A Paipo Interview with Buzzy Kneubuhl
April 15, 2011 - Pukalani, Maui, Hawaii
E-mail interview by Bob Green
“BUZZY” BENJAMIN FRANKLIN KNEUBUHL III
Born Jan 7th, 1946, Manoa, Oahu, passed away
Feb 22nd, 2012, due to a suspected heart attack outside Sprecklesville,
Maui on a 9-mile down wind paddle in his one-man outrigger canoe. At
the time he was paddling and riding ocean swells in 30-knot winds from
Maliko to Kahului Harbour with a friend.
Many children growing up in Hawaii in the 1960s rode simple ply paipo -
Buzzy was no different. He soon progressed onto riding stand-up at Ala
Moana and other South shore spots. Later on Maui he windsurfed and more
recently has been kitesurfing. He has again caught the paipo bug and
speaks of his re-connecting with paipo boarding. The boards are no longer ply
but the same stoke is experienced.
|1. How did you first get
started surfing? When and where was this?
Like most kids growing up in Hawaii I was around the ocean from small
kid time. After college and during the years of WWII, my Dad hung out
with the Waikiki beach boys surfing and fishing all over the south
shore of Oahu. He is half Samoan and he got along well with the
Hawaiian beach boys and later was involved with Waikiki Surf Club along
with George [Downing] and Wally [Froiseth] [see Note 1].
So it was natural for him to take us kids to Waikiki Beach and get us
ma’a [used to] to the ocean. Right in front of the
Royal Hawaiian Hotel
was where I caught my first wave on a plywood paipo at age 7 or 8, and
from then to now it’s been a “life sentence” to surfing. As a
10-year-old grom this was probably around 1957-58. I hung out at a
the middle of Waikiki Beach called Hale AuAu [see editor's note]. This place was a
shower/locker room that catered mostly to servicemen but rented
surfboard lockers to locals. It was convenient to keep a board right
there by the beach and my locker was 147. So this was my base of
operations until I joined the Waikiki Surf Club just a few doors down.
Buzzy with his paipo.
Photo courtesy of Buzzy Kneubuhl.
2. Did you ride paipo boards in these early days? What
were these boards like and how were they made? Who do you remember
riding paipo and where would you mainly find paipo riders surfing?
Benny Kneubuhl, surfing Mâili Point on Oahu’s leeward shore in the early 1960s.
“He was probably in his mid-40s then and a fairly good surfer as shown by his classic trim style. He is ninety three and
lives part time on Oahu and the Big Island with my two sisters; his memory is still sharp and he tells a good story of times
Photo by Clarence "Mac" Maki.
I learned to surf at Queens and Canoes on 8 to 9 foot balsa boards,
pre-foam, pre-leash and no crowds. Ten people at Queens was crowded. My
summer days were spent honing my chops at these spots. Being a goofy
foot I could still ride the Queens rights no problem. I would try to
imitate the hot older guys like the Kekai bros, Rabbit and Jama
[Jammer], Richard Kauo and Maurice Ikeda. I also spent countless
sessions surfing Queens with BK [Barry Kana’iaupuni] and his crew of
friends. My Dad, seeing how much I loved surfing decided to start
surfing again after a few years layoff and we began building balsa
boards. Our garage at our Manoa Valley home was converted into our
surfshop and for 10 years my Dad built boards for him, me, and some of
My most cherished memories are of my Dad and I heading to Waikiki for
an evening surf, driving down Punahou Hill and being able to see the
whole south shore, not one highrise building!! Queens and Canoes were
our regular spots and the cast of characters surfing then was the cream
of the crop. George and Wally, Joey Cabell, Kimo Hollinger, Kenny
Tilton and the best of them all, Paul Strauch Jr., a hall of famer if
there ever was one. So Queens and Canoes were my first “home” spots and
the streets surrounding Waikiki were where we roamed. It was a great
time and place to grow up surfing!!!
Buzzy at Canoes circa 1958/58 before his Ala Moana
Photo by Clarence "Mac" Maki.
As mentioned earlier my first waves were ridden on a crude plywood
paipo in front of the Royal. The years following this were all spent on
surfboards that my Dad built. But there was an epicenter for paipos in
Waikiki and this was the “Wall.” The Wall gang were all locals who rode
flat plywood paipos. This spot had a short, shallow peeling right that
broke in front of this massive cement pier and the crew would have a
great time riding prone and sometimes standing up like the famous Val
Ching [see Note 2].
3. Did you keep riding paipo boards or did your focus change
The older guys like Wally and company would ride “big” Waikiki at
Publics and Cunhas. There were also pockets of paipo riders at
Makapu’u, around Makaha and maybe on the North Shore. I didn’t surf the
North Shore until I was 13, so I can’t be positive about paipos there
but guarantee during the mid- to late-1960’s they were charging Sunset and
Laniakea as the old Val Valentine footage indicates [see Note
I heard that you recalled Wally Froiseth riding
Makaha. What do you remember about Wally's paipo and surfing at Makaha?
