August 14, 2010. Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia
Questions and e-mail interview by Bob Green
Photos courtesy of Michael Potter
Michael or "Mick" as he was known then was one of a group of guys who
rode plywood bellyboards at the southern end of the Gold Coast in the
mid- to late-1960s. Whereas everyone else rode a twin fin Mick
experimented with single fins.
1. How did you get into
We had always been
Brisbanites and all our lives we came
down to Coolangatta for our annual holidays. As kids we were surfing on
surfoplanes [see Note 1] for many, many years. I
was born in 1945, so it would have been in the
1950s and 1960s.
second board from the 1960s.
Bogangar Bob Ryan, he was building them for friends of
mine, like Jimmy Purdon. At that time I was building my own bellyboard.
It was a
fairly standard design, nothing exciting. I made it myself out of
ply. It was fairly standard, but it had fins and I had bit of a a grab
rail on it.
I used that same board or
Jimmy Purdon and I, Jeff Callaghan, Bob Carson, Col Taylor, Terry Law
and Mark Green would all
go surfing. Mainly, I'd say it would be around 1963-1965, around that
when we got serious about it. To get away from the crowds we used go
Bogangar. It was probably one of our favourite spots. In those days it
to have a quite a good wave at Bogangar, but it doesn't any more. Kirra
for sure when it was on. We would all surf Kirra Point. We'd certainly
Snapper Rocks and Greenmount. If the surf wasn't too good we wouldn't
necessarily head north, we'd go south. We'd go south down to Byron Bay,
down to Black Rock, we'd go down Hastings Point and Kingscliff. Surf in
those places which were quite isolated. We'd always get plenty of surf.
That's all we wanted.
have been the crowds then.
No. But even in those days
you'd get to Snapper Rocks when it
was on and there would be a dozen boards out.
I love bellyboards because you can sit well within the
break. We used to sit way inside from where the surfboards would take
At Snapper Rocks you could sit near the rocks, especially Jeff
was the furthest out and the furthest in from Snapper.
2. What did you base that
original design on? Did you copy someone else's board?
The bellyboards allowed you
to get in fairly early and got
on the wave quickly. I just loved the feel and control you had with the
bellyboards. I know there was some very good surfboard riders out there
we had just the best fun. The best fun of my life on a bellyboard.
Later on I changed the
design of my board. I have two
boards still. The original one I designed and built out of marine ply
Yes, a little bit. It
wasn't a copy of someone else's board it
was a copy of a surfboard. You know the Fantastic Plastic machines. Joe
Larkin was building quite a few of them. He was building them and
noseriders. I had a noserider built by Joe Larkin. The red deck of my
quite wide and rounded. What I did, I adapted that design to my
You know the Fat Penguins you see today, it was very similar to that.
exactly the same as a Fat Penguin, except that it had 3/8th ply whereas
Penguins had a very thick fiberglass base [see Note 2]. I gave up on twin
fins. I went to
one basically dorsal fin near the back of the board. My last two boards
had single fins, but they were quite big ones. With these bellyboards,
annoyed me, my early bellyboards were quite straight and square. A
tail with two fins. Sometimes you'd get down locked in, in the curl.
couldn't move anywhere. You couldn't move up the face of the wave. I
know what it was. I thought it was the design of the board. I couldn't
it to climb up the face of the wave. With the new board, and I
trialed this, I had the rounded tail on it. It allowed me to catch
it allowed me to drop down the face of the wave and it allowed me to do
cutback, and climb back up the face of the wave. Now I know kids on
boogie-boards can do this at will today, they do all sorts of things
boogie-boards, including 360s and spinners, flips and all that type of
thing. But in those days it was pretty kind of radical that I could do
on this board.
shot showing the center handles.
shot showing the single fins.
When did you make
the single fin?
1966-67 it would be.
That was while
everyone else was using the twin fins?
Yeah. Jimmy, Jeff, Kit Carson
and Col, they all had
similar bellyboards. They were all marine ply, finished with a straight
varnish. I had mine glassed and resined, I had Joe Larkin resin it for
used that single fin for a long time.
