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A Paipo Interview with Andy Bick

Paipo Glide: paipo rider and builder

A Paipo Interview with Andy Bick
April 7 and 8, 2011 - Cornwall, England
E-mail interview by Bob Green

"This man felt the most supreme pleasure while he was driven so fast and smoothly by the sea" - William Anderson, Tahiti 1777. Also experienced today, 234 years later riding my poplar wood Paipo Glide at Saunton - Pete Robinson.
1. When and where did you start surfing?
1973 Takara - North Efate,Vanuatu (previously New Hebrides).
2. What boards were you riding in these early days?
These would have been long boards brought up from Australia by my school friend's family. They owned a farm at Takara and their house was set back about 100 yards from the beach. The reef was exposed at low tide but we would start surfing as the tide came in taking care when we fell off not to gash ourselves on the reef. The farm was close to Quoin Hill which was an American airbase during WWII. There was an exposed sandbank about 400 yards off the beach which must have been used as target practice as we used to collect ammunition and shell cases off the beach and reef.

At the beginning of 1974, a cyclone hit North Efate sending huge waves crashing into the coast. At 2 o'clock in the morning I awoke to the sound of breaking glass and a stream of water running through the bedroom. Every seventh wave was surrounding the house. Suddenly the sea crashed into the living room and I was waist deep in water. I remember climbing onto a medicine shelf and looking down into this whirlpool which was sweeping a large Chinese carved box round and round the room. When the wave subsided we were evacuated to some farm buildings located further inland. The next day the house was rubble and all the belongings were now in a newly formed swamp behind the house. Strangely the surfboards were unharmed and we used them to paddle around the swamp collecting possessions.
3. Did you have exposure to paipo before returning to the UK?
I suppose I might have had a zippy board.

When did you return to Cornwall?

The long hot summer of 1976 - I thought great - the weather here is not so bad - how wrong I was! There has never been a summer like that one since.
4. There is a long history of British bellyboarding. Was this your inspiration for making wooden paipo or was there another source?
No, it wasn't - although bellyboarding and surfing exploits by my Perranporth family are well documented. My mother's aunt was a keen bellyboarder in the 1930s - her husband used to make boards out of coffin lids. Her uncle built a hollow wooden board in the early 1950s. This was so heavy he had to use a little cart to wheel it down the beach to the water - so maybe a switch in the genes! [See Note 1.]

I couldn't consciously tell you how or why I decided to make boards - I suppose I just got fed up with the sponge body boards. But I think the confirmation provided by Rod, Larry, Roger and Chris (Haradza - also known as Tumak and Logjammer) that I was not alone in wanting a performance prone vehicle was my main inspiration.

How long had you been riding a bodyboard for and what was your first paipo?

Bellyboards since the late-1970s. In the 1990s, I would borrow a bodyboard occasionally (but the 1990s was all about scuba!) - didn't get the Morey Wedge 'til around 2004/5.

A 30-year old Piran bellyboard Andy rode from the late 1970s and his modern day interpretation.

Photos courtesy Andy Bick
5. Had you made fibreglass boards before you moved to wood?
No, although I have now had 2 bio-foam blanks prepared for me that I have turned into Paipo Fishes. Foam is a different ball game than wood though, fingernails are not an option. It makes you appreciate how skilful the foam shapers are.

Andy's first board 'Nambawan' and biofoam blank.

6. When did you start making wooden boards?

Was this an idea that you had in your head for a while or less planned than that?

It's hard to say. I had done very little surfing in the nineties as I was completely tied up with scuba diving. I had given up teaching but still needed to get into the sea. I had always taken out the belly board with fins but found myself buying a Morey Wedge. After one particularly gnarly session at Fistral in April cold white water, infuriated that I couldn't duck dive, or get where I wanted to be, I decided I would either give it up or do something about it. I think I searched for fibre glass bodyboards and found Larry's, Rod's and Roger Wayland's sites and discovered paipo! I cannot say I consciously decided to make paipos - the concept must have come in a dream or day-dream or something - I had no money to buy/commission one (had already spent my allowance on a $200 Morey!!) so the logical step was to make one. The local boat building college had axed its surfboard building course so looking on Swaylocks for a step by step guide I discovered Paul Jensen.
7. How long does it take to make one of your boards?
The hollow one is easily 40 hours plus - but I don't work fast. A bellyboard takes about 2 but then there's the time taken to rub in several coats of oil and fine sanding

What is the construction method and what woods do you prefer?

