|August 10, 2009. Honolulu, Hawaii
Questions from Bob Green
Interview by John Clark and Photos by Bud Scelsa
|1. Surfing history books make little mention of paipo so can we start with when you first rode a paipo?
It was the summer of 1960. I’d been board surfing at Canoes in Waikiki,
and after I was done, I walked from the old Outrigger Canoe Club, which
was where the Outrigger Waikiki Hotel is today, down to Queen’s, where
the Duke Statue is. I was standing on the beach and I saw a guy riding
a bellyboard at Queen’s. It was the fastest thing I’d ever seen in the
waves. I waited on the beach until he came in. His wife and his infant
daughter were on the beach, and I went up and introduced myself. His
name was John Waidelich. John told me he had a shop at his house on
13th Avenue in Kaimuki and invited me to come over. I went to his house
and he made me a paipo board out of 3/4 inch plywood. The only thing he
put on it was varathane. So the summer of 1960 was when I got my first
paipo board and when I first rode one.
2. I believe that you first became interested in paipo in 1960 when
you saw John Waidelich surfing Publics. What was it that attracted you
It was the summer of 1960, but I saw John at Queen’s, not Publics. What
attracted me to paipo was the speed. I also liked the paipo because you
could ride any sized wave with it, and it usually popped up close if
you wiped out.
John Clark and Jim Growney
|3. A lot of guys in Hawaii started off on paipo and then progressed
to stand up boards through their teens. Were there many guys your age
and older riding paipo at the time?
There wasn’t a normal progression to go from a paipo board to a
surfboard. Usually, you rode one or the other. Most of the paipo riders
in 1960 rode at The Wall in Waikiki, which is at the intersection of
Kalakaua Avenue and Kapahulu Avenue. On big days they rode Cunha’s, the
deep water break outside The Wall. I don’t know how many there were,
but they were young and old.
4. I've heard that the south shore of Oahu had many popular paipo
spots. Where did you mainly surf before you ventured to the north
shore? How many paipo would you see out in the surf at the time?
We surfed the right at Canoes, Queen’s, and Castle’s when it was
breaking, and we were usually the only paipo riders out there. We also
surfed Portlock Point, Full Point at Sandy Beach, and Makapuu. Makapuu
was the place where everyone rode paipos in the 1960s.
5. Before we talk about the boards that you developed with John,
what was your first paipo board like? Was it a do-it-yourself board or
were there guys who would make you a paipo?
As I mentioned, John made my first paipo. It was about four feet long
with parallel rails, and he finished it with varathane. All the boards
then were homemade. No one sold them commercially.
6. I've read that it was in 1960 that you and John begin working on
your design changes? What changes did you make to the basic paipo
design? From photos that I have seen, the area about 18" from the tail
all the way around to the nose looks like it was built up on a base of
ply. Can you describe how you built up the nose and rail areas on your
boards and got the curves in the bottom. Were the boards flat bottomed?
How long did it take to refine your design?
In 1960, I decided to make another board. I wanted a new design,
something different. John and I tried to analyze what changes would
make it faster. We decided it would plane better with a wider tail, but
we also realized that the flat bottom is what gives it the speed.
Rocker slows it down, so we kept the bottom flat and only put a little
rocker in the nose of the board.
We made two boards, one for John and one for me. John put an aloha
print fabric on his board and finished it with resin. I used fiberglass
on mine. I still have our two original boards. They are 42 inches long
by 30 inches wide. The rear edges are slightly rounded. We made them
with 3/8 inch marine ply, which is one of the reasons why they lasted
so long. The nose and the sides of the boards were built up with three,
U-shaped pieces of 3/8 ply, which we glued to the boards with
waterproof glue. Each piece was offset about 3/8 of an inch. This made
it possible for us to grind them down to a smooth surface on the
underside. On the top we used a spoke shave and chisels. This gave us a
rise of approximately 12 eights- of- an-inch, including the bottom and
the three pieces of wood that we glued onto the bottom.
John Waidelich's Board
Jim Growney's Board
Click on picture for a larger view
We found that the wide tail helps to get into big waves faster. Then
once we dropped in, we’d put one arm out, our inside arm, and lean on
the inside rail to get an edge into the wave.
