|Chuck Gardner Paipo Interview
December 23, 2009. Costa Mesa, California
Telephone interview by Rod Rodgers, Questions developed by Bob Green
|Introduction. Chuck Gardner, one of the first guys to ride Wedge on a bellyboard.
64, Chuck grew up on the Newport Beach peninsula at 9th Street between
Newport Beach and the Balboa pier. Wedge was about a mile and half away
towards the east. His family moved to Newport in 1953, when he was
about 10 years old. He'd been to Wedge but had never appreciated the
waves. He started surfing around the summer of 1959. Chuck surfed at 9th
St., which broke top to bottom, bodysurfing and rafting. One of the
older guys had said "you guys need to get out into the water." He still
has the original bellyboard that he made in 1959 -- it's about 48
inches long. Chuck got into Wedge after graduating junior high school1. What got you started on a bellyboard?
At the time of the black ball nothing over 4' could be ridden but
bellyboards could be legally ridden at Wedge if they were 4’ or less.
No surfing or boogie boards. Chuck rode the same board for over 30
years - round rails, fiberglass foam and balsa stringer. He also had
other boards that manufacturers made for him. Chuck told me that
“nobody else was really into bellyboards but their group.” Skip Briggs
may have preceded him at Wedge. He rode kneeboards and bellyboards and
made them as well.
Other early Wedge surfers, who were about 15 years older than Chuck,
included Carter Pyle, Joe Quigg, Tom Jewell, and Mickey Muñoz. Joe Quigg made Quigg Surfboards. Joe Quigg also came up with the idea
of the Hobie Cat. Tom Jewell, who now lives on Maui, first took the
kids down to Wedge. Carter Pyle, Joe Quigg and Tom Jewell were bodysurfing Wedge.
They had the place to themselves and were doing incredible things. They
were really pissed off when the gremmies starting riding their
bellyboards there. Those were the guys that were there first and the
bellyboarders ran them off, and the other crowds and attitudes. Joe
Neely was another one of the outstanding Wedge surfers, 15 years
younger than Chuck Gardner, that came along a little later. Chuck noted
that Neely, to the best of his knowledge, was the first bodysurfer
featured in Surfer Magazine riding 10 to 15 foot Banzai Pipeline, in
the late-1970s. A classic photo. Neely recently passed away at the age
of 55 years -- he lived 4 houses from
There is a movie of Wedge form the early 60s to the 70s with lots of
Wedge pictures by Skip Briggs. Chuck is also featured in several
movies, including the Endless Summer where he is shown jumping off the
Wedge jetty and was in two Greg MacGillivray movies, including
MacGillivray narrating in Cool Wave of Color, “there is Chuck Gardner,
‘King of the Wedge,’ getting tubed." Chuck described himself as "very
aggressive" and as having "no fear at all".
other bellyboarders at the time. We were riding wood paipos, skim
boards, or a raft. I started on a canvas mat riding prone and then on
my knees. At that point we had never seen fiberglass bellyboards
with people using them to turn on the waves. Pretty serious surf at 10
years old – started riding Wedge around 14 or 15 years old. The
bellyboard really provided an advantage at Wedge – you could do
everything unlike bodysurfing. 2. What were your first boards like? Who made them?
I was already an accomplished stand-up surfer at the time -- stand up
board surfing was my first love -- but the bellyboard was the best way
to ride Wedge. It drove the bodysurfers crazy. Kids are now
skimboarding Wedge – we never ever considered doing that.
My first board was a Velzy and Jacobs 9 footer. I started around 1957,
when I was about 10 or 11 years old, going to Doheny or Huntington
Flats (Huntington Cliffs).
I can’t surf anytime anymore since having my hip replaced and both
knees. Everyone (of the crew) complains about their C6 and C4
vertebrae. Doesn’t really matter because the water is absolutely filthy
these days. Sewage plants have waivers, it gets dumped into the ocean
and comes back in to the line-up. There is also too much boat
pollution. I won’t even go in the bay these days. Stopped surfing the
river jetty in the mid-60s. It is also very territorial these days in
Southern California. All the way up the coast.
