|A Paipo Interview with Jon Manss
December 5, 2009 - Santa Cruz, California (USA)
Interviewing by Kim Green based on questions by Bob Green
Photos courtesy of Jon Manss
little clarification ahead of time might make this interview more
understandable for those not familiar with Santa Cruz breaks. Many of
the breaks in town during low tide show sandy beach with a few rocks,
but at high tide the water reaches up into the coves with plenty of
boulders and rocks. Before leashes were available this had a major
effect on which breaks were surfed, when they were surfed, and with
kind of board.
|1. Where did you grow up and where did you
first see surfing?
grew up in Santa Cruz from 1959. I was 6 years old. Lived up at
Mitchell’s Cove, where my next door neighbor was a guy named
Jones. He would go out on an old paddle board at the cove and would
just rip the place up, a long hollow board with no fins on it and a
pointed tail. No one else would go out there because there were no
cords. So I thought that was pretty cool. The cove was my
backyard. Back then there were lots of body surfers, then mat riders.
Mat riding was sort of a summertime, rivermouth type of deal.
When did paipos come in?
Dubois came back from college in Hawaii with a finless paipo -- that
was when I was introduced to it. It was made of wood, like an HPD, the
guitar pick shape. At the time we were already starting to play around
with some foam boards but when he came back with that we started
building our own based on it. We would take a piece of plywood and put
fins on. I don't remember if his board was store bought or home made.
Was that inspired by the Greenhough spoon?
You should talk to Bob. I just got a postcard from him from Costa Rica
-- he's a real character. Look at the video where a
guy on a paipo knocks a guy off his long board with his fists. That's
Bob. All of that film was from Bob's clips. He's a little older than I
A film by Scott Wessling.
actually went to Keinholz and Angel, (a board shop that was
Mark Angel and Tom Keinholz). We would go in and take the old
tails or the nose, from when they were done shaping a board, and glue
that on a piece of plywood and then shape a spoon out of it and then
fibreglass that on to the plywood. That was a plywood spoon. That was
from about 1965 to 1967. The foam was mostly to add rocker, not
yeah. And then later I shaped two fibreglass spoons, it was an evolving
thing. And then we started shaping boards, real boards. That's
when John Mel showed up in town. And he had supplies, and we were
going to him to get supplies and we were making all these bizarre
Back to the early wood paipos, did they have any rocker?
This is not a spoon but one of the guitar pic
wood boards. Note
the Freeline logo.
am sure they had a little bit, it's been so long... I'm sure it had a
spoon to it. It must have because we were having trouble with the
plywood warping. Unless you sealed the top, we had to seal the
bottom differently, because they would warp the wrong way. So I
ended up taking a piece of plywood and sticking it in my mom’s
and then putting some bricks on top of it and then it warped and dried
Did it keep the shape?
Oh yeah. I fibreglassed one layer on the
bottom and took some black enamel and put it on the top.
6. Didn't you want to fibreglass both sides?
Who cares, (laughs) that's just the way I did
When did you first start putting fins on it?
because we already had a couple of knee boards out there, we were
already planning that was something that was going to happen. I don't
think were saving the form of the paipo down to the knee board. We were
going back and forth. It was not a straight progression from
paipos to kneeboards, it was mixed up.
8. Oh! I thought you guys had kind of progressed from
paipos to knee boards but it sounds like it was kind of mixed up.
was a mix up, so basically we could go out at higher tides, with no
leash – there were no leashes. We were hoping for a good rideable
that wouldn't go all the way into the beach, it would just sit in the
water, even when we went into heavier thicker foam boards. We were body
surfers too, almost everybody I knew started out body surfing and then
they progressed to the mats and then to the knee boards and belly
boards, but there weren't a lot of paipos per se.
When did the belly boards come into the mix?
was about the same time that Bob brought that paipo down. But
belly boards were already available in the surf shops. We had
these belly boards coming up from LA that looked like stubbed off long
board noses. And everybody tried them and they went flying into the
rocks, they were too fast, so we didn't really use those designs, we
kept formulating our own designs. A lot of thin, thin, thin, foam
10. Did they hold up?
Sometimes. I had some snap on me.
Where did you surf?
Peak, down by the Hook when it was big. All the local spots. There were
a few people that surfed up north. I surfed Scotts and then I gave it
up, Moss Landing.
12. Was there any particular spot that was known for
paipo or prone riding?
Windansea, body surfers, Bob would be the guy to talk to about that. He
would know all those old salts. They would have these duck feet,
big brown duckfeet. They'd be out there with thick thick wetsuits
that looked like they were for scuba diving.
13. Now wet suits weren't even available for kids. Did
you see people wearing them?
O’Neills was down here, but I got my first set of duckfeet for
Christmas. I didn't have a wetsuit and I went out to the rivermouth and
just about froze to death. I was blue, I'm sure I didn't last
more that 20 minutes. But I was the happiest kid in town. I had
my fins. I couldn't wait for summer.
Not a beaver tail?
