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A Paipo Interview with Thomas Patrick Haugh

Belly boards: experimental and premeditated

A Paipo Interview with Thomas Patrick Haugh
August 21, 2014 - Ventura County, California (USA)
E-mail interview by Bob Green

Thomas Patrick Haugh is a shaper who has embraced the challenge of making bellyboards for customers who want to ride prone.The T-Belly, as Thomas refers to his bellyboard line, was originally based on a Larry Goddard design but is in a process of continuing development. The third generation in the design evolution is the G3, but the G4 is just around the corner. Riding a bellyboard has also opened up new surfing experiences for Thomas.
1. When and where did you start surfing?
I grew up in inland Southern California. In the late-1950s and early-1960s. My father would take the family pier fishing at Newport Beach and Huntington Beach. We'd arrive early in the morning and stay through lunchtime. I couldn't help but notice the kids riding surfboards next to the piers. This was right after the release of the Gidget movie, so I had some awareness of the sport of surfing. Watching the young surfers riding waves and obviously having a great time, I felt very envious. By the time I was in 9th grade (1961-62), I was totally into the surfing scene, although I was yet to ride a board. I had even made a small model surfboard from balsa wood, complete with blue panels and a "D fin." My sister was a year ahead of me in school, and her boyfriend at the time was a surfer. In the summer of 1962, my sister's boyfriend enlisted in the Navy, and offered to sell his board to me for $25. I became the stoked owner of a 9-foot pop-out longboard. No label, but I remember it was opaque white with some pink streaks, and the bead was still on the rail. That same summer my family took a week-long vacation at Pacific Beach, in San Diego, and I was allowed to bring a friend. Everyday, we'd lug the heavy log down to the beach and take turns trying to surf in the white water. By the end of that summer, I was a "surfer."
2. How did you first get into shaping? Who influenced your approach to shaping?
In the early-1960s, Norton Air Force Base became the headquarters for the Air Force's intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) development. The aerospace industry drew many engineers from the South Bay area of Los Angeles to the Inland Empire (see Note 1). The children of these engineers brought their surf culture with them. One of those kids was Steve Boehne, who is now a master shaper and owner/founder of Infinity Surfboards. Steve and I became quick friends and surf buddies in my junior year in high school. During the summer of 1963, I convinced my parents to let us use their garage to build surfboards. Steve was the shaper and glasser, since he had already built one or two boards, and, more importantly, he had the Skil planer. I was the sander, wood fin builder, and general third-hand during glassing. We built two boards that summer. I'll always remember the fun we had building those boards, talking about surfboards and riding waves. Sharing ideas and trying this and that. We were totally on our own, figuring out the process without anyone to coach us, and learning from our mistakes, like learning not to use laminating resin for the gloss coat. Steve moved to the East Coast in the summer of 1964, taking his planer and my surfboard building opportunities with him.

College and graduate school, family responsibilities, work, life in general took me away from surfing for many years, although I continued to body surf and took up the boogie board in the early-1970s. When I re-entered the surfing world in 2001, I looked up my old friend Steve Boehne, who by then had moved his Infinity Surf Shop to Dana Point. Over the next couple of years I bought several boards from Steve, becoming more and more obsessed with the nuances of each new board's design. In 2004, I discovered Swaylock's. I was amazed by the wealth of knowledge on board building available there. I was greatly influenced by Bill Thrailkill, Bill Barnfield, but most of all, by Jim "The Genius" Phillips. In late-2005, after a year of reading everything on shaping I could get my hands on, and watching Phillips' video literally 100 times, I decided it was time to start shaping. However, but my timing couldn't have been worst. In December 2005, Clark Foam suddenly closed its doors, blanks were hard to find, and I had to spend $150 to get my first blank! It took me almost a week of evenings-after-work to finish that first shape, a 7'2" speed egg, but it turned out really well. In fact the guys at Moonlight Glassing were surprised to learn that it was my first shape. Pete St. Pierre told me, "Don't ever sell your first board," and I still have it to this day.

Over the last 9 yrs, my shaping has been influenced by a number of shapers, including Steve Boehne, Steve Ford, and Tim Phares. I've also learned a lot from watching other shapers, including Wayne Rich, John Carper and Ricky Carroll. Rusty Priesendorfer has shared many of his design insights on his blog site, which I've found to be invaluable when designing shapes for larger riders. All of my glassers, including my current glasser Ray Lucke, have influenced my shaping. Glassers see a ton of boards of all kinds and shapes, and I've learned to value their feedback on my shapes.

Thomas Patrick working on a third generation T-Belly board design. The name "T-Belly" came from a friend who grew tired of saying, "Thomas-Patrick-Belly-Board." 

