Interview with Donny Roth
February 10, 2018 - Oahu, Hawaii
E-mail interview by Bob Green
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
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
2. Were there many other people riding paipo boards?
Were these young guys or were there older surfers as well?
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.
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)
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!
4. How did you come to meet Val Valentine?
I think I got my first real Paipo Nui from Val Valentine in 1968. It
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.]
As kids, we were in awe of Val Valentine , a
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
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
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,
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
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
6. You surfed with Glenn Powell's son, Allan?
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
Figure courtesy of Glen Powell.
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.
7. What are some of your recollections of riding paipo
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
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.
Always having late takeoffs on big waves was
inherent to paipo
boarding, horrendous free falls and/or going over with the lip were
8. Did you ride your boards anywhere else besides the
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.
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
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!
10. What did you enjoy about riding a paipo board?
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!
Paipo boarding was a soulful experience to me,
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
Note 1: Additional information about Val
Powell, Val Valentine's neighbor and friend, advised (Powell, personal
communications, March 17, 2011 to August 19, 2012):
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
be marketed to surf shops.
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
Footage of paipo riders featured in several of these films as well as
in articles that he wrote, including
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
- 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),
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 https://mypaipoboards.org/interviews/JimGrowney/Jim_Growney_2009-0810.shtml.
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 https://mypaipoboards.org/interviews/SeanRoss/Sean_Ross_2009-1109.shtml.
Green, Bob. (2010, February 25). A Paipo Interview with Paul
Lindbergh: Keeping the lineage going (Big Island, Hawaii).
MyPaipoBoards, on the Internet at https://mypaipoboards.org/interviews/PaulLindbergh/PaulL_2010-0225.shtml.
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: http://vimeo.com/9742493.