I was impressed by the screaming down-the-line speed of the early Wally
boards which appeared to be thin, flat balsa boards with a low,
semicircular wooden handle just aft of the nose. In the late-1950’s these
were state of the art. Truth be told, my friends and I paid little
attention to paipos. Our thinking was why ride a paipo like the kids at
the Wall when you could ride a surfboard at all the best breaks around
Wally Froiseth and one of his paipo, circa 1956.
Photo courtsey Wally Froiseth.
Since we were building boards at home my focus was completely on
surfboards. But there was a small contingent of paipo riders who were
pushing the limits on these experimental craft all over the island. I’m
pretty sure the Makaha Surf Meet had a paipo division to showcase the
best riders of the day. As I grew older and better as a surfer we
started making the long walk/paddle from Waikiki Beach down to Ala
Moana which was a goofyfoot heaven. When we finally got to drive at age
15 we made Ala Moana our home. The harbour parking lot was ground zero
for our crew and Alamo was the best left on the south shore. This break
is where I saw the best waves and surfing of my young career. There
were so many good surfers and there were no magazines or cameras. We
still had “Garbage Hole” on the west side of the boat channel which for
those unfamiliar with this spot was a pitching, hollow, shallow right
barrel with a more longer, forgiving left. If it were still rideable
today it would be a bodysurf/ paipo/ boogie dream wave, it was that
good. But alas, the tip of Magic Island sits right where the wave
broke. Ah, but I digress.
The absolute king of Alamo in the early-1960’s was Donald “Bird Nest”
Takayama and right behind him came Sammy Lee, Conrad Canha, Jose Angel
and Paul Strauch Jr.. And right behind them came a dozen more rippers.
The spot just attracted the best surfers from all over the island.
Donald Takayama at Ala Moana, November 1961.
taken by LeRoy Grannis, November 26, 1961. Photo used with permission
of John Grannis. This photograph also appeared in the book: Grannis,
LeRoy, Jim Heimann, and Steve Barilotti. 2007. Leroy Grannis: surf photography of the 1960s and 1970s. Köln: Taschen. And in: Hulet, Scott [As told to]. (2008, Winter). First Person: Donald Takayama. The Surfer’s Journal, 17(6), 29.
Conrad Canha at
Canoes (below left) and Sammy Lee at Ala Moana (below right).
Photo on left by Clarence "Mac" Maki. Photo on right: Unknown. (1963, June/July). Sammy Lee Ala Moana Hawaii [Photograph]. In Surfer Bi-Monthly, 4(3), cover.
Conrad Canha at Ala Moana.
Photo by Tim McCullough.
4. When did you move to Maui?
I got married to a high school [Punahou]
sweetheart in 1966, and in 1968, moved to Maui where I have lived ever
since, first in Kula and now in Pukalani. I got divorced in 1970, and
was a rolling stone until I married my lovely wife Robyn, in 1977.
5. You've also ridden windsurfers and kites. What have
you enjoyed about these surfcraft?
Buzzy with some kiteboards at his shop.
Photo courtsey Buzzy Kneubuhl.
I grew into adulthood on Maui and really diversified my interests. I
have hanglided, paraglided, windsurfed and kitesurfed. A few years ago
I got into one-man outrigger canoes and riding windchop downwind on
Maui’s north shore. Some fun that!! I have built surfboards,
sailboards, kiteboards, bodyboards and Greenough Spoons.
6. I'd heard you have been getting into paipo recently?
What type of boards have you been riding?
and Buzzy's shaping bay.
Photo courtesy Buzzy Kneubuhl.
I continue to ride longboards but my latest addiction are paipos or
what I like to call "prone surfboards" since they are of foam/fiberglass
construction. And the desire to ride prone is what we call
”paipossessed!!” Around 1990, I investigated the world of boogie boards
and for 4 years was wired tight to that craft. I bought a new Super
Turbo boogie board from the Russ Brown shop on Oahu and loved it.
Riding prone again was such a gas!! Then I made a foam/fiberglass
version of the Super Turbo that worked on bigger and more powerful
waves. This was a great change from long board riding. After this phase
the other aforementioned sports took over and now I have come full
circle back to the love of prone riding. Which leads us back into the
world of board design.
7. What do you know about the WaveArrow boards and how
My recent first attempt at designing a paipo came out with
a few obvious flaws which became clear the first few times I used it.
What I thought would work only worked part way for my type of surfing.
The board is 4 foot long, 22 inches wide, maybe 1.75 inches thick and
traditional paipo shape of a round nose and large square tail with
semi-parallel rails and twin fins (see the board in the photo below
right). Where I went wrong was not holding a hard
edge from nose to tail and not leaving enough flotation. It would work
so much better if those features were in place.
Buzzy's paipo boards.
Photo courtesy Buzzy Kneubuhl
My new paipo buddy, Robert Moynier [see Note 4], turned
me on to the WaveArrow website and Gus Acosta’s new design. I was blown
away. I had to try one so I built my own version and this design to me
is the future of prone surfboards. What I want in a board is good
floatation for paddling power and comfort; a board that carves bottom
turns and cutbacks like a surfboard and has the speed of a dragster.
