A Paipo Interview with Leigh Tingle
(including Leigh's Story of His Trip to Hawaii in 1964)
Telephone Interview with Leigh Tingle (Sydney, Australia)
September 14, 2009
Questions from Bob Green
I thought we might begin with whether you started surfing on stand-up boards?
No, never have done stand-up boards. Direct from bodysurfing if you like to bellyboard.
How long had you been bodysurfing for?
Since I was about 5. All my life I have been surfing. Mainly the only other thing I used was a surfoplane when I was a kid.
never interested me very much, so when I saw this movie, which I
mentioned [in an e-mail], in 1957 at Coogee Surf club, and I saw, I am
pretty sure it was George Greenough (but I can’t be absolutely
positive). So many of my friends were there as well, they said, “Leigh
why don’t you get one of those. We can make one for you” and so that’s
how it all happened and that’s how the bellyboard was born.
What did you make it of?
made from balsa wood, from the offcuts around the front and the back of
surfboard blanks, balsa blanks at Scott Dillon and Noel Ward’s board
factory at Bondi beach. And it was glassed all over. They actually did
the cutting of it, the laying it together because it’s sort of
laminated so that we could get sufficient thickness out of these pieces
of timber and then we took it across to Gordon Woods who at that stage
had an idea of what he wanted to do to actually create the shape of it.
So he was the actual shaper and then cut out the handles and then
originally it was two plywood fins but they were just stuck in there
with ordinary nails but eventually rotted as the glass in those days in
1957 wasn’t absolutely perfect and it leaked a lot of salt water in and
rusted the nails. That’s why if you look at a photograph at the back of
it, you see the black marks, that’s the actual residual from the nails.
It now has two yellow fibreglass fins stuck into it.
was going to ask you who made the board, but I think you’ve already
answered that question. Had you ever actually ridden a bellyboard
before you got this one made?
never. No, it’s the first time anyone had actually seen one being used
in Australia. I had never seen any of these paipo boards being ridden
or anything around in 1957. But then of course, when that movie turned
up, I think people probably turned up with those paipo boards - those
plywood ones on the beach. I was quite surprised when I looked at surfresearch
on the Internet to see so many variations on bellyboards, paipo boards,
and chest boards. To my knowledge I thought I was the only one who had
something called a bellyboad for many years. But that’s been proven
untrue with the amount of research done through surfresearch.
I was going to ask if there were any early influences or whether you had to figure it out yourself?
had to figure it out. It was really Gordon Woods. He said, “I reckon it
should be about 4’ long and 20” wide and dadadada, and put a handle on
it.” And I said “that’s great” and its proved to be an absolutely
perfect thing, that handle because its slightly raked in the front so
you can grip it, it won’t pull out of your hand on a big wave. And it
also allows you to actually go out under waves very easily, because the
actual bouyancy of the board is very close to being neutral. You don’t
have to force it like a boogie board through the waves, it just sinks
with you. But once it gets down far enough it just pops up the other
side, so it brings you with it.
know what you mean, I was actually thinking were there any early
influences on how you rode the board or did you have to figure out what
you did on it yourself.
I had to figure that out. All I really saw was that tiny snippet in
that movie. I wish I could remember the name of it and from there on I
just had to make up my own mind.
board also had two fins, Gordon said “you should have two fins, one
either side because you are going to be riding this so hard on a wave
and then if you are cutting across a wave, if you only have a middle
fin you’re liable to fall out of the wave.”
Leigh Tingle with Boards (Top Views)
Leigh Tingle with Boards (see fins)
Bud Browne's The Big Surf Toured in Australia in 1957
Ok, I know that I have a record somewhere of the movies shown in 1957. I’ll see if you can recognise them.
you can try. Don’t know if I can see them. Guess you can probably get
hold of it somewhere in the world if we hear the names of them and who
produced them. I don’t know if it was Bud Browne at that stage, or
Miller? [See Note 1: In 1957, Bud Browne toured The Big Surf in Australia.]
I think it was probably Browne. Where did you usually surf, Leigh?
it was South Bondi and from there I sort of then started going to
Manly, Fairy Bower, Voodoo around at Kurnell Point. All sorts of
places, Palm Beach, Whale Beach – all those beaches. Dee Why Point,
Long Reef off the Bombie in a big surf with a guy, a friend of mine,
called Mal Anderson – he used to be the guy who with Jane Farrelly,
Midget’s sister, were tandem contestants around the early 60s.
