John Kelly and his Patented Surfboard, the Hydroplane

John Kelly, a notable figure in the world of surfing, and also the founder (along with Sparky Scheufele) of the environmental group Save Our Surf in 1961, made several contributions to the sport. One of his more memorable innovations was the hydroplane surfboard, which he patented in 1963 and when it was in production could be purchased at Inter-Island  Surf Shop tm.

John Kelly was credited, along with Fran Heath, Woody Brown, and Wally Froiseth, for creating the Hot Curl style boards in 1937.

Kelly’s patented hydroplane board was one of 250 that he made. The design aimed to combine the speed of a longboard with the maneuverability of a shortboard. It featured a slightly raised tail section, breaking the bottom surface into two parts separated by a hydroplane step:

  • A longitudinally flat surface for high-speed planing.
  • A curved surface at the tail for high-drag, low-speed turning.

Although the model didn’t catch on widely, Kelly continued to ride these boards for as long as he surfed. Few of them remain today, and they are considered collectible items.

While it didn’t revolutionize surfing globally, it demonstrated his continued drive to innovate and the hydroplane concept allowed Kelly to experiment with new approaches to surfboard design and wave riding.

The Illustration accompanying this article comes from the Inter-Island Surf Shop tm advertisement in the December/January 1965 issue of Surfing Hawaii