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A Paipo Interview with Jack McCoy

Film maker and surfer

A Paipo Interview with Jack McCoy
June 1, 2010. Avalon Beach NSW, Sydney Australia
Questions and e-mail interview by Bob Green

Jack grew up in Hawaii and like many youth of the time rode a paipo. Like many of his peers he moved onto riding a standup surfboard, however, unlike many of his peers he has spent more time behind the lens documenting the surfing life. Jack pays tribute to a stand-up paipo rider, Valentine Ching, and also describes his recent experience of riding paipo again.
1.When did your family move to Hawaii? What was your first surfing experience?
I rode my first wave in Waikiki that my dad pushed me on. He cut his foot and got blood poison and I got surfing in my blood that still exists today.
2. You've written that a friend, Mike Conway, helped you make a paipo when you were about 11 or 12 years old. What do you recall about the board and it's construction?
We'd bought marine ply and a marine paint at the local hardware store. Made the boards ourselves. Started using them the next day after letting the paint dry overnight [see Note 1].

Jack with his 7'2" alaia. Of his Wegener 4'2" paipo, Jack wrote, "Although narrower than the one I had as a kid, I've been riding it a lot lately. I love it. It brings out the little kid in me. I love the speed, it's like surfing on a bar of soap".

Photo courtesy Jack McCoy.
3. You've also said that you didn't use swim fins. What was the technique involved to catch and ride waves? How did the board ride?
Because we're talking about Kailua shorebreak, you could stand most of the time where the waves were so fins were not really necessary.

The board went great as a sand slider and as a board to ride waves. However, whether it was a good or bad design I have no idea. We were just stoked to make our own boards and then ride them.
4. Where did you surf the board? Were there many other people riding paipo? Were these mainly kids?
Yeah, Kailua had heaps of us little grommets all hanging at the beach all day doing everything we could in the water.
5. How long did you ride a paipo board?
I'm still riding paipo boards today, but when I got my first surfboard I was pretty focused on board riding. I've continued throughout my life to bodysurf and paipo occasionally, and then of course, boogie boarding.

There was a period when we moved from Kailua to Hawaii Kai area and we spent a lot of time bodysurfing at Sandy's and Makapu`u. Sometimes we'd ride a paipo at half point Sandy's or Makapu`u when it was breaking way outside.
6. Do you recall which surfing film sparked a desire to be involved with surfing films? What was the attraction?
My first Bruce Brown movie at my school was the big eye opener for me. It was a a great experience with Bruce selling tickets, introducing the show, killing the lights and starting the projector .... having a yack at half-time, then another yack after the show. He could see how stoked I was. I'm sure and he went out of his way to be kind to me and I went home thinking I want to do what that guy does.
7. Surf films from the 1960s used to include the occasional ride by a paipo rider, especially the films of Val Valentine, who for a while made and distributed Paipo Nui boards. Do you recall seeing paipo footage from that time? What was the audience reaction to such footage?
There was the odd paipo ride in some of the earlier films, but it never got the hoots a great wipe out or ride got. I do remember Val's footage in a couple of his films and most of us were not really that interested at that time to appreciate it. The guys who I saw personally ride them on trips to the country were usually bouncing around so much in the big North Shore surf it didn't seem that attractive to me then [see Note 2].
8. Did you ever meet Val Valentine? After Val's death, Paul Swanson, a well known stand-up surfer and paipo rider, was left Val's boards [see Note 3 ]. Do you know what became of his surfing films?
Val Valentine was a very cool dude. He drove a convertible MG or something like that. Very approachable in person. He also opened up his front yard to anyone when the surf was up and he was a big promoter of paipo surfing and I believe he also invested in the plywood spoon type that you see being ridden in his films.
9. From putting up surf posters at age 12, to distributing films for 10 years, then producing Tubular Swells in 1975 - when did you first start to think that you'd like to make a surf film?
I never thought of making a film, I was always in awe of the guys who did. I spent my time distributing them and it wasn't until I had a skiing accident that my distribution partner, Dick Hoole, put a Bolex 16mm camera in my hand in 1975, and said "we're making a surf movie" did I begin to think of making one. I still tell people that the first one was the best because everything was all new. The result was Tubular Swells.

Tubular Swells poster

Photo courtesy Jack McCoy.
10. You made over 20 surfing films and continue to make films, despite a market dominated by video/DVDs. DVDs can be fun because you can sit back and watch them over and over in the comfort of your own home. Watching a surf movie surrounded by surfers is, however, a very different type of experience. Why do you keep making movies?
Because there is nothing like watching a surf movie surrounded by other surfers …… chicken skin.

With Blue Horizon and Free As A Dog, I was at and introduced 160 showings to 60,000 people in 10 countries for each film. Each night I'd go in and watch the whole thing, or parts of the film. I wanted to hear the crowd reaction. We didn't make any money from either tour when you consider the effort we put into it, but very, very rich in sharing the stoke and getting the feedback first hand.
11. Bob McTavish's name is associated with the "shortboard revolution." However, Val Ching was performing progressive stand-up surfing on a paipo around 1963 - do you know any of the story regarding who took the footage and it's current availability?
When Derek Hynd and I were researching for A Deeper Shade Of Blue, all of the so-called "shortboard revolution" pointed to George Greenough.

Yes, Val was standing up on his paipo that he had a fin on, but Wally Froiseth was standing up, too, way before Val. And the ancient Hawaiians were standing up on alaia's. I'm not a big believer in those who like to take credit for things that were obviously out and about way before some people, but I believe the right word might be "popularise" a style or design to those people.

