|September 26, 2009, Byron Bay NSW, Australia
telephone interview by Bob Green
Photos courtesy of Dick Ash
|1. How did you get started?
the malibu’s first started I was a tall skinny guy and I had great
difficulty standing on land let alone balancing on a board. From the
old rubber surfoplane days to coolites and things I just found it a lot
easier to lie down. [See Note 1.]
was the first one?
I was about 14 (ca. 1959-1960), when I cut up an old broken balsa
boards to make belly
boards and that’s how it all started. There was a guy who came back
from Hawaii and he had a paipo board. There were guys making what we
called tea trays before that, there was a mate of mine who shaped a
piece of ply literally in the shape of a tear. He varnished it and had
a chrome towel rack on the front as a handle. No fins. That’s cool.
That was sort of a bellyboard.
I was surfing South Avalon when a few guys asked me to make other belly
boards for them. Then I finally shaped one and thought it was pretty
well the perfect shape. And what I did then was roto mould it. It’s the
same principle as they do dinghys now. The first ones we brought out
were hollow but what we found they were a little bouncy, so we drilled
a little hole and filled them up with foam and they were a lot better.
And that basically was the Bellybogger.
was about 1970. That was the first major production model. We were
selling them quite well, then Manly Waringah Council banned them in
between the flags because they were hard. All the mums all of a sudden
said – “oh, you can’t have those” and then along came the boogie board
soon after and that more or less took over from the Bellybogger. We
bought the Bellybogger out before the Morey Boogie came to Australia.
Bellybogger advertisement from
Surfing World (1978, Aug.), 27(5). Issue 167,
(inside back cover). Thanks to
Jeff Bickerstaff for a copy.
found an ad in Tracks in 1994.
Ah, yes that’s when I revived it and made a
did it differ?
the shape. It had removable fins, the first one had built in fins and
it had a sort of a mat deck, a good grip deck, like a neoprene deck and
a wider tail, because I believe the wide tail helped.
The original paipo design was a tear shape
with a narrow nose and very
wide tail. They’d turn the nose up, some would make an extra piece of
ply like a little channel around the front then the whole back was just
a big slab of ply. The idea of that was that it gave surface to take
off on those Sunset waves. The paipo boards need to have a lot of
surface to get into them. Those big Hawaiians you see on those paipos,
once they get going they slide to one side so the outer edge is not
even used, it’s the inside rail that’s what its about.
many do you reckon you made all up?
the first Bellybogger we made about five hundred. But the second one I
brought out I probably only made fifty at most. There was interest from
various mad guys around the world, even Felipe Pomar, who was the
longboard champion. I sent one off to him in Hawaii, so they are
scattered all over the place, a couple I sent to England. I was
shipping them all around the world, there was a very select and elite
market who knew what bellyboards were about.
6. Can you tell me about your latest board – you gave it
a very long number (“I think it must be about prototype number 7394”)?
latest one is a closed cell EVA and what I have done is make a skin top
and bottom over a piece of ply. So the whole thing is completely safe.
In other words you can go into a barrel and not worry about being cut
up or banged on the head because it is all nice and soft. The rigidity
is given to it by the piece of ply in the centre. But I’ve still got a
lot of flex in fact -- the last foot of it is a complete flex tail. I
surf most days with George Greenough and his mat mates out at Wategos.
A mat is an interesting thing because of the flexibility but I’ve
learnt from the mat by not wasting energy on something solid. I love a
NE [an on-shore, nor'easter wind] because it blows the surfers away and
creates a chop. I’m out there
by myself. This flexy board you can actually ride over these bumps and
your not wasting energy. It’s the same principle as a mat, whereas a
board if you’re taking a straight object and trying to flatten out the
lump you’re actually wasting energy. So the sensation of riding over
and around the little bumps is quite exciting. I actually enjoy riding
all the little choppy waves as you’re working with the energy of the
there much buoyancy?
Another thing is it’s now quite long, it’s 1.5 metres long [about 59
inches], because the
principle is to get your knees out of the water. A guy out on a ski the
other day said, “When you go across a wave you hardly make a wake.”