The hollow boards consist of a sandwich laminate of wood and glass skins over an airplane wing like construction (well documented now on the web). I put a certain amount of tension into the boards when I epoxy the skin to the skeleton and once the rails have been laid you have a very strong board. I make finless paipos as well as the finned paipo fish. The fish is the fastest board!

Paipo Glide Fish. 

Andy's description: The hollow paipos are laminated ply or balsa and are positively buoyant. The designs are based on my interpretation of what a bodyboard should be, and ride beautifully. The twin fin fish performs exceptionally.
Board dimensions:
47 x 20.5 x 1.5 inches. Above all, these boards are the definition of fun and look great, too!

Photos by Andy Bick.

I have used 4mm ply and balsa for the hollow paipos. I have been fortunate enough to have been supplied with balsa that has been grown at the Eden Project here in Cornwall. I find it incredible that I have been making surfboards from wood grown in a greenhouse. I love shaping balsa, but again, the fingernails get in the way. For the bellyboards I have been used jelutong, paulownias and tulip wood (American Poplar) from local timber merchants. I have to say I prefer the densities of the jelutong and tulipwood over the paulownias which I find is almost too light.
8. Has there been much evolution and design from the first board?
An incredible amount of evolution! I was so proud of that first board and posted it on Larry's site. It worked though and it was such a vibe to ride a board that I'd built. Very heavy, wide and thick though. And very spinny!! Wood boards don't need to have the same thickness as the standard bodyboard so subsequent boards are a lot lighter and thinner

If so, in what ways?

The latest boards do differ from the first ones - at the time I was so proud of them. The shapes are much more refined. I still surf them though. The older boards were much thicker, wider heavier. I also went through a phase of bending a lot of rocker into the boards - the rocker is a bit more subtle now. I continue to play with bottom concaves and my latest development has been fins.

Heading out with wood underarm.

Photo by Andy Bick.

Any new designs on the drawing board?

I am really into the paipo fish so will be going along that angle and exploring fin design as well.

My current obsession are the classic Cornish bellyboards. So I'm trying to fashion the perfect bellyboard within the limitations of being 4 to 5 foot x 1 foot. I'll take these boards out back wearing fins in 5 to 6 foot surf and get strange looks from the stand-up guys. but these boards are so much fun! These are nice and quick to make, too, rather than the 40+ hour odyssey it takes to build the hollow paipos.

Modern interpretation of an old design: "I started making solid paipos/alaias as prizes for the bellyboarding championships in 2009."

Photos by Andy Bick.

For Rod's benefit, I am also thinking about the pointy noses although it is bloody hard to make a balsa rail bend beyond a certain radius and I'm not a fan of nose/tail blocks .
9. What are your thoughts on what does and doesn't work on a paipo?
My 6-foot hollow alaia is a bit of a pig!

Other than that most of my designs tend to work for some reason. I am not an engineer and although I'm fascinated by quantum physics it doesn't come into play with my board design. If truth be told one of the inspirations (along with sharks) are Sung Dynasty bowls (which have never been emulated). I am a firm believer in if it looks right it probably is right. When you look at a Spitfire you instinctively know it's going to go. And it's strange to see the solid boards becoming more and more like the ancient Hawaiian designs. I think it is presumptuous of us today to believe that we are making better boards than they used to. If I can ever add anything to those ancient shapes it will be a miracle - but a pleasure!

P.S. Sharp noses are good for duck diving - we have a lot of beach breaks here.

Sharp nosed solid paipo

Photo courtesy Andy Bick.
10. What do you mean by the wooden boards making a "wonderful sound" when they are surfed?
The boards are hollow and tensioned and therefore like a guitar or drum make a great noise when hit by the water and waves.
11. Who has been buying your boards - local surfers, collectors?

Who are some of the guys who ride your boards well and what sort of waves are your boards ideally suited to? ?

John Navin, Martin Yelland, Leigh Evans and Richard Smith.

Well we mainly get beach breaks here and the boards go well in those - especially paddling out. Also fast enough to make next sections of the wave. I'd love to see a much better rider than me ride the waves in Hawaii - I'm sure the boards would too!

