This paper contributes to an emerging postcolonial literature on the history of surfing by documenting the material cultural practice of surfboard making across Hawai‘i, California and Australia. It outlines what is known of precolonial surfboard-making practices in Hawai‘i and then traces important 20th-century advances in design. In contrast to popular histories of surfing that emphasise Hawaiian ‘tradition’ versus Californian and Australian ‘innovators’, this paper establishes the links, exchanges and information flows that informed evolving practices of surfboard making. Such links, exchanges and information flows were trans-Pacific in nature, even from the early 20th century, and were utterly dependent on both Hawaiian antecedents and contemporary innovations. Although not without contestation, the emergence of surfboard making as a 20th-century trans-Pacific cultural industry was premised on generosity, a sense of artisan brotherhood and an omnipresent thirst in distant corners of the Pacific Ocean for a better way to ride its waves.