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A Paipo Interview with Donny Roth

North Shore paipo rider

A Paipo Interview with Donny Roth
February 10, 2018 - Oahu, Hawaii
E-mail interview by Bob Green

Donny Roth began surfing on a paipo board before Oahu's North Shore became crowded. A neighbor, Val Valentine, commercially made paipo boards. The original designers of these boards were two friends, John Waidelich and Jim Growney. Val Valentine's house was a fixture on the North Shore. Donny also spoke of his friend, Allen Powell, with whom he rode paipo boards. Donny described riding a paipo board as like bodysurfing, but faster.
1. How old were you when you first rode a paipo board? What got you started? 
I started riding Paipo boards when I was about 8. My Dad took me to Waikiki Beach where we sat on the wall watching the bodyboarders, and I was fascinated. I went home and built my first board then told my parents it was for sand sliding, as my Mom didn't want me in the water unsupervised. Little did she know that every day after school I was jumping into some of the most challenging surf in the world.

At the time we lived across from Ke Iki Road on the North Shore, so the shore breaks along there and up around Log Cabins and Ehukai were the daily training grounds, and good training it was! We enjoyed encouragement and advice from Jose Angel and Jeff Hakman's dad, can't recall his first name, but they lived right there and kept an eye on us in the water.
2. Were there many other people riding paipo boards? Were these young guys or were there older surfers as well?
Most of the local boys I grew up with rode paipo boards as big boards were not available to the average kid back then. The "Surfers" on the North Shore were considered quite the oddity back then (1958 or 1959) and our parents made it clear that we were to stay away from those rebels! There were some older guys riding paipos on the big breaks, but I was too scared (and little) to tackle big surf then, so never really got to know those pioneers.
3. Tell me about your first board? When did you get a Paipo Nui board?
My Dad let me have a chunk of plywood and helped me cut it round in the nose and paint it. This did make an excellent sandsliding board, as well as a waverider. I don't remember many specifics other than it was heavy as hell and a bitch to carry around. I started stashing it in the Naupaka along the beach so I didn't have to carry it all the way home every day. Sometimes other people would find it and use it, but nobody ever stole it!

I think I got my first real Paipo Nui from Val Valentine in 1968. It was vastly different from my plywood slab, and I didn't even like it for a while, until I got the hang of the technique of stuffing the rail into the face. [For additional information on Val Valentine, see Note 1.]
4. How did you come to meet Val Valentine?
As kids, we were in awe of Val Valentine , a rugged Hollywood character who made surf films and lived a Bohemian lifestyle right on the beach at Sunset. I don't recall how I first met him, but I did get to know him, as he and Glen Powell were good friends, and Glen was my best friend Allan's dad. I'm sure the connection was about the Paipo Nui boards. In the late 1960s, there was a wavy line between drug culture and surf culture, and Val always seemed to be "above the board" (no pun) which gave him a somewhat preferred status among the original North Shore residents. He even earned respect among the local Haleiwa fishermen who were a really tough crowd.

Valentine was highly regarded by the local kids, as he often helped with board repairs and general surfing wisdom. The space underneath his house was a veritable treasure trove of surfboards. I don't think he ever said no to anyone wanting to stash a board there and it was no different next door at Bob Sheppards. Hopefully all that treasure wound up in good hands as it was of great historical significance.

Val was also the guy who got me interested in fishing, and as he never wasted a drop of resin, he always had some lure head molds handy to finish off a batch. He took me out on his boat a couple of times, it was probably one of the earliest fiberglass boats built, powered by a balky four stroke 50 hp outboard that was literally held together with epoxy glue and bailing wire. Val had an ass biting dog named Gremmie, who always got real excited when a fish came aboard, and of course it was my ass she bit, so I declined further fishing with them, and got a boat of my own. He towed the boat with his red convertible. Its mechanical status was right alongside the outboard. That inspiration stuck, and I still have a boat in Haleiwa harbor, crewed with old guys who can still show the pups how it's done when the Ahi run!

Val's wife Madeline outlived him by many years and Eddie Rothman took her under his roof when she was alone, aging and weakening.

(Below left) Paul Swanson, a surfing friend of Val Valentine's, with some of Val's boards. (Below right) Val Valentine's obituary.