Photos courtesy of Thomas Patrick Haugh.

3. Before your T-Belly boards what experience did you have riding prone surfcraft?
Since the mid-1970s, I have always owned a boogie board and a pair for Duck Feet swim fins. My favorite place to ride was the reef at Sleepy Hollow, in Laguna Beach, California. Early on, I adopted the use of the small fins manufactured specifically for the Morey Boogie Boards. My current body board is a Morey Mach 7-7.
4. When did start shaping as Thomas Patrick Surfboards?
I officially started Thomas Patrick Surfboards in the summer of 2006.
5. What was your first reaction when asked to make a bellyboard?
I was stoked! I had always ridden a body board and I had actually owned a "Jeffrey Dale" foam and glass bellyboard in 1966. In 1967, I found a broken longboard in the trash, and re-shaped it into a bellyboard. I glassed it, and had it curing in my open garage, when someone stole it before I ever git a chance to ride it! So, for me it was like revisiting an old friendship.

I really enjoy shaping these little boards (paipo/bellyboards). Shaping all of the contours, while trying to maintain symmetry, balance and functionality, requires a high level of concentration and forethought. Its really a meditative exercise. Time flies by as the unwieldy blank ... morphs into a ridable shape.
6. Do you ride a bellyboard yourself? If so, what do you think are the advantages and disadvantages about bellyboards? What do you enjoy about them and the type of wave they are made for?
I ride pretty much everything I shape, including the T-Belly. I find myself turning to the T-Belly when my surfing option is a fast and/or closed-out beach break. The speed and ease of catching waves makes it possible to surf waves that are often passed-over by stand-up surfers. You end up with a lot of solitary surf sessions which I find refreshing. At age 67, I'm simply not as quick to my feet as I used to be, which has made certain freight train winter point breaks prime targets for the T-Belly. I tend to avoid crowded longboard breaks, as the risk of being run over by a struggling beginner or a Joel-Tudor-wannabe is far too great. Another advantage of the bellyboard is the ease of transport; just throw it in your trunk (I keep mind in my truck at all times). Never know when a "good wave" opportunity will present itself.
7. Do you see any other bellyboards around your area?
Not many. I'm usually the only one on a bellyboard. Bellyboard users in California fall into the 1 percent of non-surfboard users that include true paipos, alaia, mats, boogie boarders etc. It takes a pretty strong sense of self-identity to step away from the crowd, try a new experience, take risks. Paipo/bellyboard riders have that in spades... that's one of the reasons I like to shape for them.
8. On what did you base this first bellyboard design?
Four years ago, when a customer approached me requesting a bellyboard, I immediately turned to the internet for research. It was there that I discovered Larry Goddard's work on I was stunned by his meticulously documented design experiments (e.g., see the Maili Marauder drawing below). And, I resonated with his design concepts. They were very similar to the design concepts I was beginning to experiment with in my Mini-Simmons shapes.

(Below left) Larry Goddard's drawing for the Maili Marauder—a model for Patrick's first custom order T-Belly.
(Below right) Goddard's Makaha Missile paipo design.

Drawing courtesy of Larry Goddard and board photo by Bob Green.

The photographs below show the first T-Belly—influenced by Larry Goddard's Maili Marauder template—to come out of the shaping room.

The first T-Belly, a gray tint with a clear deck, ca. 2011. Six of these G1 boards were made.

Photos courtesy of the Thomas Patrick Surfboards blog.

9. How many bellyboards have you made? Have the designs evolved much, and, if so, how have the designs changed?
About a dozen, and no two are exactly alike. While each shape has been part of a design progression—typically less volume—I classify them into three groups. There are the early T-Belly boards in which the Goddard influence is readily apparent (the "G1" series of which I made six boards). Then, earlier this year (2014), I made a radical change to the outline, moving the wide-point from the center to slightly behind center, and I began using stringerless, EPS foam and epoxy resin construction. I refer to this evolution as the second generation T-Belly design, or "G2." Additionally, after hand-shaping the first half-dozen or so, I began utilizing CNC shaping for production (CNC,  or computer numerical control, is a process in which computers play an integral part in design and manufacturing). This allowed me to produce a customized, high-performance bellyboard for under $300. Recent design changes have resulted in the creation of the third generation T-Belly, the "G3."