7. What year did your boards first get labeled as paipo? What were they referred to as previously?
I don’t think John made any other boards, but he helped other people
make boards. On one occasion a guy named Mike Irwin, who became a
psychiatrist and now lives on the mainland, lived with his parents at
the top of Wilhelmina Rise while he was going to medical school. One
day he was studying and he could see big streaks of white slashing
across the waves at Publics. He couldn’t tell with his naked eye what
was causing it, so he jumped in his car and rode down to the beach to
see firsthand what was going on. When we came in, he was so excited
about having a board that John took him back to his house and gave him
a list of things to buy. He came by again that evening and we shaped
the board that night, and he was riding it a day or two later.
A number of Outrigger members also made paipo boards and used to surf
with us for a number of years. I moved to the Big Island in about 1978
and lived there for approximately 20 years. John and I would surf
together occasionally during my frequent trips to Honolulu. He loved to
surf alone in front of the breakwater in Ala Moana Park, and I think he
contined to do so until he died.
In 1960, we knew the boards as bellyboards, but we also knew the name
paipo boards. The local riders always used the term paipo boards. John
suggested for fun that we call them poi-pu boards, combining the
Hawaiian words “poi”, a basic Hawaiian food starch, and “opu”, or
stomach. I told him I didn’t think that would work, so we called them
paipo boards. Then wherever we rode the boards, like at Makapuu, we
told people who asked that they were paipo boards.
8. Did you and John collaborate with Val Valentine to use moulds?
We got to know Val Valentine when we started surfing the North Shore,
and the three of us became friends. Val was interested in making and
selling paipos like the ones we were riding, so Val and John made a
concrete press. They took a mold off of one of our original boards by
putting it into the concrete while it was still wet. When they were
ready to make a board, they would wet the plywood, steam it, and put it
into the concrete press. So Val’s boards had the same design that ours
did: rocker in the front and flat bottom in the back.
9. There is a 2000 photo with Paul Swanson surrounded by paipo boards that belonged to Val Valentine [see Note 1].
Val called them Paipo Nui boards. He’s the one that thought of the
name. The boards were popular and sold well, but Val only made boards
when he needed money.
Can you talk us through the different boards, their background when they were made etc.?
10. Body boards have been credited with the demise of the paipo.
When did the sale of your boards drop off - how many were you making
during the "paipo boom?"
[Note: We didn’t have a copy of this photo when we had lunch.]
John and I never sold any paipo boards. John helped Val Valentine set
up his Paipo Nui operation, but neither of us ever got involved with
the commercial side of it. As for the introduction of bodyboards
leading to the demise of paipo boards, I would say that was true.
11. I gather Sunset was a favourite spot for testing your designs.
Did you ride the boards at Pipeline? How did they go in hollow tubes?
We tried the Pipeline, but it was hard for us to get down, to make the
drop, the waves were so steep. One day we tried Pipeline when it was a
big, breaking on the second reef way outside the normal lineup. It was
an enormous day. We got in by dropping in on the shoulder, and the
rides were spectacular, but short. Bud Browne was on the beach filming.
The shorebreak was enormous, something like 12 or 15 feet. I was the
first one to go in, and I was lucky that I got a double wave, which
collapsed and dropped me on the sand softly enough that I wasn’t
injured. I ran up the beach, and my board came in with the wave. To my
astonishment, John actually caught a wave. He had an awful lot of hair.
He got an incredibly fast short ride, turned onto the sand, and the
wave broke on him while he was still laying on his board. He had a bump
on his chin as big as a golf ball and his ribs hurt for about three
weeks. Unfortunately, all of Bud Browne’s films deteriorated before any
of them could be saved. The shot of John would’ve been incredible.
12. What tips would you pass on about riding paipo? Did riding Waimea or really big waves require a change in approach?
After that day at Pipeline, we rode mostly at Laniakea, Chun’s, and
Sunset. We also rode Avalanche on big days. Sunset was one of our
favorite places. One day at Sunset, the surf was big and windy, blowing
straight offshore. John took off and went airborne for several seconds
with the wind holding him up. He was yelling, “I’m flying. I’m flying.”
The challenge with big waves is getting into them and making the drop.
