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A Paipo Interview with Kevin McManus

Escaping the crowds on a broken ski paipo

A Paipo Interview with Kevin McManus
October 20-26, 2015 — Perth, Western Australia
Facebook Chat Interview by Bob Green

What started out as taking up the offer to try a mate's board, saw Kev surfing this board in some of the most remote and isolated waves in Australia. A dislike for crowds led to adventures surfing waves off the beaten track. With a background in skateboards, Kev and his friends rode their own style of bellyboards, in their own style. The first board was made from a broken surf-ski, first owned by Kev's mate, sold to Kev and then years later after multiple repairs returned back to his mate. The source of two of Kev's boards was John Burns who returned to surfing at age 34, first on a mat and then a few years later, on a variety of fiberglass bellyboards.
1. How did you first get into riding a bellyboard? When and where was this?
I have early childhood memories of sliding down the face of a wave on a surfmat down at Torquay surf beach circa summer holidays of 1974-1975. I would have just turned 12. My family had previously owned a house down at Blairgowrie on the Victorian East Coast not far from the bayside and in 1974, my folks sold it and we forever more spent our holidays along "The Great Ocean Road."

In circa 1976, my older sister's boyfriend took me each Saturday down the west coast with a whole crew of his mates with their girlfriends. I wasn't surfing much cos they didn't spend time supervising me in the water but I did spend a lotta time on a skateboard while they surfed! In the summer of 1976-1977, I bought my first surfboard, a Fred Pyke single fin from his shop in Boston Road Torquay [see Note 1].

Pyke Surfboards single fin and shop.

Photos by Kev McManus.

I managed to get my surfing to a competent level but as a kid it was hard to get down the coast and I spent a lot more time skating ramps in the next few years than surfing. I did however get down the coast as often as I could from Melbourne. Hitch hiking, bus, train, etc., and I surfed on school holidays.

In 1978, I built a 8ft 1/4 pipe skateboard Ramp in my driveway in Bulleen / Templestowe. It was here that I would meet heaps a skater/surfer types and it's here I met my lifelong friend. Me and his brother (a knee boarder) and my friend, a bellyboarder and skater! I was 16, at this stage and the advantage I had was I could kinda weasel my way into a surf run with them in exchange for skating my ramp which was cutting edge at that time!

The homemade ramp.

Photo by Kev McManus.
2. Who made your first board? What was it based on?
My first bodyboard was fiberglass, bought from my mate, as I was heading down the coast with them a lot in 1978/1979. I started riding one of his which I ended up buying from him. Shaped at Trigger Brothers, it was a front section of a wave ski with the footstrap used as a handle at the front of the board. It sat way out of the water and it had goat boat style twin fin boxes and fins. A weird shape, it sat out of the water, very buoyant! The actual shape was much like traditional, round nose square rails, chopped square tail (gravestone shape).

The gravestone shape paipo board was originally made at Trigger Brothers for John Burns to ride "long running point breaks."

Drawing by Kev McManus.

How long did you ride this board and how did it surf?

The board was great for Victoria because you sat high outa the water. I surfed it for years, like from 1978-1979, 'til 1993, and beyond. I patched it up many times. The fins were great, it stuck right in the wave and you could set the fins for the conditions which was great. It was also really fast and you could get a lot of drive off the bottom. It was my fave board for sure of all time. I eventually gave it back to my mate who I'd bought it of originally sometime in the mid-1990s.

The Graveyard shape: deck and fin.

Drawing by Kev McManus.

I surfed 13th Beach on the Victorian west coast, Woolami right point and Cat Bay on Phillip Island and Kilcunda (Cemetery Point) heaps back then. Also Gunnamatta Rye, etc., and beach/reef breaks a lot in the 1980s and 1990s.
3. Were there others riding bellyboards at the time?
Only me and my mate. I never saw anyone else and some surfers would make comments, not always complimentary. Of course heaps a boogie riders. I always found the fiberglass much faster.

When did you run into John Kovar? Was he riding prone boards then or stand-up?

I met JK outside our holiday house in Torquay circa 1976-1977. He was waiting to use a public telephone and he saw me riding an imported, almost rare American brand skateboard and came over to talk. I was just 14-years-old at the time. He was riding surfboards and never mentioned belly boards. He was a stand-up surfer at that time. [For more information on John Kovar see Note 2.]
4. Did your style of surfriding board change much over the years or did you stick with a basic design?
I also had a boogie style fiberglass board made sometime in the late-1980s, by the Howard Hughes Surf Shop in Aireys Inlet on the Victorian west coast! This is the Howard Hughes boogie shape stolen from my car in 1989, barely 6 weeks old.

Kev with his Howard Hughes bellyboard at Wilson's Promontory.

Photos by Kev McManus.

I then had a boogie board and in 1996, I got an Oke bellyboard (Oke Surf Boards), inspired by Dick Ash's bellybogger (for more info on the bellybogger see Note 3). The Oke board was designed for John Burns for "nice heavy shore breaks."