3. When did you stop
My wife came from WA
and I got engaged in 1969.
We got married in 1970, and I went to New Guinea for a few years. I
surf up in New Guinea on longboards. Then we moved overseas for 20
Canada (Vancouver). When I was in Vancouver, I didn't surf a lot but
there were certainly surf beaches on Vancouver Island. And I actually
a bellyboard in Canada - a very similar design to my favourite board,
it was a bit more flexible. The ply wasn't as thick and it wasn't as
good a board as
my first one.
And the waves were
not Kirra Point.
No, it wasn't Kirra Point. The
surf on Vancouver Island is
like Bells Beach.
Long, straight waves, bit thick
and chunky, but nothing like Kirra Point.
4. Graham Dunne described
during his lunch break going
out at Snapper and surfing all the way through to Kirra, then going
work. Did you guys go out at Snapper and surf your way through or did
mostly just stick at one point?
Reminiscing here, Col and I
had one day at Kirra Point. It had
to have been in 1965. We were by ourselves and it was a good 4-foot. A
good 4-foot at
Kirra Point is nothing short of miraculous. We had it to ourselves for
three and a half hours then all of a sudden some surfboard riders came
Col and I surfed some of the best waves of my life. I was on my
and Col was on his bellyboard, as well. He was also a boardrider. He
very good surfer.
My favourite spot certainly
was Kirra Point and
when it was not working
Snapper Rocks was always good. We were one of the first few groups to
surfing at Duranbah. It wasn't called Duranbah then. That was when they
first built the rock wall. We would go right next to the rock wall.
There were six of us then, usually the same group. Kit, myself
another fellow called Bellyboard Bob McDermott.
There was the odd
time, when the swell was right, you
could catch a wave from Snapper, across Greenmount Point, across
Coolangatta, across Kirra and sometimes you could end up at North
You must have been
sitting a long way out.
Oh yeah, it was a big swell.
It's got to be a big swell to
cut across those three points. I've seen it happen. I have not done it
5. What technique was involved
in riding these boards?
How would get them to cutback and hold into a hollow wave?
One of the reasons I
went to a single fin (my original
board was a twin finner with very small fins) was because of a day down
Point when it was really big and nasty. We found my board in particular
kept dropping out of the face of the wave because the skeg wouldn't
in. And that's when I decided to go to a large single fin. We didn't do
the radical manoeuvres that they do today.
6. People have described
applying bodysurfing techniques to
hold into the wave, including using your arms to rise and lower on the
wave. Did you do something similar?
I did something
similar. I had a handle on the top of my
bellyboard. It was easy catching a wave if you had flippers on (you had
have flippers). Once you got on the wave, I'd grab the handle, you'd be
surfing right and your right arm would come out and forward. You'd drop
arm, if you wanted to go down and turn, or bring your arm up, that
give you a weight transfer. It would allow you to carve up and down the
face of a wave. Because the boards were barely floatable we had no
going through big surf, going out. We had no trouble catching waves
because there was so little weight to push to get onto the damn thing.
it took was a couple of paddles with your flippers and that would get
the wave. Because the board was very thin, you were already in the eye
the wave. You take off and you are surfing instantly. Once you see the
and style of the board you will get a better picture.
7. I'm looking forward to
that. Did you see bellyboards
anywhere else in your travels?
Yes, we lived in
Vancouver for a long time, very few
surfers on Vancouver Island, just diehard board riders. But we had
down in California probably every second year, down the west coast from
That's when we saw the first boogie boards. I bought one, one of the
style of bellyboards, the Morey boogie that came out. But young guys at
Jolla had the wooden paipo boards with no fins on them. I'd see them
couldn't believe that these guys could catch waves on a bloody board
skeg on it. When they came in I asked to have a look at their boards.
were a funny thing, almost a spoon shape. I'm not sure how they surfed
damn things, but they had no trouble at all carving across a wave.