You only have a pair of fins to try and match the speed of the wave, so
we also used one hand to paddle on the takeoffs. We’d try to angle from
the shoulder, but the wave was usually vertical when we got into it. A
lot of times we would free fall for six or eight feet before we reached
the bottom where we could make a turn. Then once we turned and started
riding down the line, we’d angle back up the face of the wave to
increase our speed. We also learned that for big days, glassy is better. For paipos, bumpy is not good.
13. The speed in your boards is obvious. Are there any rides that still really stand out for you?
We had a lot of outstanding days all over the island, on the North
Shore, at Makaha, at Makapuu, and at Castle’s. One time during the
1960s, we went to Makaha during one of the international surfing
contests that Waikiki Surf Club used to put on. The condos on the beach
were still under construction. When we got there, it was point surf and
they had just finished the contest. John and I decided to go out, but
rather than swim from the beach, we walked out on the point and dived
in between sets. People were yelling at us, they thought we were crazy.
As we were swimming, a giant set came through, but we made it out. It
was one of those classic days. We made every wave from the point
through the bowl at the end of the wave. It was just magical. We’d
scream across the wall on every wave.
14. Any other thoughts or recollections?
Another time John was out at Waimea with Greg Noll. Greg dropped in on
John, and John nailed him in the kidney. Greg told John after that he
saw him take off, but that he had no idea that the paipo had that much
speed. An article about Greg Noll and John appeared in Surfing
Magazine sometime in the mid-sixties. It is a great article, and they
had a lot of photos.
The most memorable ride for both of us was a wave we caught together
and rode from Steamer Lane, which is Outside Castle’s, to Canoes.
That’s the famous “Duke Kahanamoku” ride. It was the summer of 1965,
and the waves were like a big day at Sunset or Avalanche. We made it
all the way to Canoes, swam into the beach, and walked back up to the
Outrigger Canoe Club, where we had jumped in earlier. That was the only
time either one of us made that ride. I wrote a piece called “The
Longest Ride” that describes it, which, I believe you and Bob both have
One day John and I were out at Canoes, riding the rights. A guy
paddling out to the lineup had been watching us from the beach. He
paddled up to me and said, “That’s the fastest board I’ve ever seen.”
That was one of the biggest attractions of the paipo for us, its speed.
A lot of people modified the design, especially those who did a lot of
riding at Makapuu. The most popular thing was to extend the length of
the board and cut it square across the back. This made it easier to get
into the waves, but it cut down on the maneuverability and the speed
because it increased the wetted surface. The secret to the speed of the
paipo board was that the design reduced the wetted surface to an
absolute minimum, and riding prone reduced the wind resistance
considerably. For me the greatest thrill about riding a paipo board on
really big waves was the feeling of enormous speed that resulted from
skimming across the water with my face only inches away from the
surface. It gave me the feeling that the paipo board really didn’t
exist, that I was skimming across the water unassisted. It is the same
feeling that I used to get riding a motorcycle at high speed; it made
me feel that I was flying.
Jim Growney extends his "outrigger" right arm as he planes, completely out of the water, across a Sunset Beach wall.
Source: Valentine, Val. (1965,
January). It's Smaller, Faster and 300 years Old: The Paipo Board. Surf
Guide, 3(1), 17-19. Photograph by Val Valentine. [Note: In the article Jim Growney is incorrectly identified as Jim Brownie.]
Note 1. Mothball Fleet: A Moment with David Swanson, Paipo Boarder, by David Pu'u, The Surfer’s Journal, “Undercurrents,” Volume 9, Number 3, Summer 2000, pp. 122-3. Courtesy of The Surfers Journal. [PDF, 1.6MB]
Magazine article: More Paipo Magic at Waikiki, by Jim Growney, The Surfer’s Journal, “Surf Story: The Longest Ride,” Volume 17, Number 4, Summer 2008, p. 125. Courtesy of The Surfers Journal. [PDF, 75KB]
Video: Paipo Surfing 1958-1965. (2010,
February 25) Home movie by Stig Waidelich, filmed by Val Valentine. 9
minutes. The surfers are Stig's father, John Waidelich, and Jim
Growney. Click here to see the video: http://vimeo.com/9742493
Jim Growney with the Two Original Boards