From the original T-Belly in 2011, until this year (2014), each T-Belly became thinner and thinner, going from 2-7/8 down to 2-1/4 inches. In 2014, after much thought, I made some significant changes. I thinned out the sloped-rail, changed the outline by pulling-in and flattening the nose, scooped-out the deck in the nose, put more belly in the nose bottom, added the hard-edge to the bottom concave and shortened the length to between 43 to 44 inches. Most importantly, I started using EPS foam and epoxy resin construction. I made enough changes to call this the Generation 2 model, or G2 for short. Simultaneously, I built a stringer-less G2, using a Marko body board blank for the first time, instead of the more expensive fish blank. This was the gray board with the VectorNet lamination and the Bonzer side-runners (shown below in question 11). After riding this shape a while, I was convinced I could get by with a lighter glass schedule and less volume. I also eliminated the deck concave and that board became the red and white G2. From riding that board, I learned that the volume-to-rider-weight ratio that I used in the first two G2s was right on the money (this was confirmed by Paipo Forums participant known as "SJB," who rode both the 23 liter gray/white and the 20 liter red/white boards—at 170 lbs, he preferred the lower volume red/white board). I also learned that the wide-point of the outline needed to be moved further back, towards the tail. So, I tweaked the outline, and kept everything else the same, including the flat deck. This became the G3 model. I built the first G3 for a larger rider (5'9" and 240 lbs.) and then built a second G3 for an average-sized rider from Australia (the "Standard G3"). Due to a blemish in the glass job on the Standard G3, I had to build another one. Good news, was that I now had a G3 demo board to test-ride for myself. Both of the G3s have the same basic outline and design features. The "Big Boy G3" is wider and thicker creating more volume, but otherwise the same as the standard G3.

Two first generation T-Belly boards. Note the grab-rail groove on the nose of the unglassed board.

Photos courtesy of the Thomas Patrick Surfboards blog.

First Generation (G1). The T-Belly designs have a number of unique features. The deck has a 1/4 inch concave starting about the mid-point and deepening towards the tail. Thickness along the stringer is 2-1/2 inches while thickness at the rail is 2-3/4 inches. The concave offers a snug fit for the rider. The bottom also has a beveled rail in the rear half of the board the facilitates rolling the board over on the rail to turn. With less than an 1-inch tail rocker, the bevel offers an additional 3/8 inches of rocker at the rail.

John's Ice Blue T-Belly has a thinner foil and lower rocker. The slope-deck rails are thin, offering good wave penetration. I moved the fins slightly forward, but kept the "V" outside of the fins, with a progressively-deep single concave exiting the tail. There is a "hip" in the outline just forward of the fins, which is where the "V" starts at the rail and where the concave begins, flowing in between the fins and exiting the tail.

James Whittlesey riding an early T-Belly at Puerto Chicama, Peru.

Photos courtesy of James Whittlesey.

(Below left) This is the G1 design board James Whittlesey is riding in the Puerto Chicama photographs shown above.
(Below right) The ice blue board on the rack is Mario's, and was the last TB1 produced. This board uses the G1 outline, but was significantly less thick than any previous G1 boards, and led Thomas to design future boards in the 2- to 2-1/4-inch thickness range.

(Left) Photo courtesy of  James Whittlesey and (right) the Thomas Patrick Surfboards blog.

Second Generation (G2). My design goals and concepts for the T-Belly Generation 2 were to
  • reduce board volume by designing a thinner and shorter board compared to the G1 design that was based on Larry Goddard's work (standing on the shoulders of a giant here);
  • incorporate some bottom contours from my Mini-Simmons variant, the Mini-Widget;
  • use fins in conjunction with bottom contours to control water flow a la the Campbell Bros Bonzer (always intrigued me because the Bonzer side runners are ideal bellyboard fins due to their low aspect ratio, presenting a very low frontal exposure (less drag) but a long base for drive and hold);
  • radically alter rocker at the rail by applying Max McDonald's concept of the elevated wing;
  • reduce cost by designing a shape that would not require a full-sized "fish" blank; and
  • save weight by not having a stringer in the blank.
The foam blank solution came from the almost too obvious choice of a standard EPS bodyboard core from Marko Foam. The biggest problem with the bodyboard core is its lack of rocker. The solution to this design problem was the use of a wide-point behind center, narrow nose outline with plenty of "belly" or convex curve in the bottom front third of the board. Finally, I wanted to save weight by not having a stringer in the blank. This raised questions about the risk to the structural integrity of the blank that going "stringer-less" might create." As shown in the photographs below the board is epoxy "with a layer of VectorNet (Kevlar netting woven into some very fine nylon mesh).