The Oke board.

Photos by Kev McManus.

Interesting you decided to give up the bodyboard. Why was that?

It was something to do with a request from my mate—he always wanted the original board I had back. It's his personality. He is a collector of sorts so he kept nagging me and I'd seen the small yellow board before and really liked the idea of it, but the change wasn't really for the best. The original gravestone design was better.
5. You've traveled around Australia a fair bit. Were you surfing a bellyboard or did you ride a variety of surfcraft?
I did a few trips to Cactus on the Nullarbor, too, with my mate and his brother. First was 1981, the Christmas holidays for three weeks. We went back again summer of 1983, three weeks again. Surfed a cut down wave ski and it suited Caves, the right hander, real well. Also Castles, the middle break at Cactus, a left, was working beautiful place and waves.

What conditions suited your boards best? Any surfs stand out from over the years?

That board roared at Cactus. Long, wally fast waves. It really was a great board for feeling you could out pace most waves, but I was really a beach break fanatic. 13th Beach on the Victorian west coast was my fave along with Flynns reef down the island. I loved those waves. Would drive down from Melbourne real early most days as I worked shift work and started at 12:30 noon.

"Ya had to be careful taking pics at Cactus. If you were spotted by the locals it wasn't worth paddling out again."

Photo by Kev McManus.

I was also lucky to meet a friend whose parents owned a house in Waratah Bay near Sandy Point, Walkerville, Wilsons Prom way. He knew all the breaks to surf around Cape Liptrap. You had to know the farmers to get in there. Some great average waves along that coast that we often surfed for days without seeing a soul except the farmers. My philosophy was I'd rather surf an uncrowded average wave than a crowded killer wave and that's how I always approached it. Can't stand crowds—some guys don't seem to mind.

On my travels around Oz, I took 3 months traveling across the Nullarbor in 1991. I was never happy with the southeast section of South Australian surf spots, but I went down to the Yorke Peninsula and surfed all around there— amazing. I then came up, drove straight to Port Lincoln, and slowly made my way along up to all the breaks I'd read of in Mark Warren's Atlas of Australian Surfing. And, of course, met guys that eventually told you some semi-secret spots along there.

In the dust and a clean Western Australian left.

Photos by Kev McManus.

The stand outs were never the ones I expected. I found endless uncrowded waves down around the Hopetown region of West Oz near the Fitzgerald National Park midway between Esperance and Albany. Stayed there for 2 months and of course I traveled but lived in Perth for a year and whilst there I surfed Borranup beach south of Margaret River. That was fantastic beach breaks, loved that place.

What was the appeal of beachies?

Well like I say, I wasn't big on crowds. Too many in the line-up gave me the heeby jeebies. I found I could paddle around and get lots of waves on the beachies. 13th specifically was real consistent and had reef and was almost like clockwork the way it broke. I surfed particular peaks and they got real fast and barrelly. 13th held really big surf, too. Saw Slater surf it a few times when it was huge. I surf what's there. If there's shit hot points I surf em as long as not too many guys out.
6. Riding prone is more than just lying there. What technique was involved in riding your boards?
I had a real good late take off that baffled a lota surfers, almost falling backwards off the lip as I paddled at the wave looking like I was paddling over the wave. In the wave I either hunched way up on the nose and settled into the face. I was searching for long walling vert waves or barrelling waves. So often once in I'd either trim with just my legs sitting just above the face and kick or go completely stiff with my flippers hydroplaning for ultimate speed or throw the whole board out in front of me and use my body and extend it to longboard length for speed.

I take it you learnt all this by trial and error. No role models or films to watch?

Correct. My mate and I were completely different in our approach to surfing and skating. He always attempted crazy lines and got smashed and quite injured at times. The lines he tried were impossible. My mate would try and take off way inside and get pitched or out with the lip and get smashed, but do it endlessly and not make it. He was good down at Flynn's reef though seemed to fry that place up and down off the lips, lots of s's and spray. He also surfed Winkipop a lot and I saw him surf Bells once at about 15 feet, about 8 guys out. Also saw his brother paddle out during a Torquay Board riders comp at Bells and get some amazing waves. I was just waiting for him to get a punch in the nose but nothing except 8-ft. glass. He was a kneeboarder.
7. You tried stand-up surfing. What was the attraction of prone surfing?
To be honest it was initially the lack of getting in the water enough to maintain a reasonable quality of stand-up surfing. In 1977-1978, I could only get down the coast when I had someone drive me, or I hitched. As it turned out my mate  and his brother added me to the trips down the coast and really it was he who talked me into trying the bodyboards so I did.

I was stoked as soon as I got on one and I never looked back.

So what stoked you?