So that was it, my first wet suit was what they called a short john,
the vest and legs all together.
it was what you were supposed to put under the jacket, and the long
john was the vest and the legs. But those (short johns) were absolutely
worthless, because as soon as you went under a wave it just flooded
with water all the way through. You needed the short johns with the
15. So those were the fins you saw then?
Yeah. Duckfeet, rarely Churchills. A couple of
diving fins, but mostly
Duckfeet. They were considered to have more power, those were the
best. I wore them for along time without booties and I had
bumps on my feet like this (shows knuckles), then I got a larger size
and started wearing booties and the bumps disappeared.
Were there any other paipo shapes beside the guitar pick you guys
Oh yeah. I thought of a bold single fin thing
that was pretty wild. One
thing I remember about those plywoods, when they went under water
you'd go up to the top and you would just wait while they're sucking to
the bottom. You can't pull it up.
18. How about friction between standups and paipo and
kneelos, was there much hassle?
a shot of my board held by my cousin and aunt.
That's my Mustang in the back. Man I miss that car."
don't think there was much hassle. It was more like harassment,
friendly harassment. We all knew each other. We all went to
high school together. It was a community of people. The people
who got harassed were from over in San Jose, I mean they got serious
harassment, but we were all locals, so we were just “belly
whatever they wanted to call us. It was more of a community back
then. There weren't as many people in the water, not a lot of foreign
faces in the water.
Did you do much travelling in those early days?
Scariest thing that ever happened to me, I was out at the point on a
day of south swell and I snapped off a fin from a plywood board, a
single fin, and I snapped off three quarters of it so I just had this
stub in the middle of the board. And I went back out and caught
this really big wave and this guy paddling out, this big burly guy Bob
Henderson, was paddling out. I couldn't control the
damn board and went right over the top of him, he dove off his
board and my board embedded right in the center of his rail. It was
glued shut to that board. I flew over the top and when I came up
there was Bob going “GOD DAMMIT IT WAS A BRAND NEW BOARD! LOOK AT
THIS! 6 INCHES IN! LOOK AT THIS.” I just thought “Oh man,
going to get it." I go “Bob, look the fins broken." Bob replied,
“GET OUT OF HERE! GET
IT FIXED!” Oh man. I saw him the next day though and he was
about it. People seem more aggressive now.
summer Bob said we're going to surf from Big Sur to San Francisco. He
had a list of what he wanted to surf. So we did, we just drove
around from Andrew Molero all the way back up, surfed
little spots through Monterrey, not in succession but the list was
there. We were going to Five Mile where we had to go through the
fields. He would say, “There's a wave out there, see that wave
there.?" I'd say, "Bob, it's in the Brussels Sprouts!” He'd
“I'll go talk to the honcho.” So, he'd walk up and knock on
the door and
say, ”Hey we wanna surf out there, is it OK?" And there
a pause and they'd say, “Go ahead.” He was just like that.
He got us to surf Pomponio, San Gregorio, Gazos Martins Beach. A
little wave above Ano, it was worthless, but he wanted to surf it.
20. Were you concerned about the sharks?
No. Well, there was concern but, when you're
eighteen you're pretty much immortal.
21. When did the paipos fade away? When did you stop
was pretty quick, probably the seventies. It lasted from … 1964
1970? It really didn't catch on as a form of surfing. There was way
more body surfing than there was paipo boards. We were headed for
kneeboarding, we just wanted to get up you know? The other thing
when we first started making kneeboards there weren't any short boards,
they were all long Hawaiian boards. These guys were all riding
long boards and we were back in the pocket.
Was there a kneeboarding boom at that point?
yeah. Before the cord. A lot of standup surfers were kneeboarders too.
They'd go out when the tides were higher and ride their little boards
and if they lost it they'd follow it in. Occasionally some
standup would come out and he'd last four, five waves and he'd
bail, his board would go into the rocks and be broken in half.
So rather than having the cord was it the flippers that allowed the
kneeboarder to get to their board before it reached the rocks?
So when the cord came out it systematically allowed all these standups
to get on their boards all the time and they gave up on the
kneeboarding. People like Kevin Reid, Steve Russ. He's the guy
who made the suction cup and surgical tubing, he made the first
leash. There were lots of kneeboarders who immediately jumped on
their boards and became standups.
So the advent of the leash in a way was instrumental in the transition
from knee boards to shortboards because they no longer needed flippers
to catch their boards?
One time I was surfing Stockton Avenue and Kevin Reed came out took my
board and said, "Lemme see that, Jon," and we exchanged boards. He had
big fishy kind of board and he goes, “I can ride that.” He
board, about 5'4” and 19” wide and he was jammin' on it.
But he came
back out and said “it's a little too small for me but wait until
see me next time” and he started shaping boards smaller. That
bubble in what he knew he could handle. And he started making shorter
boards. Twin fins and single fins with the little stabilizers in back.
Wide tails, 5'4” maximum about 2-1/2” thick.
Jon Manss continues to live and work in Santa
Cruz, where he designs and builds outstanding custom furniture and
boards at J.S.M.