What sort of wave do you think your board is ideally suited for?
bigger the better really. A nice big shoulder that just rolls off –
that’s the sort of wave I like, the big bombies. Fairy Bower, places
like that. Some years ago I rode Avoca. That was a monster surf about
20’. That’s up the Central Coast, around Sydney. Another place that’s a
brilliant beach is Boomerang Beach off the north point in a NE swell in
January. I was up there on holidays and we, my son and I, both had
boards. It was running about 15’ that day. It was just stunning surf.
And of course I’ve surfed overseas, Zuma Beach, in America; Hawaii, the
north shore. I’ve surfed Waimea, Sunset, Haleiwa, Pupukea, Pipeline,
Makaha, all those places. [separate account of this trip written by
Leigh follows the interview]. Two weeks were spent in Bali, in 1977,
but the waves were not very good.
All on the same board?
Yep, haven’t changed it. Still riding it. It’s had 3 glass jobs in 41 years it is.
In your opinion-when was the height of bellyboarding in Australia?
gosh, in 1967 I think it was. I gave up work and started making them.
There was a guy I found, a fellow who in those days had what was like a
microwave press that actually he used to produce all the plywood seats
in the Opera House. I took my bellyboard out there and said, what do
you reckon? Can I make plywood bellyboards and he said, “yeah, I can do
that. We can press the bottom out and have a flat deck, and then glue
it together and put fins on it and handles and away you go. I had
thirty of those produced and I assembled them and resined them and all
in John Witzig’s skateboard factory at Narrabeen. And the whole thirty
were all sold. I have no idea of what happened – I had one of them and
it just sort of disappeared with me my moving houses over the years so
I don’t know where it is.
So you weren’t tempted to do anther run?
they weren’t really successful. The glues that we had, the stresses on
them were huge in the surf and the seams just opened up. I ended up
having on my particular one, having to have little brass screws screwed
into it around on the top, particularly where it was sort of bowed.
There just wasn’t enough, what would you call it, surface area to take
the glue properly so it really was impractical. I ended up blowing that
one full of foam to give it some sort of support inside. It was alright
but I just don’t know what happened to it. They were called Barracuda
Bellyboards. There was an ad I placed in the Surfabout magazine I think
it is. I met John Witzig recently and he sent me a photocopy of the ad
that I didn’t bother to keep years ago. So it its nice to have that
(Click on pic to load PDF file, Surf Magazine, 1967)
I’ve seen that ad.
I’ve sent you a copy of that, didn’t I?
Yeah, that’s right. Did you ever get involved with contests for bellyboards or was there a contest scene for bellyboards?
there was only me around when I first did it. You know, now I’m 72
years of age so it’s not the sort of thing you do racing around
competing. Because quite honestly I can’t do the flips and rollovers
and things like the kids do on a boogie board because they don’t have
fins and can do the turns without any problems. Whereas mine's just
really just straight out of the corner and keep going fast, high speed.
So even in the 60s?
were made from the balsa and I drilled a hole in the front of the
handle and put in one of those pitot tube speedos and it got up to 35
mph, which is 60 kph across a wave. I don’t know how accurate that was,
but it was rather exciting to know the speed I could get up to.
That was a real innovation.
I reckon. It caused too much drag so I took it out.
So even in the 1960s - 1970s there weren’t many bellyboards around?
well not that I ever saw. There were guys on paipo boards but not that
many really. Very rare. I’m really surprised by all the ones
surfresearch shows. Maybe they’re not Australian. I haven’t really
looked deeply at each one to see what the source of it, if it is in
Australia, or overseas.
There is a small number of Australian ones but there certainly weren’t many.
No, just people like me keen to have one made like me, to have one made and that was it.
So did Gordon Wood make many more boards like yours?
that I’m aware of. I saw him about 10 years ago, that was the last time
and he didn’t mention he built any more. I don’t think they were that
interested. He was one of the guys that started the NSW and Australian
Surfriders association and I was sort of heavily into organising things
at that time of my life and I guess it was just buddies helping
buddies. Like in 1964, at the first world surf championship, I was the
official starter there and I also did commentary for Channel 10 for
that particular event and even down roughly 1969 the Bells Beach
championships that year I was down in Melbourne working. My cousin,
Ross Kelly, who was president of the ASA and the NSW, he said “you know
enough about surfing, you can be one of the judges, Leigh”. I judged
one event and they threw me off. “You don’t know how to ride a board
how can you judge them?” I said, “It's got nothing to do with whether
you can ride something or not, its whether you know what people are
doing, it’s visual.” But anyway, they kicked me off anyway.
