MyPaipoBoards | Paipo Forums | About | Interviews | Bibliography | WaveRiders Info | Search MyPaipoBds | Donate | Bookmark and Share

Paipo Interview with Michael "Mick" Potter

Experimenting with fins

August 14, 2010. Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia
Questions and e-mail interview by Bob Green
Photos courtesy of Michael Potter

Michael or "Mick" as he was known then was one of a group of guys who rode plywood bellyboards at the southern end of the Gold Coast in the mid- to late-1960s. Whereas everyone else rode a twin fin Mick experimented with single fins.
1. How did you get into bellyboarding?
We had always been Brisbanites and all our lives we came down to Coolangatta for our annual holidays. As kids we were surfing on the surfoplanes [see Note 1] for many, many years. I was born in 1945, so it would have been in the 1950s and 1960s.


Michael's second board from the 1960s.


Bogangar Bob Ryan, he was building them for friends of mine, like Jimmy Purdon. At that time I was building my own bellyboard. It was a fairly standard design, nothing exciting. I made it myself out of marine ply. It was fairly standard, but it had fins and I had bit of a a grab rail on it.

I used that same board or many years. Jimmy Purdon and I, Jeff Callaghan, Bob Carson, Col Taylor, Terry Law and Mark Green would all go surfing. Mainly, I'd say it would be around 1963-1965, around that era, when we got serious about it. To get away from the crowds we used go down to Bogangar. It was probably one of our favourite spots. In those days it used to have a quite a good wave at Bogangar, but it doesn't any more. Kirra Point for sure when it was on. We would all surf Kirra Point. We'd certainly surf Snapper Rocks and Greenmount. If the surf wasn't too good we wouldn't necessarily head north, we'd go south. We'd go south down to Byron Bay, head down to Black Rock, we'd go down Hastings Point and Kingscliff. Surf in those places which were quite isolated. We'd always get plenty of surf. That's all we wanted.

There wouldn't have been the crowds then.
No. But even in those days you'd get to Snapper Rocks when it was on and there would be a dozen boards out. I love bellyboards because you can sit well within the break. We used to sit way inside from where the surfboards would take off. At Snapper Rocks you could sit near the rocks, especially Jeff Callaghan. He was the furthest out and the furthest in from Snapper.

The bellyboards allowed you to get in fairly early and got on the wave quickly. I just loved the feel and control you had with the bellyboards. I know there was some very good surfboard riders out there but we had just the best fun. The best fun of my life on a bellyboard.

Later on I changed the design of my board. I have two boards still. The original one I designed and built out of marine ply on the Gold Coast.

2. What did you base that original design on? Did you copy someone else's board?
Yes, a little bit. It wasn't a copy of someone else's board it was a copy of a surfboard. You know the Fantastic Plastic machines. Joe Larkin was building quite a few of them. He was building them and noseriders. I had a noserider built by Joe Larkin. The red deck of my board was quite wide and rounded. What I did, I adapted that design to my bellyboard. You know the Fat Penguins you see today, it was very similar to that. It was exactly the same as a Fat Penguin, except that it had 3/8th ply whereas the Penguins had a very thick fiberglass base [see Note 2]. I gave up on twin fins. I went to one basically dorsal fin near the back of the board. My last two boards I had single fins, but they were quite big ones. With these bellyboards, what annoyed me, my early bellyboards were quite straight and square. A square tail with two fins. Sometimes you'd get down locked in, in the curl. You couldn't move anywhere. You couldn't move up the face of the wave. I don't know what it was. I thought it was the design of the board. I couldn't get it to climb up the face of the wave. With the new board, and I deliberately trialed this, I had the rounded tail on it. It allowed me to catch waves, it allowed me to drop down the face of the wave and it allowed me to do a cutback, and climb back up the face of the wave. Now I know kids on boogie-boards can do this at will today, they do all sorts of things with the boogie-boards, including 360s and spinners, flips and all that type of thing. But in those days it was pretty kind of radical that I could do this on this board.


Deck shot showing the center handles.



Bottom shot showing the single fins.

