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A Paipo Interview with Justin Bullock

From father to son to builder: the 45 year old paipo

Justin Bullock Paipo Interview
January 13, 2010. Coffs Harbour, NSW Australia
e-Mail interview and questions: Bob Green
(Click on images for a larger view)

Introduction. The story of a 45 year old paipo board being returned to its shaper has been told in an interview with Vinny Bryan and in Peter Pope Kahapea's Sufermag forum post, where  the story originally appeared. This board was made for John Bullock, who suggested the idea to his son, Justin, of returning the board to Vinny. Justin traveled to Kauai to return the board and was later contacted in Australia about the board and its return to Vinny. Justin's side of the story follows. See the interview with Vinny Bryan and the return of the board.

Justin Bullock with the Vinny Bryan paipo board 
1. Vinny must have made your father the bellyboard around 1965. How many years did your father ride this board for?
My Father, John Bullock, was a student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo when he met Vinny and had the board shaped. He surfed the board through the 1960s and 1970s on the central coast of California during that time, and also on Oahu where he lived for a short time.
2.  Did he mainly ride it prone or as a kneeboard?
Though he did enjoy knee boarding, he rode the paipo in the prone position most of the time. In juicy waves, the board had enough lift to kneel on it, but for the most part it was ridden prone.
3.  Where did he surf it? Were there others around who rode bellyboards or kneeboards at the time?
During the late sixties, he rode it up and down the west coast of North America, including Baja, Mexico. A story that always sticks in my mind is him telling me about watching Greenough carve amazing S-turns on a large winter day at Rincon in 1964. He was very impressed by that and bugged Vinny for a board similar to that which Greenough was riding. Dad’s girlfriend at the time (and now my Mother) was from Santa Barbara, which is near to Rincon, so he surfed that area quite extensively. My mom’s parents had house in the foothills with a direct view of the Santa Barbara boat harbor, and the incredible “Sandspit wave.” This is a very fast, hollow wave that breaks right for 100 meters... an ideal paipo wave. There is a clip of Greenough kneeboarding this wave at the start of Endless Summer. Also, my Dad rode the board in the Islands at breaks like Laniakea, Jocks Rocks, Pupukea, and Velzyland.

As far as others riding paipos at that time, I don’t know. I do know that the paipo has been ridden by a handful of guys over the years, mainly in the Islands, and it was always a joy to see someone (usually older) go out on a big day at Honolua Bay.

4. When did you first surf this board?
The board was always a part of my life since I grew up looking at that board in the garage, and occasionally seeing Dad ride it at Jalama Beach, or on surf trips to Mexico. As a little kid, I thought it would be perfect for me to ride as a surfboard. My Dad didn’t let me ride the board until I was old enough to not lose my boards on the rocks. I was discouraged from ever using a leg-rope, so I got used to hanging on during wipeouts. By that time I was older, and less interested in the board, so I never did ride it until I was in my mid-twenties. I was living on Maui at the time, and was on a trip to see my parents in California when my Dad told me that he wanted me to have the board. So I took it back to the Islands with me. I guess it must have been about 1998 when I rode the board for the first time and I would have been 25 years old.
5. I've read that the board was 4'4" x 23" -- what were some of the other design features?
Lots of belly, and a very dished out deck. It must only be 1” to 1” thick through the middle. The tail came to flat with no vee or rocker, but the board is mainly a dish... or “Pluto Platter” as Randall Stoker would say.

Justin and his parents, ca. 2003

6. How did the board ride? What sort of waves was it best suited to?
The board was a real slug until you got the right day. In fast, hollow, section-less waves, like Honolua Bay, Shark Pit, Ma’alaea, or Lahaina Harbor the board rides like a dream. And when there were bodyboarders out I would get some funny looks and lots of questions.
7. You described Vinny as a "genius" in your e-mail. Can you expand on this?
As far as surfers go, we are a pretty close minded bunch in the design department. I think Vinny is a genius in that he was taking on radical new directions in shaping – and also the way in which boards are ridden. For example, he and Bunker Spreckles were involved in making boards that you could surf lying prone, kneeling, and standing. Often this was done all on the same wave depending on the needs of the rider. Vinny was looking beyond the status quo that labeled you as a surfer, knee-boarder, or belly-boarder. I think he was looking to for total stoke no matter what it looked like. Vinny was also shaping boards with air tunnels running through the deck and releasing out the bottom. The idea was to minimize wetted surface by funneling air to the bottom of the board, thus increasing speed. He is still shaping, and creating under his house which is a feat in itself. Vinny is a tall man, maybe 6’5”, and the shaping room under the house is only about 6’ tall. Yet, he is shaping great boards.
8. What was it like contacting Vinny about the board and returning it to him?
I made arrangements to fly to Kauai a few days before leaving for Australia. I flew from Maui into Lihue and thumbed it up to Hanalei Bay and onto Waihiha with the board and a day pack. I must have had about 8 rides from a variety of people, and 6 of those eight knew Vinny. They all wanted to know what the deal was with the odd looking board under wraps. The typical response to me saying I was going to see Vinny Bryan was, “Ahhhh Veeeny (with a smile). You tell ‘em Kaipo say hello.” Meeting him was like hanging out with my own father. Very relaxed, casual, and welcoming. He made me feel like part of his family. He gave me the grand tour in his beat pickup, and cooked up a mean breakfast after sleeping on his couch overnight. I wanted to stay longer, but I had to go, so he drove me all the way to the airport.
9.  How long have you been making your own paipo? How do your boards differ from Vinny's?
I made my first paipo right when I got to Australia. Since no one makes very wide blanks, I pieced one together from broken surfboards I found in peoples' yards during the council pickup. I found that, given the hollow beach-break conditions we often encounter here, I needed something for the days when surfing is not the best option. Being an avid bodysurfer, I am often frustrated by not getting very far in the tube... so I shaped a board modeled after a Hawaiian Paipo Designs board I saw a while ago. Compared with Vinny’s board, mine is straighter and flatter on the bottom. The outline is way different. The wide point is a few inches up from the tail. The rails go from soft in the nose and body, to very sharp in the tail. Like Vinny’s board, mine is only 1 “ inches thick. Also, my board is finless.

Justin's custom made paipo board

10.  What are your thoughts on finless versus finned paipo boards?
Depends on the conditions you are riding. I like the finless board for its side slipping potential, but in really juicy surf, fins can really help hold a high line. I find that the finless board requires far more work from the rider. Lots more weight shifting is required to ride critical faces and sections.
11.  In your travels do you see many paipo boards being ridden?
Only a few places on Maui, and the name of the guy escapes me, but he is a local guy who just rips Honolua Bay when it gets big.  Other than that, no.
12.  For you, what is the attraction of paipo boards?
I love it as a surfing option. When most people won’t go out because it’s too fast or too small, I can have a lot of fun on a paipo. Also, it’s easier to carry around than my 10’3” longboard.
13.  Any waves or surfs stand out that you have ridden?
Riding Vinny's board on Maui over the years, I have had the opportunity to selectively surf waves suited for it. When the crowds are thin, I have had good surfs, at Ma’alaea, Mala Wharf, Lahaina Harbour, Shark Pit, Rainbows, Ka’anapali Point, Flemings, The Bay, and Windmills. I would say Windmills is a stand out in that it is like a mini-version of Pipeline, without the hassles.

Justin's quiver before leaving for Australia

Additional Notes. TBD.

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

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Last updated on: 02/24/10