8. Someone mentioned your son
rode a bellyboard.
No, that was my
Chris is my brother. I
introduced him to surfing when he
was about six years old. He used to bodysurf. Then he took on one of my
old bellyboards. Then he got himself onto a kneeboard. He's been riding
kneeboard for thirty years. I don't surf much these days, he does. He
on the ferry over to South Straddie, gets a wave over South Straddie.
9. Someone mentioned that you
are writing some history
That's what I
wanted to do. I was talking to Mark Green a
little while ago. I didn't know about the interviews that you had done
Callaghan and Col Taylor. I started a little and said to Mal at
"I have a couple of bellyboards here that you might want to stick in
He said, "Bring them down and we will write an agreement." A friend of
SurfWorld, Robyn, knows Mark Green really well. We got into
about Mark Green. Robyn gave Mark Green my number and he called me.
This was about
three months ago. He gave me a call from Melbourne. I said, "Have you
photos?" He said his ex, Dianne, has got some photos of him surfing
bellyboards. To be honest I haven't heard anything back from Mark and I
haven't phoned him either. He was going to pursue the idea of getting
Jeff's photos are fantastic photos.
I was just going to give you my version of how things went
during that time. Without looking a great deal into Jeff's story, his
and my story will correlate basically. It really was Kit Carson and
Bob McDermott was really instrumental in bringing bellyboards up to
bought the first bellyboard up here to the coast. I got to know him
well and stayed with him in Sydney the odd time, with Kerrie the odd
time. But I haven't had contact with these guys in a long time. Most of
them are still on the Gold Coast.
So did you end up
Yes, I've got
something on my computer. It's basically for
the display for the surf museum [see below, The Facts as I recall them]. What I will do, I'll finish it and
complete the story. Jeff's story and my story will be almost parallel.
I phoned a few guys to get all the names. I'm pretty sure
I have all the names. Bob McDermott, Jeff Callaghan, Bob Carson, Jimmy
Purdon, myself, Terry Law. There's probably a couple of guys I missed.
Joey Larkin -- I was a kid
at the time -- he was pretty good
to us. We used to hang around his surfboard shop. I bought a couple of
boards from Joey. He was really good to us in the early days. We'd be
all the time hanging out. Looking at boards and stuff. He'd glass the
for us. He did one for me and he glassed Kit's.
Kit said Joe made
That would be right.
The other guy was Bob Ryan. He's dead. He was actually a
shipbuilder. When he was building Jimmy Purdon's bellyboard he was
Quickcats for Joe Larkin. Quickcats were all the rage then. He was
the 12-foot Quickcat catamarans. I didn't find out until many years
later that he had passed away.
Diverting off bellyboards. Bellyboard Bob, he bought a Quickcat. I used
to go on as a deckhand, would
you believe? We used to catch groundswells off Greenmount Point. A
12-foot Quikcat. This was before the Hobiecat.
10. One thing I should ask
before you go, what did construction involve?
Marine ply. The
boards were dead flat. Mine had a little
bit of concave in it - that was not by design. That was the way it
out after Joey glassed over it.
Was that in the
nose or the tail?
In the middle was
concave -- sideways. Nothing flash. The
other board was concurve. A spoon basically - if you could imagine a
out of a flat bit of plywood, we shaped that. That was the flexy board.
How long did it
take you to make one?
So there was a bit
of work involved?
I cut it out by hand,
a rectangular piece of marine ply.
Then I'd cut out the general shape. Then I would plane the hell out it.
the bottom of the nose I'd champer it so it wouldn't pearl in the surf.
the edges I'd would shape as well. Just to make it a bit smoother. A
flat, square piece. Then I'd glass the
big fin into place. I was the only one with handles on my board, I was
so comfortable with it. I tried surfing it without the handles but I
bloody hopeless. Maybe it was just a me thing. I always had a handle in
center of the board, on the nose.
The other guys had
little chrome handles to one side.
A couple of guys had
that but I'm ambidextrous. So if I
was surfing left I'd use my right hand to hang onto the board and if I
surfing right, I'd use my left hand to hang onto my board.