Did you ever try any other paipo boards or did you just stuck with one board?
one board. I haven’t tried any others. Oh, in America, I built one for
a friend there in 1964 out of foam. I don’t even know what happened to
that. I’m still in touch with his daughter who I met in Hawaii at that
stage. So then I assisted with my son, about what was Year 9, so that
was about 16. So that’s about 8 years ago.
When you were in Hawaii were there many other paipo boards? I gather that was around 1964.
that’s right. There were a couple. You’ll see one of them on a wave
with me and you’ll see other shots if you ever get to see the complete
film of Magoos that I have. There were other people around that were
riding bellyboards, or boogieboards or whatever was there. They weren’t
foam, they were just made of timber -balsa or ply.
Were there any particular differences in the style of how you rode the waves?
not really. Just get on a corner and go for it. You can actually brake
yourself by putting your hand in the water. To act like a water brake
or you can twist it a certain amount and put your body down on the back
of the board and sort of brake with it that way, especially if you were
going down a dumper. Sometimes you don’t have a choice, you’ve got to
go straight ahead to get beyond the dumper or you get crashed. And
that’s happened a few times.
I’ve never heard of the braking technique before.
will actually see in one of those still shots I think I sent up to you,
you’ll see me dragging my hand in the water, the wave side hand. That
can brake. You can stop the board from running too fast, running out on
a shoulder. If it looks like its starting to fill and you want to come
back. I can do twists and turns. I can sort of go out on the wave and
back again, but I just love going fast. A mad speed demon.
I think that’s the major attraction of paipo boards for people.
that’s right, I tend to get some people upset on a wave. I remember
that day at Avoca and I took off on a wave. I was on the outside of
this fellow and I didn’t get off the wave and he really carried on a
treat. And I can just hear him I was so damn far away that I couldn’t
have caused him any trouble.
get it don’t you? What do you think makes your board go so well? What
design features make a paipo board go well do you think?
mine is the fact that it is so thin. I can’t remember what the
measurement was. I think I sent that up to you, its probably only 1" to
1-1/2 “ in the fattest area. It’s just so little material on the wave
and what am I, 80 kgs (175 lbs) now. I used to be 60 kgs (135 lbs). I
think the weight over that area and being so thin. There is virtually
no obstruction. There is no drag. It just goes like a rocket. I don’t
use wax on the board by the way. Never have used wax. Just grip it with
my rib cage really. It’s really weird. People get on it and they can’t
really stay on it. But I can. I have this ability, maybe I have grown
special ribs at the bottom?
Practice I reckon.
Yeah, practice probably.
If you were to make another board would you still go with ply?
No, if you were to make one for yourself?
yeah. That one we made. Sam and I made for that project at school when
he was in Year 9. That was balsa. I had to buy the wood. I had to
source the balsa, it’s not easy to come by. But at that stage there was
a guy out at Taren Point, importing container loads of it and I managed
to get hold of some blocks from him, I think about $200 just for the
timber. So I thought if you ever want to do this properly for instance,
it would be prohibitive in cost.
Balsa certainly isn’t cheap. There’s a guy in Sydney who imports it I think.
probably him at Taren Point. Actually I learnt a lot from doing that. I
was helping Sam doing the shaping. I could have cut those logs, depth
wise and got two boards out of that timber. So that means it would be
about $100 for the balsa, plus glass and resin. You gotta make fins for
it and the handle has to come out of somewhere. I didn’t think there
would be much money in it. But I still have this one as a back up if
that one ever collapses and falls over. He never uses it, he’s a board
And how often do you still get out?
so much in winter. I swim every morning in winter at Northbridge tidal
baths in the Harbour here. It gets down to 13C degrees (55F) in winter.
But I only do about 10 laps just to keep fit. Surfing, I’m out there
any day its over 6’.
Okay, so you don’t like small waves.
don’t like them. They’re not strong enough to push me along. You got to
have that ability to get right where its starting to kick over because
you’ve only got 4’ of board its not going to glide for you. So you need
a flipper with a relatively long blade on it, not too long otherwise
you wreck your ankles. I have an old pair of, what are they called,
Hanimex Scooters. I’ve never liked the Churchill fin for instance. I
like something a bit longer and not as weighty as those. But that’s
just because of my foot. I have a very narrow ankle and a very wide
ball of the foot. So I have great difficulty sometimes finding
flippers. Also these flippers don’t have a boot, they have a strap at
the back. Boots come off straight away, they’re useless for surfing I
They sound a bit like the new UDT fins.