(Above left) Pu'u, David. (2000, Summer). Mothball Fleet: A Moment with David Swanson, Paipo Boarder, in “Undercurrents.” The Surfer’s Journal, 9(3), 122.
(Above right) Lueras, Leonard. (1974, September 9). Sunset Beach's `Old Man of Sea' was surfers' pal [Obituary]. The Honolulu Advertiser, p. D8, courtesy of John Clark.

5. Did you see Val make his boards?

Val made his boards right out in his yard, where anybody could see, but was somewhat mysterious about things like his laminating glue, and the process by which he built his molds. About 1970, he started making a sort of tunnel bottom paipo, which was well suited to knee riding, not so great for prone. This tunnel bottom paipo design was more fiberglass/less wood, more of a wood cored fiberglass product.This design really stepped it up a notch for guys like Allan Powell, a true Paipo Nui ripper! Allan managed to break a few of these before the process was fully developed.

Val Valentine and Paipo Nui promotional material featuring John Waidelich and his children, Marika and Stig.

Promotional material courtesy of Marika Waidelich; Val Valentine photo courtesy of Glen Powell.

Paipo Nui order form.

Figure courtesy of Glen Powell.

6. You surfed with Glenn Powell's son, Allan?
Allan was a true North Shore waterman and would surely have become famous if he had lived a few years longer. He was a lifeguard, surfer, swimmer, and diver as well as an intellectual. I was often blown away by what he read, from modern science to ancient classics, accompanied by jazz music, modern or old.

I never met anyone who rode a paipo board like he did, usually on his knees, defying gravity and pulling huge G-forces. He also played the piano, and sat in with some of the local bands on occasion, contributing to and blending in with whatever they played, Hawaiian, Rock and Roll, or Blues. He passed away as a result of an automobile accident when still in his early 20s. I was blessed to spend his last few hours on this earth with him and his wife Florence at Kawela Bay, diving up some lobsters and enjoying a mellow barbecue on the beach.

I was best friends with Allan, and shared many hours in the water on Val's paipo boards with Allan in the late-1960s and early-1970s. He was light years ahead of the current surfing mentality and style, and while I was a shoulder hopper, he was often on the same wave, on his knees, much deeper than me, disappearing and reappearing from deep inside the tube, much like the footage I later saw of George Greenough, though none of us North Shore groms had ever heard of him then. We lived at Sunset Point, so our default wave was Backyards, rights and lefts, as big or as small as it was on a given day. As we got older and started to drive, the whole North Shore became our playground, but those were also the years that the North Shore became an international destination, and every break became crowded.To say it was epic would be a severe understatement, but thats what the kids on the point did, so it didn't seem like a big deal then, though it was an undeniable rush!

Back to Allan, his float time often featured 360s, sometimes multiples of them, and the drive time featured blinding speed with his outside arm forcing the inside edge into the wave face, enabling very long tube rides with instantaneous face height adjustments. Most of these rides were invisible from the beach, so he got little credit for what he did. He was the first person I ever saw do a complete barrel roll on the interior of an 8-foot tube. He would do crazy things like fly walking on the ceiling, getting totally inverted in the tube until he fell off, seldom a complete maneuver, but spectacular while it lasted. Barry Kanaiaupuni was seen experimenting with this maneuver on a regular surfboard, too.
7. What are some of your recollections of riding paipo boards?
Always having late takeoffs on big waves was inherent to paipo boarding, horrendous free falls and/or going over with the lip were common occurrences.

Losing your board was always difficult, as they are really hard to spot when floating flat on the water. They hardly floated, especially the later fiberglass models, and quite a few were never found. The boards took forever to surface, you could be right next to it and not see it! This, however, made them ideal for duck diving, a technique not often used by board surfers in that era, and opened up shortcuts when paddling out. You just needed to know where the channels were!

I had a funny flashback on my early paipo boarding days: we always used only one swim fin. I suppose that was originally a supply and demand thing, but that's the way the bigger kids did it, so I followed the style, and never even thought about it until I started riding big waves where takeoff speed was so important.

