Lonely Planet Writer

Gold Coast museum in Australia imports 'world's oldest surfboard' from Peru

One of surfing’s most enduring functional boards down the millennia – the Peruvian Caballito de Totora – has become the central attraction at the Surf World Museum on the Gold Coast.

The 5000 year old surf board which have been part of Peruvian culture
The 5,000 year old surf board from Peru is currently on display in the Gold Coast in Australia by Miguel Vera León / CC BY 2.0

The large exhibition at Currumbin has succeeded in getting the famed South American item – named the world’s oldest surfboard, to spearhead a major collection of memorabilia.  The Sydney Morning Herald reports that the Caballito de Totora board which translates as the ‘Little Reed Horse’ has been part of Peruvian culture for over 5000 years. Traditionally, it was used as a boat by fisherman to navigate past the tidal breaks to where the fish were congregated. The curve of the board was then used to get them past the breakers on their return towards the shore.

Surfing is now mostly done for fun but in Peru, the shape of the d c d meant fisherman could get out past the tide to catch fish
Surfing is now mostly done for fun but in Peru, the shape of the Caballito de Totora meant fisherman could get out past the tidal wash to catch fish Image by Fabio Venni / CC BY 2.0

Andrew McKinnon, the Gold Coast World Surfing Reserve chairman, came into contact with the board when he visited the South American country last year. Amazed at how it is revered in Peruvian culture, he began working to get it over to Australia so that the ancient watercraft could be exhibited. “It’s like what the kangaroo is to Australia,” he explained.

Unable to get a freight company to ferry the 14ft reed board across, surfboard bags were filled up with reeds and the board was constructed in Australia. Huevito Ucanan, a 43-year-old Peruvian fisherman came over from the town of Huanchaco, to Australia. Remarkably, he was able to build the board from scratch in less than two hours at a Sydney beach. Mr McKinnon said it was incredible to watch the handcraft of the man, whose only implements were a small cutting knife and a few pieces of string. The fisherman is the 500th descendant from the pre-Inca Moche civilization. He began, as a 12-year-old, learning how to make Caballito de Totora boards.