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A Paipo Interview with Derek Jardine

Ply boards of the 1940s in South Africa

A Paipo Interview with Derek Jardine
August 7, 2012 - Durban, South Africa.
E-mail interview by Bob Green.

Assistance with this interview was provided by Bev Angus, Harry Bold, Geoff Cater, Allan Jackson,
Dick Metz, Glen Thompson, Johnny Vassilaros, Michael Walker and John Whittle.

Derek rode a homemade ply paipo in Durban in the 1940s. He and his friends cut down longer bellyboards that were sold to tourists "so that we could swim with them." They were called "dumper boards." Then came surfoplanes and wooden stand-up boards.
1. How did you get into riding bellyboards?
There were a few of the older guys in those days who were riding big heavy surfboards and a few balsa boards. The younger guys aged 12 to 15 (like me) couldn’t handle the big heavy boards. So a few of the younger guys who also wanted to surf on boards, other than body surfing, used a wooden marine ply-type of board that the shops used to sell to tourists, but those boards were about 4 to 5 feet long and tourists just used them in the broken wave for a bit of fun and had no idea how to ride them.
2. When and where was this?
This was in the 1940s, and the main beach was South Beach which was close to the pier.
3. Were people already riding these boards when you started? Who else rode them with you?
I'm sure others were riding these boards, but this was about 70 years ago, and we were the local kids on the beach in those days, always looking for something to do in the water.

Derek Jardine and famous American surfer, Doc Dorian Paskowitz, in a photo taken about two years ago in the Surfing Heritage and Culture Center (formerly known as the Surfing Heritage Foundation), in San Clemente, Calif., at a meeting arranged by Dick Metz.
Photo courtesy of Derek Jardine.

"The photo was taken in the 1940's near the west street pier in Durban... Two of those guys are riding Surfoplanes [see Note 1] and were part of the local beach boys. I think one was Shorty Bronkhorst or Cliff Honeysett. Both now deceased!!"

Photo likely by Fred Hamilton, courtesy of Derek Jardine.

4. Did the tourist boards have nose lift in them? What sort of shops sold them?

The "tourist board" had very little lift in them and were sold by the local grocer or general dealer. There were no shops like we have them today. The boards pictured below are examples of typical South Africa belly boards with nose lift of varying degree, not the tourist boards.

The oak board on the left was made by David George Phillips in 1930, and used around South Beach, Durban. This and the other boards are part of the late Baron Stander's collection.

Photos courtesy of Surfing Heritage South Africa.

The nail holes on the tail suggest a protective strip covered the tail. The 1927 oak board on the right was purchased at Muizenberg Beach [see Note 2] by Lady Hoight, wife of Sir Louis Hoight the Provincial Governor for 17 shillings and six-pence.

Photos courtesy of Surfing Heritage South Africa.

5. So were the paipo boards you were riding like the ones pictured in the above photos?
The boards were very similar to the photos, but we modified them to our own needs. I notice a Surfoplane in one of your pictures!

Bellyboards, handplanes and a surf mat in the late Baron Stander's Durban Timewarp Surf Museum, 1999. This photo gives an indication of the respective size of the boards featured elsewhere in this interview.

Photos courtesy of Harry Bold.
6. What were your boards like?
We would cut off the end of the board to about two and a half feet to 3 feet, bend the rocker up a bit more and we had a good ridable bodyboard, which we could jump off the end of the pier with and catch some pretty big waves. Mainly we could swim with them with an overarm movement.

How did you bend the rocker in the boards?
First we used to cut off a portion of the board to the size we wanted it, then heat the nose by way of boiling a kettle and then holding the steam under the nose, and bending it. Very primitive but it worked!!
7. You mentioned the boards were cut down so you could swim with them. What did you mean by this? How did you swim with them? If you didn't lie on the boards there must have been a lot of cross-over with bodysurfing technique?
Yes, we cut them down to about +/- 22 to 24 inches so that we could swim overarm with them. Remember swimming in the surf is very different to swimming in a pool. By swimming I mean we had to swim out to the back line, mostly in pretty big and rough surf in order to catch the waves. Mostly we tried to dive off the end of the pier but if the surf was breaking at another spot other than next to the pier we had to get to the back line which sometimes was about 200 to 250 yards offshore, and a lot of times we had problems with the fishermen on the pier. They hated those kids messing with their fishing!

The boards were too short to lie on and paddle, it really was a different type of surfing, but probably similar to the Hawaiian's paipo boards, but more primitive. We could swim into the swell and use the board to break the wave and we were away and riding all the way to shore! The bigger guys obviously had slightly bigger boards as we used to measure the length by measuring from under the armpit to the tip of our fingers. We actually called them "Dumper Boards."

8. How did you surf the boards?
We could not lie on the boards as they were too short, but held the nose of the board and steered across the wave.
9. What sort of waves were these boards best suited to?
The best waves were with an offshore or westerly wind, but they worked quite well with a big easterly (onshore) swell.
10. Did you use flippers?
No, we never used flippers in those days. I don't think they were invented yet! As kids we were on the beach just about every day, so we had to have something to do.
11. Did you keep riding the ply boards?
Next came the Surfoplanes from Australia, which was also a lot of fun on the bigger waves. Then came the long wooden surfboards, so as we got older we gave up the old type body boards and surfed longboards. There are some pretty good fancy bodyboards and kneeboards being ridden here today.