Jewell suggested the design to our 9th Street gang. “Let’s all make
bellyboards,” he suggested. We made them under 48” to evade the
blackball. These foam and fibreglass bellyboards could out catch a wave
over a wood paipo board.
3. How did these early boards go compared to your later boards?
The boards had the shape like a mini-1960s era longboard, and had
rounded rails, parallel lines, a round nose, and a round tail block
that was maybe a 5” squared round tail. The board had a single fin made
of wood that was about 7” tall and 5” wide. This is the same board that
was used in the Endless Summer sequence of me jumping off Wedge
jetty. I made other boards with slightly different designs but always
came back to the original.
Hawaii made a board which I still have that was very comparable to my
original board. But, it ended up getting stress marks all across the
nose so kinda slowed me down. My first board was very tough – I always
enjoyed riding it.
4. Did you ride bellyboards anywhere besides Wedge or come across other bellyboarders?
I tried boogie boarding. The last time I was in Hawaii, I boogie
boarded the Pipeline, 8-10’ faces, hollow spitting. That was fun. I
never saw the point to riding my bellyboard anywhere else but Wedge.
Everywhere else I surfed on a stand-up surfboard without the leash.
When the sponges came out the bellyboard went away. We were doing
manoeuvrers that none of the stand-up surfers were doing. I considered
doing an invert in the wave and go upside down but never attempted the
360s like Stewart does on his bodyboard.
Only at Wedge. Never had the excitement at any other break like the
intensity of Wedge. I used to take off sideways near the rocks. If I
went to any other place I knew I could ride it on a surfboard, e.g.,
Huntington or Newport.
Besides Wedge, Newport is associated with the El Paipo boards. What was
the story behind these boards? Were they always ridden as a kneeboard?
One thing I can say about Wedge - too many surfboards would be too
dangerous to all. The guys going out there on Stand Up Paddleboards are
absolutely nuts. Way too dangerous. I would tell them to get out.
There is a long learning curve at Wedge, not a place you can just
paddle out and ride. Taking off sideways you can make it, taking off
right on the peak will pitch you and you have less control. Need to
watch the wave to learn it and master it.
Had to back off the locals to let Mike Stewart ride Wedge. Fred Simpson
was an older guy that used to ride Wedge – he originated the Viper fin
(see more about Simpson here).
know the story. I never considered riding El Paipo and Newport Paipo
boards, because I liked my original board and it worked well.6. What's it like riding Wedge?
No other wave compares to the intensity.
7. How long did you ride bellyboards for?
1958, until the late-1990s. I stopped after my hip replacement and knee
replacements. Arthritis and cold water stopped me from any more
I've read a story about a guy nick-named Mackman riding wedge in 1962
on a twin-finned wood paipo. Do you recall this guy?
that Gary “The Bear” Ruzicka? All he did was paipo board. Next to
Wedge, his spot was 40th Street – although the rules said there were to
be no hard objects out in the water the lifeguards let him go out with
his paipo board.
9. I’ve seen some photos of Judge Robert Gardner bodysurfing and photos shot by Steve Gardner. Are you related to them?
Gardner is not related but I know who he is. He fought to keep Wedge
open. “We can’t keep taking healthy recreation places away from kids,”
Judge Gardner said. He was a big bodysurfer. So was his daughter, Nancy
Gardner, a Newport Beach Council member. I am not sure if Steve Gardner, who had published several pics in surfing
magazines, is related to Judge Gardner; however, he is not related to me.
Any other comments?
all the kneeboarders, Ron Romanosky was the best, and like me was very
competitive. I was a real competitive person -- water polo, swimming,
wrestling -- but also a real solo person. And, I had to work. I have
respect for the ocean -- I was a commercial fisherman* Note: Greg MacGillivray narrating in his surf film, Cool Wave of Color.
When Wedge gets really big it isn’t that shallow at the peak but on the inside is treacherous.