The bigger waves were seldom smooth and paipo boarders paid a toll for not having hips and knees inline to absorb shocks. Spitting up blood after a few big waves was not uncommon! I should mention Jimmy Cullen, too; he was another Sunset Point paipo regular who was real hot, then went to Vietnam and came back with issues that he regularly thrashed out in the surf. He joked that it was washing machine therapy, and I guess it worked, as we shared many hoots and grins during our sessions.
8. Did you ride your boards anywhere else besides the North Shore? 
I had friends who lived at Maile, so occasionally got in some great sessions there, and it was always fun to go to Makapu'u when it was big on that side.
9. Do any sessions still stand out for you or memorable waves?
One memorable experience occurred during a giant north swell when most North Shore spots were unrideable, so Allan and I decided to try some breaks outside Malaekahana Bay. The waves were huge, the peaks shifty and way offshore, so we got very few waves, and were finally evicted by a really huge shark who took quite an interest in us!

Another memorable day was at Pua'ena Point. It was breaking way outside along the deep channel, throwing out for some marvelous barrels, with very smooth faces, perfect for paipo boarding, and only three of us enjoying it! That session ended when I lost my board—made of natural mahogany—and blended in perfectly with the brown water surging out of the stream there.

Had many outstanding smaller surf days along the Ehukai beach breaks when Pipe was outrageously crowded, but the neighboring breaks were empty and working. The board surfers shunned the neighboring breaks because they were closeout waves, but they were perfect tubes and stayed open on the inside long enough for a real good ride!
10. What did you enjoy about riding a paipo board?
Paipo boarding was a soulful experience to me, second only to pure bodysurfing, just faster. Even though I progressed to stand-up boards, I always enjoyed a retro session on my belly.
11. What happened to paipo riding in Hawaii?
Crowds. Even the most obscure breaks are now crowded with board surfers, creating a dangerous environment for prone surfers.

Sean Ross on a Paipo Nui-style board at Pipeline, ca. 1970s.

Photos courtesy Paul Lindbergh's website, Hawaii Paipo Designs.

Note 1: Additional information about Val Valentine.

Glen Powell, Val Valentine's neighbor and friend, advised (Powell, personal communications, March 17, 2011 to August 19, 2012):
"...that Val Valentine's name was Kenneth Robert Valentine. He was born in Vancouver on 11/01/1915. Glen recalled going fishing with Val in his 14' runabout every Monday morning, but was busy on 5/09/1974 when Val went out on his own, his boat washing up on the reef outside fire station #11, at Sunset Beach. Glen also recalled spending time in Val's shop where he made Mahogany veneer was cross laid, glued and shaped in a press. Once shaped, Val would sand and round the edges before the board would be glassed. The boards would then be marketed to surf shops.

On one occasion when I stopped by his shop I found Val mopping up blood from a cut to his tummy, all the way across, from a utility knife he was using to trim a new board just out of the press. I tried to insist that he go to the doc but he just cleaned up the blood and taped himself back together. In that same vain, Val made most of his tools himself."
Val's life including pro-wrestling, touring as a juggler with the USO, manufacturing Jon boats, making and distributing surf movies and writing magazine articles. His films included Northside Story (1963), The Call of the Surf (1964), Surfing Aussie (1965) and Outside (1966), and The Wet, Wet, World of Surfing (1966). Footage of paipo riders featured in several of these films as well as in articles that he wrote, including
  • Valentine, Val. (1965, January). It's Smaller, Faster and 300 years Old: The Paipo Board. Surf Guide, 3(1), 17-19
  • Valentine, Val. (1965, October). Paipo Nui. International Surfing Magazine, 1(6), 50-52.

Some interviews with other early paipo riders:

Clark, John and Bob Green. (2009, August 10). An Interview with Jim Growney (Honolulu, Hawaii). MyPaipoBoards, on the Internet at
Clark, John and Bob Green. (2009, November 9). A Paipo Interview with Sean Ross: Paipo Boarding at Waikiki, Pipeline, and Elsewhere and How He Started Riding the Paipo Nui Shape (Honolulu, Hawaii). MyPaipoBoards, on the Internet at

Green, Bob. (2010, February 25). A Paipo Interview with Paul Lindbergh: Keeping the lineage going (Big Island, Hawaii). MyPaipoBoards, on the Internet at

Some visual footage of paipo surfing on the paipo nui style of board:

Paipo Surfing 1958-1965. (2010, February 25). Home movie by Stig Waidelich, filmed by Val Valentine. 9 minutes. The surfers are Stig's father, John Waidelich, and Jim Growney.
Click here to see the video:

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

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