It was that feeling of being more in tune with the wave surface, being down amongst the actual waves surface as opposed to the stand-up view.
8. How many bellyboards have you had over the years?
Two fiberglass boards were Burns's, all designed and initially paid for by this dude Burns. My mate bought them all from Burns and then I got them from my mate. Burns was a professional type, a chemist or engineer or the like. I only met him once out in the water at Flynns reef. It was huge and barrelling. I had that yellow board and he recognized it and said, "wow this is exactly the type a waves I designed that board for." He was a lot older than me at the time. He was a bellyboarder for sure. That Wilsons Prom board is the Howard Hughes board. That's the three we've discussed. I also bought an epoxy-over-foam boogie-style board in mid- to late-1980s—it was crap and I've always had a boogie board. [For more information on John Burns, see Note 4.]
9. If you were to get another board what would it be like?
Well I have to say Wes Humpton makes some great designs. If I had cash I'd buy one of them right now. But I haven't been in the water for a while but I do think I'd go for the square tail. I always got lots a drive of the bottom on the square tail boards. Like I say I wasn't a fancy surfer, same way I skate, smooth long lines nothing much more than that. [For more information on Wes Humpton, see Note 5.]

Wes Humpton's latest board.

Photo by Wes Humpton.

How did you find the wide tail in tubes?

I always found that square tail was fast and you could find real speed on it and the best tubes I found were at 13th Beach and they were big and it powered along in the barrel. The round pin I never really liked. I couldn't find real speed on it unless the wave gave you that speed. On the square tail you could move about and it would or you could create speed.

But that whole board was buoyant and had really thick, thick rails, quite a weird design really. A lota surfers used to just laugh at it, thought I was a kook.

Note 1: Fred Pyke also made bellyboards in the style of Bill Clymer (for more information see the Bill Clymer paipo interview).

A Fred Pyke bellyboard.

Photos by Bob Smith.

Note 2:
See the Paipo Interview with John Kovar.

Note 3:
See the Paipo Interview with Dick Ash.

Note 4: In a series of e-mails (2015, November 30 - December 5), John Burns advised:

Returned to surfing on surf mats as you know. Around 1969. Being a gym instructor I looked at a surf mat, and the best one around at that time was the Hodgman mat. As I was keen to retain my general fitness for my gym work. I enjoyed the experience so much that I decided to develop a double skin mat. I got the idea from the work that Woody Woodworth the very good surf photographer at that time had done. The prototype worked so well that Harry Hodge of Breakway surfing magazine featured the mat taken at Portsea and Gunnamatta surf beaches.

Mat article by John Burns.

Source:  Burns, John. (1976, September). 4 Skins Are Better Than 1. Breakway, 34, 25. Compliments of John Burns and Tony Murrell, via Bob Green.

My next project was to purchase Tom Morey's Boogie board which was only available in kit form in those days, Well that was quite an experience. After putting it together, I took it down to Bells Beach to try it out in big surf. I went out with the locals, e.g., Rod Brookes (Piping Hot), Alan Green (Quicksilver), and many others, in surf about 8 to 10 feet. Then the fun started. The boogie went well until I worked my way inside, took off through the bowl, did a heavy bottom turn and the rails top and bottom came apart—so a long swim back, etc.

It was about this time became a committee member of the Australian Surfriders Association (ASA) Victoria Chapter and it was there that I promoted surf mats and body boards being able to compete in ASA contests. During this time I asked Paul Trigger to help me to produce a fiberglass body board. I had made a large number of boards with the following makers, e.g., Trigger Bros., Tom Tyrell and Neil Luke, both Island Surf, Alan Oke (Oke Surf), Chelsea, Laurie Thompson of Islantis Surf Shop. All various styles to try and improve the overall design, etc. Ok, my best body board for heavy shore breaks would have to be Dick Ash's Bellybogger, THAT WAS SOME MACHINE!

I feel that for big point break surf I would always use Paul Triggers's belly boards who incidentally made most of my B/Bs I surfed up to 10 to 12 foot swell at Bells and Surfies Point at Phillip Island. Had great times mixing it up with the big guys on stand-up and knee boards. Just remembered a highlight for me when Dick and I made the championship finals at Bells, I had just caught a nice large wave—that's when Dick went left, WOW! I won and Dick came a close second at the Bell's contest, so going left was a good idea. I got caught up in a heavy shore break but held on and ended upside down in the shore break then broke away and landed on rocks on my back much to the delight of the crowd.

Gave up belly boarding at age 63, due to hip and knee problems (I thought that maybe I might sink with all the stainless tucked away inside me). STILL MISS IT!

John Burn's Trigger Bros. bellyboard.

Photo by David Wigg. See more on the Trigger Bros. at their website:

This board is my basic design of which I tweaked the rails, tail and bottom shape at various times to try and obtain better performance, but this baby worked the best for me, had great times on it. My friend Peter Wilksinson, a kneeboarder, who shaped for Trigger Brothers, shaped a few of these boards for me. I also tried various fin styles. The one I liked the best was a surf ski fin which comprised of a fin box fitting, long shaft and small blade at the bottom. I found that on steep, glassy waves I could have board put of the water with only the blade in the water, nice and fast.

Note 5: See the Paipo Interview with Wes Humpton.

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

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