When did you make the single fin?
1966-67 it would be.
That was while everyone else was using the twin fins?
Yeah. Jimmy, Jeff, Kit Carson and Col, they all had similar bellyboards. They were all marine ply, finished with a straight varnish. I had mine glassed and resined, I had Joe Larkin resin it for me. I used that single fin for a long time.
3. When did you stop bellyboarding?
My wife came from WA and I got engaged in 1969. We got married in 1970, and I went to New Guinea for a few years. I used to surf up in New Guinea on longboards. Then we moved overseas for 20 years, to Canada (Vancouver). When I was in Vancouver, I didn't surf a lot but there were certainly surf beaches on Vancouver Island. And I actually built a bellyboard in Canada - a very similar design to my favourite board, except it was a bit more flexible. The ply wasn't as thick and it wasn't as good a board as my first one.
And the waves were not Kirra Point.
No, it wasn't Kirra Point. The surf on Vancouver Island is like Bells Beach.
Still long, straight waves.
Long, straight waves, bit thick and chunky, but nothing like Kirra Point.

Reminiscing here, Col and I had one day at Kirra Point. It had to have been in 1965. We were by ourselves and it was a good 4-foot. A good 4-foot at Kirra Point is nothing short of miraculous. We had it to ourselves for about three and a half hours then all of a sudden some surfboard riders came out. Col and I surfed some of the best waves of my life. I was on my bellyboard and Col was on his bellyboard, as well. He was also a boardrider. He was a very good surfer.

My favourite spot certainly was Kirra Point and when it was not working Snapper Rocks was always good. We were one of the first few groups to start surfing at Duranbah. It wasn't called Duranbah then. That was when they first built the rock wall. We would go right next to the rock wall. There were six of us then, usually the same group. Kit, myself another fellow called Bellyboard Bob McDermott.

4. Graham Dunne described during his lunch break going out at Snapper and surfing all the way through to Kirra, then going back to work. Did you guys go out at Snapper and surf your way through or did you mostly just stick at one point?
There was the odd time, when the swell was right, you could catch a wave from Snapper, across Greenmount Point, across Coolangatta, across Kirra and sometimes you could end up at North Kirra.
You must have been sitting a long way out.
Oh yeah, it was a big swell. It's got to be a big swell to cut across those three points. I've seen it happen. I have not done it myself.
5. What technique was involved in riding these boards? How would get them to cutback and hold into a hollow wave?
One of the reasons I went to a single fin (my original board was a twin finner with very small fins) was because of a day down at Hastings Point when it was really big and nasty. We found my board in particular kept dropping out of the face of the wave because the skeg wouldn't hold it in. And that's when I decided to go to a large single fin. We didn't do the radical manoeuvres that they do today.

1960s single fin.



1970s single fin.