Dimensions are in inches (unless otherwise noted)
Length: 43
     Tip of the nose: 8
     Nose: 18-1/2 @ 12 from the nose
     Widest point: 22-1/4, @16-3/4 from the tail
     Tail: 22 @ 12 from the tail
     Tailblock: 18
Nose rocker: 2-3/8
Tail rocker: 7/8
Thickness: This particular board has a deeply "sloped" rail and a concave deck 1/8 inches deep, so the maximum thickness is about 2 inches from the outer edge of the rail and measures 2-1/4 inches. The thickness measured at the center of the deck (centerline) is 2-1/8 inches.

T-Belly Generation 2 model shows narrower nose, wide point moved aft with a fuller tail section, aft concave slot and Bonzer quad fin set-up. Also note the VectorNet cloth and absence of a stringer.

Sources: Photos courtesy of the Thomas Patrick Surfboards blog (top images) and Forums (bottom image).

T-Belly Generation 2 waiting to have its gloss coat sanded. This board is also 43 inches long and removes the deck concave.

Photos courtesy of the Thomas Patrick Surfboards blog.

Third Generation (G3). Design changes from the G2 are listed below
  • deck concave has been removed in the interest of more efficient volume distribution
  • sloped rail keeps volume in the center of the board and the rail "knifey" thin
  • bottom "belly-to-flat-to-down-rail" remains from the G2, as does the tail exit concave
  • difference in outline (plan shape)
  • lots of fin options
One of the advantages of the G3 design is that it can be easily extrapolated to accommodate riders of all sizes. Using the G2 prototype (grey with VectorNet mesh and Bonzer fins) I developed a formula for length and volume, based upon rider height and weight. Using this formula allows me to "extrapolate" or "size" the T-Belly to each individual rider. When I changed the outline with the G3, I kept the same sizing formula, so outline changed but length and volume remained the same. As far as volume tweaks are concerned, I favor increasing the width to increasing the thickness, but stop at a width of 23 inches. From there I add thickness until desired volume is reached. Increasing thickness only increases buoyancy, but increasing width increases both buoyancy and planing area.

The board pictured below is actually the second G3, but its more representative of the typical shape. The intended rider is an 170 lb., 5'10" lifetime surfer from Australia. His local break is occasionally overhead to double-overhead, with rare triple-overhead days. After a great deal of discussion we selected the following board dimensions: 44 x 22 x 2-1/8 inches (volume is 23.8 liters). The extra volume—via more length and more thickness—will serve to widen the wave range of the original design. Notice that the wide point has been moved further behind center. I believe that most prone riders turn and trim off the rear third of the board. Moving the wide-point back provides a pivot point for shorter-radius turns. This bulge or "hip" in the outline is where the rail has maximum contact with and penetration into the wave face. I locate the front-fin (of a quad set-up) adjacent to this point to leverage the pivot point, but also to maximize hold in the wave face.

The Standard G3.

Photos courtesy of the Thomas Patrick Surfboards blog.

The T-Belly G3 "Big Boy" Model shown below is for a rider weighing 240 lbs and 5'9" tall. The board measures 45 x 23 x 2-3/4 inches (volume is 30 liters). This board was widened to 23 inches and thickened throughout (2-3/4 inches at thickest part). Volume was increased to 30L. It is built with the same EPS foam and epoxy resin.

The T-Belly G3 "Big Boy" Model.

Photos courtesy of the Thomas Patrick Surfboards blog.

Several perspectives of the board pictured above. 

Photos courtesy of the Thomas Patrick Surfboards blog.

10. Where have your bellyboards ended up? Any ride reports from the owners of these boards? 
California, of course, both Southern and Northern, but also several in the Pacific Northwest, and as far away as Hamburg, Germany. I have a current order from a surfer in Australia. I've gotten many inquiries from outside the U.S., but freight cost and especially foreign import duties, have made the shape cost-prohibitive. (It is truly unfortunate that the people of this country, a.k.a. "the Government," allow foreign surf companies free access to our markets, when those very same foreign countries protect their own markets from our surf products with costly import tariffs.) Most riders have been very satisfied with the performance of their T-Belly boards. But, I encourage them to report dislikes as well, and have incorporated that feedback into the design progression. The biggest complaints of the early boards: too long and too thick. Over time I hacked almost 10 liters of volume off the shape.

The figures below show an early T-Belly for a German customer—the last of the G1 boards. My move towards a thinner shape is clearly seen in this board, especially when compared to the very first T-Belly (an early T-Belly based on Larry Goddard's Mailie Marauder). I made some adjustments in thickness to better match Mario's 170 lb. weight and shortened the length to 48" to better match his 5'8" height. Although, personally, I like the smaller size even for someone my height (5'10") and weight (185 lbs.). I kept the center of flotation behind center. The board features the same concave deck/concave bottom as my other T-Bellys.