I'll complete my story and send you some pictures. There's a couple of
pertinent points. Bellyboard Bob McDermott bought the first bellyboard
the Gold Coast and we copied his basic design.
11. I'm interested in working
backwards and working out
where he got his design from?
Funny, I used to live
next door to a guy. We were
Brisbaneites at Lawnton. Pacific Border surfboards I think he called
Fowler. He made skimboards.
They're the Whiz
Skid boards. I know a guy who has got one .
I used to live next door. He
had a workshop and I was an
air-conditioning apprentice. I was next door to him. I was very, very
fortunate. There's a skim board in the museum, a brand new one, it
After going down to the wood surfboards down at Currumbin
last week, if you missed it, you really missed something.
Whiz Skid Belly Board
Photos courtesy of Kevin Barr.
There was some
real craftsmanship there.
They're incredible aren't they.
A few of them said, "I
wouldn't ride it, I'd rather hang it on the wall than surf them."
I'd rather surf
To be honest I'd
rather surf them.
account: October 21, 2010. "The Facts as I recall them."
"I built my own board
early sixties from a standard belly board design. It was made from 3/8
marine ply and the 2 skegs were made of the same material. I attached 2
chrome cupboard door handles to give better control. The skegs were
glassed on and a couple of coats of varnish completed the project. When
I compared my board to Jeff's or Kits the only difference was that mine
had handles. All the original belly boards were similar in design. The
later years the designs did change, while Kit and Jeff kept to small
double skegs, I changed mine to a single large dorsal fin with the rear
end of the board rounded. It allowed me to cut back and carve without
any difficulty, never had a problem of dropping out of the wave.
Belly board Bob McDermott ex Maroubra
Kit Bob Carson ex Kirra SLSC
Jeff Callaghan ex Kirra SLSC
Jimmy Purdon Coolangatta SLSC
Terry Law ex Kirra SLSC
Col Taylor ex Coolangatta SLSC
Grahame Dunne ex Kirra SLSC
Mark Green Coolangatta SLSC
And myself Mick Potter Coolangatta SLSC
Others that were friends that
rode longboards, Vinnie Ford, John Cunningham, John Kipper Standing
If I missed someone I do
apologize but that's what happens when you get old!
We were all pretty fit!! Most
of us had Surf
Lifesaving training and were accomplished bodysurfers, none of us did
drugs, that was mainly after our time in the sun, but we all enjoyed a
beer or three!!!
We had great help in building
and the design
of our craft. Bogangar Bob Ryan and Joe Larkin, in particular, always
found time for us to experiment and change designs as we saw fit.
Our favorite surf spots were
Duranbah, Bongagar (Cabarita) then on to Hastings, Black Rock, Byron
Bay and Lennox Head to get away from the crowds.
A distinct advantage of riding
was that we could take off further inside the break than a Mal and
usually get the best waves. If you saw a surfer outside the break by
about 30 metres that would be Jeff Callaghan, he always caught the big
ones! We were always amazed at the incredible speed you could get out
of a piece of plywood on takeoff at Kirra & Snapper Rocks.
In all I have great memories of
this time in
our lives. We also sailed Quickats, 12-foot long wooden construction
catamarans, that were great fun off Greenmount point catching
groundswells and scaring the crap out the longboard riders. Then the
Hobie cats arrived and then the Boogie Boards years later. I hope this
helps round out your history of bellyboards in Queensland from that
Quick Cats of Kirra
Source: Hayes, Vince. (1965, December). The Quick Cats of Kirra. Surfing World, 7(2), 24-25.
Note 1: For more
information on surfo planes (commonly known at surf mats) see the MyPaipoBoards.org home page and Wave
Riders: Intimacy or Evolution -- It's All in the Eye of the Beholder,
which shows several forms of waveriding.
Note 2: For more information on what
Fat Penguins, visit this web site: http://surflibrary.org/SurfLibrary_files/FtPeng.html.