattresses deflated but haven't died.

Today, the cotton fabric boards are still available in the market and waiting for you in the lineup.

Paul Gross, the founder of 4th Gear Flyer, has been keeping the sport alive for 30 years, as well as a hardcore community of mat fans - like the UK Mat Surfers.

Gross, the man who has built over 1000 mats, is a passionate rider.

His website teaches us how to manipulate the air pressure as you ride, the ideal positioning on a mat, and many turning techniques, with the help of traditional swim fins.

Are you ready to get barreled on a mat?

Paul Gross: keeping the dream alive with 4th Gear Flyer

The Summer Surf Gear Guide 2021