Deck and bottom views of the T-Belly for a German customer.  

Photos courtesy of the Thomas Patrick Surfboards blog.

11. If you were to make another board what would it be like? 
Maybe a longer, narrower shape. My modern Mini-Simmons, the "Mini-Widget," reduced down to 54 inches. The key would be a move away from using swim fins as primary propulsion, relying instead upon a combination of arm- and kick-paddling. The gain would be less drag, with more of the body out of the water.

I'm very close to building the G4x which will be longer (for me 48 inches instead of 45 inches), but same volume. Increasing the length means moving the wide-point up, so the outline will change slightly. Increasing the length comes after my own riding experience and reports from a couple of my riders that a little extra length would help to increase the max planing "sweet-spot."  Also, I plan to eliminate the single tail concave in favor of a double concave exit with slight V. I now believe the effort put into shaping the well-defined single-concave of the G2 & G3 doesn't offer a performance gain over a simple (less labor-intensive) blended concave. If these changes offer significant improvements, I'll start offering the G4 to customers.
12. What about fin-set-up? I believe this is an area where you have been experimenting quite a bit in terms of number of fins, fin type, position and toe-in?
...and yes, it is true, I'm addicted to fins!

Regarding fin placement, when riding on a wave, the location of kneelo rider's center-of-mass is different than a prone rider's. Its further forward. That is why the fins are pushed up and why the outline curve on most non-fish kneeboards begins to accelerate at this point. I've found that in general, on multi-finned prone boards, the more curve in in the last third of a prone board's outline, the further up from the tail the fins should go. The flatter the outline curve, the further back the rail fins should be placed. Ideally, front fins should be placed just behind the "hip" in the outline. 

(Below left) Fin trial #1, with Bonzer quad side-runners in conventional Bonzer position. Results: Lots of speed, maybe the fastest, but wave-face hold just so-so. Decided the "hold" issue was due to location of deeper fin not close enough to wide point of a board lacking a center fin.
(Below right) Fin trial #2: Reversed Bonzer side-runner location. Result: Gained much better hold with same speed..

Photos courtesy of the Thomas Patrick Surfboards blog.

Fin Trial #3: This was the first use of a more conventional quad-fin placement, utilizing longboard side-bite fins. Front fins 3.7"x 3.5", rear fins 3.25" x 3.25". Small fins were used to match chest-high conditions. Result: better traction and hold than Bonzer side-runners, with just a little loss of speed.

Photos courtesy of the Thomas Patrick Surfboards blog.

Fin Trial #4: Taking a cue from classic fish, kneeboards, Mini-Simmons shapes and historical bellyboards, Thomas wanted to explore the use of the keel fin. However, most keel fins are quite large, typically 5.5" x 7" to 9". He dug out a set of split-keel quads, and used only the front fins (4.9" x 3.9") in the G2's front fin position. Results: Lots of hold and traction, speed, good release, pivoty turns... everything he was looking for! Thomas ended the session thinking, "This is the fin!"

Photos courtesy of the Thomas Patrick Surfboards blog.

Fin Trial #5: BUT....there are still lots more choices to explore... Future Trial #1: Under the heading of "more is better," the rear fin (4.13"x 3.34") will be added to complete the split-keel set. The combined base will rival a typical asymmetric keel fin, so hold and projection on bigger point waves shouldn't be a problem. Question: Can the fins transfer enough energy to justify the added drag?

Photos courtesy of the Thomas Patrick Surfboards blog.

Future Trial #2: Maybe just a good set of twin-fins like this MR-Twin template (5.5" x 5.5") will be the simple solution for larger point waves? Thomas only uses twins or quads on T-Belly boards. He sees large center fins as a design anachronism left over from early stand up boards where the rider's high center-of-gravity created stability issues, and the performance benefits of smaller, multi-fins systems had not been realized.

Photo courtesy of the Thomas Patrick Surfboards blog.

(Below left) Future Trial #3: These modern fish keels look enormous! True Ames Hobie template (5.25" x 7.25"), but I can imagine the speed holding the high line at one of my local point breaks.
(Below right) Future Trial #4: This front fin (4.6" x 4.5") with 3.7" SB has lots of rake for projection and drawn-out turns. Could be just the ticket at local points on big winter swells. Perhaps a little less rake in the front fin for bigger days at my local beach breaks.

Photos courtesy of the Thomas Patrick Surfboards blog.

Note 1: The "Inland Empire" is situated directly east of the Los Angeles metropolitan area. The term is most commonly used in reference to the Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario metropolitan area.

Other info:

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