Wally Froiseth stand-up paipo

Photo courtesy Wally Froiseth.
12. In 2006, you premiered Free As A Dog with footage of Val Ching surfing China Wall. Why do you think this footage still resonates with audiences?
That was in my film Blue Horizon and the shot was at the Waikiki Wall. China Walls is what they call the Portlock Point these days, an epic spot to paipo when small, hugging the cliff. I worked for a shake roofing company for a couple of summer vacations and whenever I was working on the houses right there overlooking the point, I'd grab the biggest "shake" and go ride the peelers all by myself during lunch hour.

The footage of Val has always been very special to me and I'm glad that people appreciate it [see Note 4].

Val Ching standup paipo c.1963.

Photos by Val Valentine, courtesy Jack McCoy.
13. In addition to the alaia have you come across people riding paipo or bellyboards in your travels or seen much footage?
No paipo surfing. Wood paipo surfing is not that popular. Of course, boogie boarding is paipo riding these days and we all know how popular that is.

Four years ago Tom Wegener got me back into it when he gave me a 7' 2" alai'a that I can't stand up and surf on, but I've been riding it prone ever since. He just gave me another one this year at the Noosa Fest and I rode it Friday and Saturday all day while up there and had a ball. Been riding it pretty much exclusively for the past 4 months.

The board Tom gave me is paulownia like his alai'a, its 4' 2" and about 17 inches wide and really thin. LOVE IT. Best waves? Noosa at 10 foot, back in the tub ..... Flying on what feels like a bar of soap.

Had a great session at a Horseshoe right bowl on the south coast that ran a wall into itself that was crazy. That's the day I really understood the board and used the flex to take some rad drops straight into the tube. Fun. Also have had some great surfs around Avalon where I live.

I've just been trying to ride it everywhere. It takes me back to my roots. A really great feeling. A bit lazy maybe, just too easy keeping it in the back of the car, wettie on, grab the fins and you're out there.
14. As a long-time observer of surfing, any other comments?
Having fun is half the fun, Keep having fun with Alo HA!

Jack's latest movie, A Deeper Shade of Blue

Photo courtesy Photo by

Note 1: More from Jack: "A hapa haole friend named Mike Conway helped me make my first paipo/sandslider board when I was probably about 11 or 12 years old. We rode our bikes to Kailua Hardware and bought some pieces of marine plywood. We took the wood back to his house and cut them out, based on what we'd seen some of the older kids down at the beach riding.

Once cut out, we took a grinder to the edges and shaped the rails all the way around bevelled up. Finish sandpaper took out any of the rough edges to our boards and then we painted them with a marine paint we'd also purchased. It was red from memory. Anyway this board became my best friend at the beach where we would ride waves and sand slide at low tide."

Val Ching, 1963.

Photo by Val Valentine. Courtesy Jack McCoy.

Note 2: Val Valentine's film's included: Northside Story (1963), The Call of the Surf (1964), Surfing Aussie (1965) and Outside (1966). Source:

Note 3: A story on Paul with photos of Valentine's and Swanson's paipo can be found in: Pu'u, David. (2000, Summer). Mothball Fleet: A Moment with David Swanson, Paipo Boarder, in “Undercurrents.” The Surfer’s Journal, 9(3), 122-123.

Note 4: Wally Froiseth is featured in Gault-Williams, Malcolm. (1997, Winter). Surf Drunk.. The Wallace Froiseth story, The Surfers Journal, 6(4), 94-109. Val Ching is featured in Pendarvis, Cher. (2010, Winter). Uncle Val. Paipo in practice. The living link to surfing's high-performance roots. The Surfers Journal, 19(6), 38-47.

Some more recollections from Jack McCoy and the importance of Val Ching:
"A couple of years or so later I got my first board. A 9 ft 6 in Inter Island. The paipo took a back seat in my life at that time. Mostly we surfed the 1 - 2 ft onshore Kailua shore break but once in a while my mom would drive us over the Pali to Waikiki and drop us off at Ft DeRussey where we'd paddle out to Pop's and surf till mid afternoon before coming in starving. There was a little shop on the beach where we could get a hot dog and a coke that was quickly inhaled before ordering another and then with just enough money to buy a packet of M and M's for dessert.

We'd go visit Mrs Take' s board short shop and check out the new colors, and patterns she'd be bringing in, dreaming about saving up for our next custom pair.

After the feed and a little hang near the board rentals, we'd walk down to the Waikiki Wall to wait for my moms pick up. We'd go out to the end of the wall and watch the kids who, like me a year or so ago, could not afford a board and used the standard plywood paipo boards to have a ball. I have a clear memory of the guy who had the red paipo and surfed it standing up. He was sooooo cool and had such style. He was our favourite rider. Someone told me that his name was Val.

I later saw him in Val Valentine's surf movie at my intermediate school auditorium. He got a bunch of big hoots at the show. It's funny how things go around in your life. Many years later I'd be asked to look after some of Val Valentine's work. The paipo sequence was always a fav and I restored it.

I always found it interesting that this little bit of Hawaiian culture was shot by a guy name Val Valentine and it was Valentine Ching, Jr., who was surfing. Cool huh? Meant to be, right?

Anyway these images are historically important for surfing as the paipo was as popular back then as the boogie board is today, and beside a couple of shots by Bud Browne that I know of, there is not that much footage of the art.

Another meant to be crossing of paths came a couple of years ago when I met Val Valentine, Jr., in person for breakfast during the Duke Festival. It was an honor to connect and hear his stories about his paipo days that I hope will be told over and over again.

That night I premiered my film Free As A Dog downtown in a theatre and asked Val to come along. Without telling him I introduced him to the audience and then, before my film, I showed a 3 min piece I'd put together his paipo surfing. The crowd cheered from start to finish.

Thank you Val for the memories. There were many of us on paipo's back then that believed you were "the man," and It's great to hear about all the Hawaiian culture work you do now. Your still are "the man" today."

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

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