John Nevin - Cornwall

Photos by Mike Newman of
12. Do you see many guys riding bellyboards or paipo in Britain?
Paipos no. There is a big bellyboarding culture here as demonstrated by the World Bellyboarding Championships which are fantastic. But I am into prone boarding, but with fins, and for this country - wetsuits.
13. What is a Piran bellyboard?
Piran bellyboards were branded by Piran Surf. The shop still exists in Perranporth - I don't know if they still do them - I'll try and find out. Piran Surf was set up by John Heath and it used to be a hardware store. Now John used to and still does surf quite a long bellyboard which consists of 3 or 4 strips of wood not unlike an old wood crate lid. He has even kept the square nose. John would be a mine of information for you if you could contact him.

John Heath at left with a coffin lid and unidentified surfing friend.

Photo by:

I'm interested to hear more about traditional British bellyboarding - who build and ride the boards and where are they ridden?

I only stepped into bellyboards at the last World Championships when I created 3 boards using the Piran surf board as a template. I did not put in the nose lift as I feel it is superfluous - over the last 30 years the Piran surfboard has lost its lift and still performs well! I personally don't hold with doing direct imitations but the boards did provoke a lot of interest I suppose because of the familiar shape. So I'm hoping they'll form a bridge of introduction to my more personal performance related designs. Of course, I am enjoying using the classic bellyboard proportions to push though my own take on the design. I'm not contemplating nose lifts (this is sacrilegious to some) but I am trying to give a purer shape to the nose. I also work on defining the rail and started looking at tail options.

Jack Johns, a bodyboarder from Penzance, was crowned the 2010 bellyboard champion.

Above: Jack with his Original Surfboard Company board
which he rode in the championships. Also in the photo are
two trophies which he won. Photo by James Ram,
courtesy of Sally Parkin,
Original Surfboard Company.

Right: Andy Bick made two boards as prizes. The board
on the left is one of Andy's boards presented as a prize.

Photo courtesy of Andy Bick.

14. Many of the photos I have seen are of people in the shallows catching small waves. I have heard of a technique where these boards are swum out and then a swimming style stroke is used to catch waves. Do you see this style around much?
Again the only guy I witnessed doing this is John Heath who will go out of his depth and catches waves - without fins.
15. How do your boards differ from bellyboards in the way they ride?
They are faster with more glide! I take bellyboards out using fins (flippers) but find that in over 5 foot the board becomes a narrow bit of wood! Surfable but you have to fight to control it more. But it may just be my level of surfing. My solid paipos/alaias run between 4.5 to 5 foot and 16" at the widest point and it is a different ball game! Rail to rail, tight turns, and making sections. There is so much more control. My favourite is a 5-foot board that I cut a fish tail into -- this board flies. It's like you think "I want to be there and the board just takes you there."
16. Any surfs or waves stand out that you rode on your boards?
I remember when I realised when I was onto something when I took my B3 design to Praa sands and caught a fairly clean right hander, bottom turned and came back off the lip 3 or 4 times.
17. What has been the attraction of making and riding paipo?
I didn't realise how satisfying it was to surf a board that you have made - I think most surfers should have a go at least once - if only to truly understand what an amazing piece of equipment their shaper creates them for so little cost.

Modern solid bellyboards. 

Photos by Andy Bick.
18. Any other comments?
I don't just see the surfboard as just a surfboard - I see it as a sculptural piece. Obviously it is incredibly important that it functions as a surfboard, and that it functions well as a surfboard, but it also has to function as a work of art. At a physical level the board is a tactile entity, visually, there is the interplay of form with shape. Spiritually the board represents a metaphysical link to the ancient Polynesian surfboard sculptor/craftsman and the ceremony, often religious, involved in the creation of the board. It's also a protest against the mass produced production line product. And the boards are fun to ride!"

I have been thinking about handboards... :)

Note 1: : Andy's great Uncle was George Tamlyn who along with William Saunders had met South African surfers while serving in World War I. After the war bellyboards became popular at Perranporth. Andy's grandparents, Olive (nee Westcott) and Roy Tamlyn rode bellyboards in the 1930s, as did Olive's brother Arthur. Her other brother, George married Roy's sister, Hilda, another bellyboarder. Roy's other sister, Winnefrid (WIn) also rode a bellyboard and married Tom Tremewan a local coffin maker who would go on to build hundreds of wooden boards. For more information see:

Cornish boards in the Perranzabulop Museum and Arthur Westcott's board

Photos courtesy of Cornish surfboards - Perranzabulop Museum and Arthur's surfboard.

Feel free to send me suggestions, comments and additional information to: The Paipo Interviews

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