Surfing was very different in the 1950s, mainly because our boards weren’t buoyant enough to carry your weight when you stood on them. They were made of a very light wood and were long and narrow (see the pictures on the right). They floated, but only just enough to support your body a tiny bit.
So, in those days, when a good wave came in, you paddled like mad (with the upper half of your body lying on the surfboard) and, if you managed to catch the wave, you surfed in to the beach lying face down on the board.
Apparently it’s called “belly board surfing” nowadays. Here’s a lighthearted video from the World Bellyboard Championships in England: www.youtube.com/watch?v=hChI5TzKSrU
Probably the worst thing that could happen was catching a “dumper”. A dumper is a wave that has such vertical force that you can be thrown deep enough to hit the bottom, which is really dangerous, of course (you could be knocked out and drown).
But a dumper is even more dangerous with an old fashioned wooden surfboard, because the board can dive down, too. If the tip of the board hit the sand, you could just about be cut in half.
We also did “body surfing” (which is still done today). With body surfing, you don’t have a board at all. You swim like mad and, if you can get far enough forward in the wave and “nose down”, it can carry you all the way into shore. Here’s a video with instructions on how to body surf: www.youtube.com/watch?v=LcipN_n4cJY, and here’s another one showing real experts doing it: www.youtube.com/watch?v=EblpNV_13Jc.
By the way, no wetsuits in those days, and we didn’t use flippers (although they were starting to become available at that time).