I guess if that’s got a strap around the back, then that’s it.
Are there any other comments or recollections you’d like to share?
is amazing every time I go out, its very, very rare that I don’t get
asked, “hey mister what’s that?” Then I have to explain what it is and
how old it is. Then their jaw drops and then they keep asking more
questions. It’s very unique believe me.
I guess your age adds to the effect of it.
Yeah, that’s right. Well I have to say this I don’t look 72. If you look at Facebook you’ll find me there.
Leigh, thanks very much for your time and for sharing your story.
Ok, that’s fantastic.
Leigh Tingle's Original Board
(Click on pictures for a larger view - click here for PDF version)
Some measurement conversions:
1. "Bud acknowledged the impact of The Big Surf. 'My movie The Big Surf
that I showed there [first in Australia, in 1957] featured huge 15-25
foot waves, filmed at Makaha and on the North Shore of Hawai`i. This
was the first time many surfers had ever seen waves that big being
ridden. And... it is true that surfers from all over California and
Australia began showing up in Hawai`i on a regular basis after this
film was shown around. It's hard to know these things for sure, but it
does seem that way.' " Source: Malcolm Gault-Williams, Legendary Surfers: A Definitive History of Surfing's Culture and Heroes, "Bud "Barracuda" Browne: Surfing's First Commercial Filmmaker" (chapter updated on Feb. 17, 2006, accessed on the Internet on Sept. 21, 2009).
Leigh's Story About His Trip to Hawaii
January to February 1964
was the year that 22 Australians had organised to compete in the
Hawaiian surfboard championships. I decided to tag along and take my
bellyboard. Left on the Arcadia on New Year's Eve, December 31,1963. It
was a P&O vessel going to Auckland, Suva and Honolulu. There were a
few other Aussies aboard. When we arrived at Honolulu, we were greeted
by some others who had come up earlier for the Makaha Championships.
They had managed to rent two houses on the North Shore west of Sunset
Beach at a place called Pupakea. Five old bomb cars were used for
transport around the island, and I spent a glorious 6 weeks there.
cars were in such a bad state of repair we always seemd to be changing
tubes in the tires. Some days we would experience five punctures.
Nat Young went
home early after becoming involved in a fight with locals. He was very
high spirited at this time of his life. Others who were there included
Scott Dillon, Barry McGuigan, Barry Kelly, The Ant, Midget Farrelly,
Bob Pike, Peter Troy.
At the time
Scott Dillon was a milkman back in Sydney and was used to getting up
early in the morning. He still did this and would roam the house saying
“Surf's Up, Surf's Up” if he could hear the breakers in the dark. We
either cooked for ourselves or went to Haliewa and had a meal at the
came off on a big wave at the Pipeline and severely cut his face, back
and arms on the coral reef below. The water is only 30 inches deep. He
was taken to Haliewa Hospital where the procedure for this type of
injury was to use a scrubbing brush to remove all the coral from the
cuts. It seemed a viscious way to attack the removal of the coral but
it all had to be removed, otherwise infection was bound to set in. It
became a standard joke to say that "it took only 4 muscles to laugh but
14 to frown" referring to the agony Peter went through everytime he
On calm days
when the surf was not running I discovered that there was an enormous
number of heavy sinkers caught in the reefs. So, I enlisted the help of
others and we recovered the sinkers by the bucketful. These we sold to
the local scrap metal merchant and used the proceeds to buy six packs
I surfed the Pipeline, Waimea at around 20 foot, Haliewa, Sunset, Makaha and a wave spot off Waikiki.
Waves are so
thick and heavy that you dare not just punch through, even a small one,
when going out to a reef; they will knock you off your board easily. I
believe they are so thick due to the distances they travel before
arriving on the islands.
on the waves were brilliant for my bellyboard and I could really let
her fly across the face. Twenty-footers are quite challenging,
particularly over there where the offshore wind is rather strong and
you have a battle to just get on the wave.
At the end of
the holiday, I met some Americans who had a flat at Waikiki and stayed
with them. One of the guys, Steve, was the manager of Glenn Yarborough,
who sang with a group called the Limeliters. Steve was really great on
the 12 string guitar.
Bellyboarding 1964 by Barry McGuigan. Surfers Include Leigh Tingle & Others
Editing by Bob Green
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