I’ve got really good fins on it now, proper FCS fins. All set
correctly. I’ve now got side fins or thrusters. It’s incredible I’ve
just gone through an exercise of using centre fins vs thrusters or
foils. I wouldn’t believe the difference. I’ve always pooh-hoohed the
idea of foils, it really does work. The centre fins for some reason act
like a drag whereas when I put the foils on, wow, the sensation of
speed is great.
Getting back to the flexibility of it all. I can catch a wave beside a
malibu, because I push the board out in front so you have 12 to 18
inches out in
front of your hands. So if you are 6 foot you become nearly 8 foot and
really old giant Continental flippers, they’re really big long ones.
I’ve thinned them all down, so when you add another foot on that, you
got 10 foot and if I’m beside a malibu I can catch a wave beside that
trick is the flex, I can bend over the front of the wave and then you
can feel yourself being pulled onto the wave and you push yourself onto
the wave and off you go. If you’ve got a stiff board you don’t get the
same sensation. The flexibility is the trick, it’s a beautiful feeling,
especially if you are doing bottom turns. You can almost feel yourself
being sprung off the bottom.
And the other thing about belly boarding as you know is the feeling of
speed. You can travel 30 mph in a Holden and it doesn’t seem very fast
but if you go 30 mph in a go-kart you’re really flying and it’s the
same with bellyboarding. When lying down on a belly board what I do is
I stretch out and my chin is literally only inches above the water. So
the sensation of speed is really fantastic whereas even when I prop
myself up on my elbows when I am wanting to pull out of something, it
feels like I’m doing half the speed. That’s why I don’t understand why
boogie board guys ride on their elbows because they are not
experiencing the sensation of speed.
D (1994).Bellybogger: The fastest way to get your guts across a
wave. Byron Bay NSW, Australia: The Author.
not a lot of flotation, but enough. You
can go under a wave and it acts as an aquaplane. It actually holds you
in position under the water. So you can dive right down deep.
8. And how old are now, Dick?
I don’t paddle around with my arms.
You can, but I just find it easier to just kick. I’ve got channels
either side, where I put my thumbs and I just kick. My legs are a lot
more powerful than my arms are.
I’ve been doing it for a while. That’s 50 years. Every time I come out
of the shed I say to my wife, “This is the ultimate!” and she says,
“That is what you said last week.” It keeps me like a kid -- I have to
down everyday -- there’s something different to try out. That’s what it
is all about. Everyone should have a new board every week.
9. Are you planning to produce your latest design or is
it a work in progress?
won’t make a mould or anything like that. They’re all handmade. There’s
a few people now who say, “How much?” I could say I could make it for
$500 dolalrs, but the materials are about nearly half that. By the time
spent a good part of 5-6 hours shaping and gluing it all together, I’m
not going to make a million dollars making bellyboards. It’s a bit like
an artist. You create something and someone wants your product. It’s a
bit of a thrill.
10. There’s a guy called Warren who mentioned you to me
about a year ago.
I know him. They [surf mat riders] get some amazing waves. But, I just
like the rigidity
of a bellyboard. See what happens when they ride a mat, they have
got to hang onto the ears by both hands. I just don’t like it. With my
board I can let go of my hands completely, have a hand free, I can hold
onto it with one hand, hang the other into the wall or use it as a
rudder. I can drive through the wave. I can be in a complete barrel,
shove one hand in the wall like a bodysurfer and come completely out
the other side. It’s completely different feel to ride.
11. So it’s got a flat bottom and a concave under the
The other nice thing about mine is that it has a completely concave
nose. The trick is that I have rails almost dead straight. You can put
my edge of my rail and line it up against a 10’ malibu and it’s the
same line. It’s a bit like a guy sailing along on a monohull. He sees a
catamaran scream past. They are doing 20 knots but they say, “But
that’s not a real yacht, that’s not counted.” I work on the same
principle of two long straight rails and a concave through the front.
The water glides under the board. Everything I have watched, whether
its surfboard, a kayak, it doesn’t matter what, anything with a pointy
nose, you’re pushing water out, you’re creating a bow wave. On mine,
with the concave the water goes through the front and underneath.