6. People have described applying bodysurfing techniques to hold into the wave, including using your arms to rise and lower on the wave. Did you do something similar?
I did something similar. I had a handle on the top of my bellyboard. It was easy catching a wave if you had flippers on (you had to have flippers). Once you got on the wave, I'd grab the handle, you'd be surfing right and your right arm would come out and forward. You'd drop your arm, if you wanted to go down and turn, or bring your arm up, that would give you a weight transfer. It would allow you to carve up and down the face of a wave. Because the boards were barely floatable we had no trouble going through big surf, going out. We had no trouble catching waves because there was so little weight to push to get onto the damn thing. All it took was a couple of paddles with your flippers and that would get you on the wave. Because the board was very thin, you were already in the eye of the wave. You take off and you are surfing instantly. Once you see the shape and style of the board you will get a better picture.
7. I'm looking forward to that. Did you see bellyboards anywhere else in your travels?
Yes, we lived in Vancouver for a long time, very few surfers on Vancouver Island, just diehard board riders. But we had holidays down in California probably every second year, down the west coast from Vancouver. That's when we saw the first boogie boards. I bought one, one of the first style of bellyboards, the Morey boogie that came out. But young guys at La Jolla had the wooden paipo boards with no fins on them. I'd see them surf. I couldn't believe that these guys could catch waves on a bloody board with no skeg on it. When they came in I asked to have a look at their boards. They were a funny thing, almost a spoon shape. I'm not sure how they surfed these damn things, but they had no trouble at all carving across a wave.
8. Someone mentioned your son rode a bellyboard.
No, that was my brother.
That's Chris.
Chris is my brother. I introduced him to surfing when he was about six years old. He used to bodysurf. Then he took on one of my old bellyboards. Then he got himself onto a kneeboard. He's been riding a kneeboard for thirty years. I don't surf much these days, he does. He gets on the ferry over to South Straddie, gets a wave over South Straddie. Master kneeboarder.
9. Someone mentioned that you are writing some history
That's what I wanted to do. I was talking to Mark Green a little while ago. I didn't know about the interviews that you had done with Jeff Callaghan and Col Taylor. I started a little and said to Mal at SurfWorld, "I have a couple of bellyboards here that you might want to stick in the museum." He said, "Bring them down and we will write an agreement." A friend of ours from SurfWorld, Robyn, knows Mark Green really well. We got into conversation about Mark Green. Robyn gave Mark Green my number and he called me. This was about three months ago. He gave me a call from Melbourne. I said, "Have you got any photos?" He said his ex, Dianne, has got some photos of him surfing bellyboards. To be honest I haven't heard anything back from Mark and I haven't phoned him either. He was going to pursue the idea of getting some photos. Jeff's photos are fantastic photos. I was just going to give you my version of how things went during that time. Without looking a great deal into Jeff's story, his story and my story will correlate basically. It really was Kit Carson and Jeff. Bob McDermott was really instrumental in bringing bellyboards up to here. He bought the first bellyboard up here to the coast. I got to know him really well and stayed with him in Sydney the odd time, with Kerrie the odd time. But I haven't had contact with these guys in a long time. Most of them are still on the Gold Coast.
So did you end up writing something?
Yes, I've got something on my computer. It's basically for the display for the surf museum [see below, The Facts as I recall them]. What I will do, I'll finish it and I'll complete the story. Jeff's story and my story will be almost parallel. I phoned a few guys to get all the names. I'm pretty sure I have all the names. Bob McDermott, Jeff Callaghan, Bob Carson, Jimmy Purdon, myself, Terry Law. There's probably a couple of guys I missed.

Joey Larkin -- I was a kid at the time -- he was pretty good to us. We used to hang around his surfboard shop. I bought a couple of boards from Joey. He was really good to us in the early days. We'd be there all the time hanging out. Looking at boards and stuff. He'd glass the boards for us. He did one for me and he glassed Kit's.

Kit said Joe made his board.
That would be right. The other guy was Bob Ryan. He's dead. He was actually a shipbuilder. When he was building Jimmy Purdon's bellyboard he was building Quickcats for Joe Larkin. Quickcats were all the rage then. He was building the 12-foot Quickcat catamarans. I didn't find out until many years later that he had passed away. Diverting off bellyboards. Bellyboard Bob, he bought a Quickcat. I used to go on as a deckhand, would you believe? We used to catch groundswells off Greenmount Point. A little 12-foot Quikcat. This was before the Hobiecat.
10. One thing I should ask before you go, what did construction involve?
Marine ply. The boards were dead flat. Mine had a little bit of concave in it - that was not by design. That was the way it turned out after Joey glassed over it.
Was that in the nose or the tail?
In the middle was concave -- sideways. Nothing flash. The other board was concurve. A spoon basically - if you could imagine a spoon out of a flat bit of plywood, we shaped that. That was the flexy board.
How long did it take you to make one?
Two days.
So there was a bit of work involved?
I cut it out by hand, a rectangular piece of marine ply. Then I'd cut out the general shape. Then I would plane the hell out it. On the bottom of the nose I'd champer it so it wouldn't pearl in the surf. Then the edges I'd would shape as well. Just to make it a bit smoother. A flat, square piece. Then I'd glass the big fin into place. I was the only one with handles on my board, I was just so comfortable with it. I tried surfing it without the handles but I was so bloody hopeless. Maybe it was just a me thing. I always had a handle in the center of the board, on the nose.
The other guys had little chrome handles to one side.
A couple of guys had that but I'm ambidextrous. So if I was surfing left I'd use my right hand to hang onto the board and if I was surfing right, I'd use my left hand to hang onto my board. I'll complete my story and send you some pictures. There's a couple of really pertinent points. Bellyboard Bob McDermott bought the first bellyboard to the Gold Coast and we copied his basic design.
11. I'm interested in working backwards and working out where he got his design from?
Funny, I used to live next door to a guy. We were Brisbaneites at Lawnton. Pacific Border surfboards I think he called himself. Ken Fowler. He made skimboards.
They're the Whiz Skid boards. I know a guy who has got one .
I used to live next door. He had a workshop and I was an air-conditioning apprentice. I was next door to him. I was very, very fortunate. There's a skim board in the museum, a brand new one, it looks beautiful. After going down to the wood surfboards down at Currumbin last week, if you missed it, you really missed something.