Well, this design does all those things. The only flaw so far is that
due to it’s thickness it doesn’t duck-dive as well as I would like.
I’ve taken a few poundings in the impact zone!! But since my comfort
zone is 2 to 6 feet, duck-diving isn’t a big issue so far. I’m already
thinking about the things that I might improve on my next board and I
have upgraded my board building room to make all phases of construction
better. Mahalo ia oe o Gus no keia paipo hou; thanks go to Gus for this
new paipo!!! The WaveArrow design is very well planned out with a new
age outline and exotic tri-hull bottom and twin fins. Defies old school
mentality. See more photographs here.
8. Do you see other paipo riders these days?
quiver with Gus Acosta and a prototype
Photo courtesy Gus Acosta - www.wavearrow.com
What I see going on with riders on thin wooden boards and the Paipo Nui
carbon boards is unwanted body drag from lack of floatation. My riding
style is to be up and out of the water with the least amount of body
drag possible. The WaveArrow design makes this possible. But to each
his own. Find what works for you and build it or buy it and ride some
waves and be happy; that is the main thing. We can all be picky and
snobby about what we ride but at the end of the day it is the person
who is content and happy with his waveriding experience that has a
smile on his face.
Lifeguard Rick on a WaveArrow
Photo courtesy Gus Acosta - www.wavearrow.com
Everyone is into Boogies these days; "paipos for the masses." Morey must
be smiling all the way to the bank. Good for him!!! On Maui, paipo
riders are a rare sight. My good buddy Sean Ross who absolutely killed
big Pipe in the 1980s, is probably the only Paipo Nui rider on the island
and rarely gets wet for lack of friends to join him. This could change
when he sees how much fun the modern boards are and the wide range of
waves that are rideable on them. Hopefully we can keep the flame
burning for a few more years!!!
9. What has been the attraction of riding a paipo and
what waves do you like surfing?
Sean Ross - Pipeline.
|Buzzy wrote of his friend,
"we worked together for years as longshoremen and shared many a
lunchtime swim workout; it would be an honor to include a foto of him.
In his hayday he was an unsung hero mashing heavy pipe on his potato
chip with no game plan to follow from riders before him. He also shared
lifeguard duties with a former king of Pipe, "Black" Butch Van
Artsdalen at Ehukai Beach so he was right at home in heavy water."
Photo courtesy Bud McCray.
I have yet to test my paipo skills at the major breaks here on Maui.
Crowds and competition turn me off. I surf semi-secret, marginal waves
suited more for paipos and I like that fine. As skills and conditioning
improve we will most likely seek out more quality waves. My favorite is
3 to 6 foot; that is nuff. After 50 years of surfing I pass on the gnarly
10. Any other comments about paipo, surfing or life
Fun, safety, and the overall water experience are what count. I try to
look at the bigger picture when I paddle out; the feel of the ocean
water and the sun; the power of the ocean moving around me and some of
the social things like talking to people and sharing waves. I guess
that is what age brings. Slowing things down and enjoying the moment.
But…. as soon as I drop in all those old synapses start firing and it
is business as usual; bottom turns, cut backs, off-the-lips and
down-the-line screamers; then the slow, reflective kick-paddle back out
for another round of the juice. Like Lopez said, “surf stoke is a
lifetime sentence” and a lot of us are prisoners!! …. Aloha…a hui hou!
Note 1: Wally
Froiseth is featured in Gault-Williams, Malcolm. (1997, Winter). Surf Drunk. The
Wallace Froiseth story, The Surfers Journal, 6(4), 94-109. For a photo
see the paipo interview with Jack McCoy.
Note 2: Val Ching is featured in
Pendarvis, Cher (2010, Winter). Uncle Val. The living link to surfing's
high-performance roots. The Surfers Journal, 19(6), 38-47. For some
photos see the paipo interview with Jack McCoy.
Note 3: Val Valentine's film's
included: Northside Story (1963), The Call of the Surf (1964), Surfing
Aussie (1965) and Outside (1966). Source: www.surfclassics.com.
Note 4: See the paipo interview with Robert Moynier.
Editor's Note: According to author and Hawaiian beach and surfing researcher, John R.K. Clark,
“Hale” in Hawaiian means “house,” and “ ‘au’au”
mean “bath.” The two words combined mean “bathhouse,” a term from
Waikiki of yesteryear to mean a place where swimmers and surfers could
shower and change.Buzzy's obituary as it appeared in the Honolulu Star Advertiser (click here).
The name and spelling Hale AuAu
were coined by Earl Akana in the 1950s for his beach concession with
showers and lockers in the heart of Waikiki Beach. It was where the
Duke Statue is now. The diacritical marks that we use in Hawaiian words
today weren’t in use 60 years ago, so if you’re going to use the name
as it was spelled historically, it would be Hale AuAu, and not Hale ‘Au’Au.
Star-Advertiser. (2012). "Buzzy" Benjamin Franklin Kneubuhl III.
Honolulu Star-Advertiser Obituaries. Retrieved March 10, 2012, from obits.staradvertiser.com/2012/03/06/buzzy-benjamin-franklin-kneubuhl-iii/.