D (1994).Bellybogger: The fastest way to get your guts across a
wave. Byron Bay NSW, Australia: The Author.
the nose is soft, or the centre part is soft, what I do is ride with my
hand on that soft part in the middle so if I’m going over a really
steep section I can just lift it up and it never crabs. But the points
on either side still act like a cataraman. And that where I get my
12. As you said its speed and being close to the wave.
When you strip it down it’s pretty basic.
like body surfing but with the speed. With body surfing you just can’t
get through the sections, whereas I can glide across an unbroken
section and catch up to another section. So you can get some really
nice long rides. The mats can do that as well, they’re pretty good
gliders. They got the principle of not wasting energy, they can go with
the little bumps.
13. Do you see many guys around now on bellyboards?
A couple of guys on kneeboards. I’m the only guy out on a bellyboard
where I am. Sometimes down in the shorebreak, when the surf is dead
flat and no one is there I can go and have an absolute ball with these
little 2-foot barrels sliding on the edge of the sandbar. You get in
and your head is tucked down and you’re in this 2-foot barrel, it’s
fantastic. Sometimes I have more fun on that than going out the back on
a big wave because you’re just shooting long on this glassy barrel and
you can never get that on a board or a boogie bard because they’re up
on their elbows.
14. Some of the worst conditions can provide you pretty
I always am pretty much out at Wategos by
myself – I wait for the NE to come through.
15. You wouldn’t have too much of a crowd in a NE?
other day it was quite big, it was a NW and no one was even in the car
park let alone the ocean. So it’s just a matter of timing, time
management, as you get older you need that.
16. To go back, do you ever think there was a period
where bellyboards were popular in Australia?
not really. It’s a macho thing to stand up. It’s the same as a stallion
in a herd. The stallion or the person who can stand up on a board, he
is the hero.
It intrigues me, you’ve sold lots of boards, I have spoken to a couple
of guys who made boards, but it never survived. They are in people’s
garages or it was too much hard work or I’m not sure what happened. Any
think it gets back to that -- they want to ride a surfboard. Because
their mates are doing it. The ridicule I used to get when all my mates
were learning to ride a malibu! I was ridiculed. You have to be a
little bit of an individualist to ride a bellyboard.
18. There seemed to be two routes, people being
influenced by what was available in Hawaii and local Australian
At the time I was making all these crazy things. Down at Avalon, I’d
appear with something and they’d say, “What’s that he’s got now?” I
made kite boggers -- I made a kite back in about 1960. I bought a box
and scaled it up. I got mum’s sewing machine out, scaled everything up
to 8-foot and took it to Wallis Lake near Forster and lay on the
with this kite. I was screaming, ripping across this lake with this
kite and got to the other end and went, “Well, that was great but how
do I get back home?”
It went back to the shed and that was the end of
my kite days. When I think what they are doing with kites now, gee,
then I had a surferbogger, I made a little short bogger exactly the
same as a fish – same principle, roto moulded, so all these mad things.
I made a nipperbogger which was a ripper - a swimmer's kick board made
out of the same plastic and they were all patented. I went into the
trade patent office and I remember the guy. I’d bring something in and
he’d say, “What’s the difference between that and the other one?” I
thought, “What’s the point of patenting anything because he couldn’t
see the difference?” That’s why I gave up on patents.
is a very creative country. An old guy told me one time, this country
is amazing you couldn’t just ring up and order a part, if you were in
the bush, it’s not like you were in America and rang Ford - “part
so and so.” In the bush you had to make it. That’s why all those great
inventions have come out of Australian sheds. Like the Australian ute –
it’s an Australian invention. So we had to adapt, that’s why we’re
1. It all began in Australia back in 1956. A visiting American
team demonstrated some new surfboards at Avalon, Manly and Torquay. The
boards were called Malibu’s or Okanui’s. From the Okanui Surfwear
website, http://www.okanui.com/origin/okanui-origin/p/85, accessed on
October 25, 2009.
Ash, D (1994).Bellybogger: The fastest way to get your guts across a
wave. Byron Bay NSW, Australia: The Author. Download and read the 12-page booklet here.
Ash's company, Okanui Surfwear, http://www.okanui.com/.
- Dick Ash's new (ca. 2010) Bellybogger website: http://www.bellybogger.com/.
(Click on pic for a large image.)
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