Whiz Skid Belly Board








Photos courtesy of Kevin Barr.

There was some real craftsmanship there.

They're incredible aren't they. A few of them said, "I wouldn't ride it, I'd rather hang it on the wall than surf them."
I'd rather surf them.
To be honest I'd rather surf them.

Michael's account: October 21, 2010. "The Facts as I recall them."

"I built my own board in the early sixties from a standard belly board design. It was made from 3/8 inch marine ply and the 2 skegs were made of the same material. I attached 2 chrome cupboard door handles to give better control. The skegs were glassed on and a couple of coats of varnish completed the project. When I compared my board to Jeff's or Kits the only difference was that mine had handles. All the original belly boards were similar in design. The later years the designs did change, while Kit and Jeff kept to small double skegs, I changed mine to a single large dorsal fin with the rear end of the board rounded. It allowed me to cut back and carve without any difficulty, never had a problem of dropping out of the wave.
The Surfers:
Belly board Bob McDermott ex Maroubra
Kit Bob Carson ex Kirra SLSC
Jeff Callaghan ex Kirra SLSC
Jimmy Purdon Coolangatta SLSC
Terry Law ex Kirra SLSC
Col Taylor ex Coolangatta SLSC
Grahame Dunne ex Kirra SLSC
Mark Green Coolangatta SLSC
And myself Mick Potter Coolangatta SLSC
Others that were friends that rode longboards, Vinnie Ford, John Cunningham, John Kipper Standing
If I missed someone I do apologize but that's what happens when you get old!
We were all pretty fit!! Most of us had Surf Lifesaving training and were accomplished bodysurfers, none of us did drugs, that was mainly after our time in the sun, but we all enjoyed a beer or three!!!
We had great help in building and the design of our craft. Bogangar Bob Ryan and Joe Larkin, in particular, always found time for us to experiment and change designs as we saw fit.
Our favorite surf spots were Kirra, Snapper, Duranbah, Bongagar (Cabarita) then on to Hastings, Black Rock, Byron Bay and Lennox Head to get away from the crowds.
A distinct advantage of riding belly boards was that we could take off further inside the break than a Mal and usually get the best waves. If you saw a surfer outside the break by about 30 metres that would be Jeff Callaghan, he always caught the big ones! We were always amazed at the incredible speed you could get out of a piece of plywood on takeoff at Kirra & Snapper Rocks.
In all I have great memories of this time in our lives. We also sailed Quickats, 12-foot long wooden construction catamarans, that were great fun off Greenmount point catching groundswells and scaring the crap out the longboard riders. Then the Hobie cats arrived and then the Boogie Boards years later. I hope this helps round out your history of bellyboards in Queensland from that era!!"
The Quick Cats of Kirra

Source: Hayes, Vince. (1965, December). The Quick Cats of Kirra. Surfing World, 7(2), 24-25.

Note 1: For more information on surfo planes (commonly known at surf mats) see the MyPaipoBoards.org home page and Wave Riders: Intimacy or Evolution -- It's All in the Eye of the Beholder, which shows several forms of waveriding.
Note 2: For more information on what Fat Penguins, visit this web site: http://surflibrary.org/SurfLibrary_files/FtPeng.html.

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


MyPaipoBoards | Paipo Forums | About | Interviews | Bibliography | WaveRiders Info | Search MyPaipoBds | Donate | Bookmark and Share

I am aware that some of the images and other content on this website may be subject to copyright and will gladly remove any such items if so requested by the genuine holder of the rights. Such content is not used for commercial exploitation. The sole purpose is to share knowledge with enthusiasts and interested parties. To the extent possible copyright holders have been contacted for permission to share content on this website. Likewise please respect the copyright content of this site.

All contents of this site 1998-2017 Rod's Home Port
for SurfMarks and MyPaipoBoards.
All images within this section copyright of
respective credited contributor.
This web site is hosted and maintained by
rodNDtube.com and MyPaipoBoards.org
 

Last updated on: 01/19/11