South Durban surfing: (below left) Shorty Bronkhorst (far left), Leith Jardine and Noel Dodd; (below right) Leith Jardine, Derek's younger brother.

Photos courtesy of Derek Jardine.
12. Where did you surf the longboards? Are you still surfing?
The longboards came once we were able to carry them!! And then we started making our own wooden hollow boards, with a bunghole to let the water out, about +/- 12 ft. Then in about 1952, I think, the Australian Lifesaving Team came to Durban to compete against our South Africa Team,and I bought one of the Aussie boards. (I can send you some pics if you like!! I think the board was about 16 ft long!) In 1955, I moved to Cape Town, and brought that same board with me. I can remember surfing Muizenberg on a good day and being the only boardrider in the water! Not many surfers in Cape Town in the 1950s that I saw. A few years later, I sold the board to a local guy and imported a Hansen board from the USA. Surfed the longboards from then on in Cape Town. Was surfing up to three years ago when I visited California to visit my son who is a pretty good surfer. I was the 78-years-old then! Now, I just swim. So keep surfing, as old surfers never die, they just fade away until the take their last swim!!!

(Below left) Derek and Neil Von Coller with home made boards, Durban, ca. 1948. The decals were painted on by an older local surfer.

(Below right) South Beach Durban, ca. 1949. Six boys and a girl on the crest of a wave.

Pictured above are Ronnie Walker, Bruce Giles and Wendy Hall, Derek Jardine. Anthony Heard, Wyndon Woodford, and Pierre Cerf, "taking a slide, to provide for a pleasant holiday on South Beach yesterday." Derek writes that Anthony and Pierre are still around. Geoff Cater advised that the "flat deck with a deep rockered bottom" was "substantially different to the Australian Racing 16" (personal e-mail to Bob Green, January 29, 2013).

Photos courtesy of Derek Jardine.

Crocker skis and longboards were also popular waveriding craft of the era.

Photo courtesy of Johnny Vassilaros and Allan Jackson.

Note 1: The surfoplane was the forerunner of the modern surf mat. Learn more about the surfoplane in our Paipo Interview with the John Ruffels, the inventor of the surfoplane.

Note 2:
Surfing at Muizenberg has a long history, documented on postcards, jig-saws, travel brochures and books such as Lord Frederick Spencer's Here, There and Everywhere, "You walk out in the shoal water up to your shoulders, and as a big sea comes in, you throw yourself chest foremost on to your plank, and are then carried along on the top of the roller at the pace of a leisurely train (an Isle of Wight train), to be deposited with a bang on the sandy beach. It is really capital fun...". (See pages 267-268 in Hamilton, Lord Frederic. (1921). Here, there and everywhere. New York: George H. Doran company. See download here.)

(Below left) George Bernard Shaw at Muizenberg. (Below right) Muizenberg postcard shows kids and adults riding bellyboarding planks, ca. 1929.

(Left) Unknown author. (1932, March). The Three Degrees of Surfing. South African Travel News. Both items are courtesy of Hilton Teper of the UK (formerly of Cape Town, South Africa). More at on George Bernard Shaw and paipo postcards.

The Cape Peninsula Publicity Association promoted the sport of surfing (bellyboarding) in their annual publications. Shown below are covers from their 1918 and 1923 editions, left and right, respectively.

The 1918 edition describes the infectiousness of surf bathing at Muizenberg,
"The great essential for "surfing" as the sport is termed, is a smooth plank a couple of feet wide and about four feet in length. Armed with this the devotee wades far out where the waves are breaking best. He then waits his opportunity. A fine big curling breaker comes rushing in. The surfer throws himself on the plank, is caught by the wave and whirled, straight as a die, for the beach. The wave tries to overtake him, but itself is his propelling power, and he is always just ahead until in the shallows it is spent and hisses harmlessly by."

(Left) Cape Peninsula Publicity Association. (1918). Muizenberg, Kalk Bay and St. James. Cape Town: Cape Peninsula Publicity Association.  Courtesy of Bev Angus, African Studies Library, University of Cape Town.
Cape Peninsula Publicity Association. (1923). Muizenberg, Kalk Bay and St. James. Cape Town: Cape Peninsula Publicity Association. Courtesy of the Surfing Heritage Foundation, via Wingnut from an acquaintance of his.

Michael Walker has also documented the history of surfing in several self-published books. Shown below are Muizenberg - A forgotten Story (2009) and The Golden Years: A postcard memoir of the Kalk Bay-Muizenberg municipality 1895-1996 (revised edition 1997).

Courtesy of Bev Angus, African Studies Library, University of Cape Town. The cover features the 1924 painting by G. Turner "First Pavilion and surfers."

 Back and front covers of Muizenberg: the golden years.

Courtesy of Rod Rodgers.

Walker's books include:
Walker, Michael. 1997. The golden years: a postcard memoir of the Kalk Bay- Muizenberg municipality, 1895-1913. Cape Town: M. Walker.
Walker, Michael. 1999. Coastal memories: Muizenberg, St. James, Kalk Bay, 1870-1920. [St. James, Cape Town]: M. Walker.
Walker, Michael. 2004. Muizenberg: the golden years. St. James: M.J. Walker.
Walker, Michael. 2004. Kalk Bay, St. James: a brief history illustrated with postcards of a bygone era. St. James [South Africa]: M.J. Walker.
Walker, Michael. 2009. Muizenberg - a forgotten story. St. James [South Africa]: M. Walker.

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

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