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A Paipo Interview with Pete Berry

A long way from ply.

A Paipo Interview with Pete Berry
December 21, 2015 through August 15, 2017 - Coogee, Australia
Phone interview by Bob Green

In the 1960s, "plys" were a transition between bodysurfing and surfoplanes, and stand-up surfing. Around the southern Sydney suburbs of Maroubra and Cronulla early kneeboarding developed out of riding plywood bellyboards while kneeling. Pete Berry was riding, filming and making these boards before establishing his own board labels, Nomad and Mountain Dew. He designed some unconventional shapes which have continued to be influential today. Pete has described working from a concept, which would then be pushed in different directions, looking for something a "bit wilder." Pete was also influential in the early days of kneeboard clubs and surfer fundraising. Quads (short for quadriplegic) was a dig at the term "cripples" but also a worthy cause he supported. A man of many talents, Pete Berry passed away on 13 September 2017, at age 70.

Photo by Chris Elfes in Surf, (1)6, 42.

1. How did you get into surfing?
I started off with a balsa malibu in 1963. Before that I was riding surfoplanes, which everybody rode around here, and bodysurfing. I was allowed to go to the beach when I was six years old. My mother stupidly said, "You can go to the beach by yourself (without my sister who was five years older and used to boss me around all the time) once you can swim two lengths of the local Olympic pool." That was when I was five years old and by six I could do it.

That was some incentive.

It was a big incentive. I was going to Coogee Beach which is a very safe beach. Not a lot of people drown there unless you're a backpacker and get pissed, you can drown there easy then.

When I was 9 years old we moved house. I think I got a surfoplane when I was 10 years old. It took me a year and a half to save up for a surfoplane. In 1963, I bought this balsa board that weighed 45 pounds. I reckon I was only kid in the whole school who could scratch his knees without bending over. Dad never owned a car and nobody would give you a lift. You couldn't get them on a bus. My ears kinda grew out of my neck because I used to carry it on my head. It was over two kilometres from Maroubra Beach.

A long way from ply, Nazgul.

Photo courtesy of Brad Arman.

One of the local guys turned up with this bellyboard thing, which was about four and a half feet long, made out of balsa and cedar. It was made by Barry Hutchins from Caringbah (see Note 1 for more on Hutchins). Then I ran into the guys riding the plywood, so I started off with them. I then bought a board from Barry Hutchins, it was a bigger board, 5 ft. 2 in. or something. It was bigger than everyone else's. It was based on a Hawaiian design. A very weird looking thing I saw at Rob Conneely's shop at Bondi Junction.

What did this board look like?

It had a thin nose and the sides cut out of it. It was shaped like a teaspoon. Years later when I was working at the paper mills I ran into the security head, turned out he bought the board. He said it was a very good board. I was trying to save the money up, I finally got the money up, I got over there and it had been sold. I drew up what I thought it looked like, but it was a bit of a dog. The rails were too thick and too round. I obviously didn't describe it right, but I had fun on it.

At this stage I knocked up a trailer to go behind my bicycle, the board went in it and I had a little luggage rack that I used to stick my blue Globite school suitcase on. In the case I used to have camera with the 300 mm lens. I used to put that suitcase on the beach. Years later I was talking to guys and they said, "we all knew that you had the camera in the suitcase but nobody would steal it because they knew it was there and they just wanted to see the photos."
2. I've seen some photos and old footage that had guys riding prone and kneeling. Was that some of your shooting?
We used to do that before we got proper foam boards. The other thing was that the beachies kept confiscating our boards and we could go and make another one every Saturday morning.

When was that?

Early 1960s.

How long did you ride the boards for? 

Until I could get the money to make real good, bigger kneeboards. I was a late starter in 1963, there was already a lot of guys on the beach riding paipos. They were just a sheet of plywood. We actually screwed drawer handles onto them. You know what they were used for. When the beach inspector would come out and hassle everybody, he'd come out and say, "Do you see anyone out on bellyboards?" What you'd do was wear one flipper, instead of two, so that way two people could buy a pair of flippers and use them. And the other thing was, when you saw him coming you'd stick your foot through the handle of the paipo and tread water until he'd go away. It was four or five feet below you, "Ah no, we didn't see anyone out here on bellyboards." Him and his mates were allowed to surf Maroubra Point using handboards which were barred on the beach but we weren't allowed to go out there on bellyboards because it was a bodysurfing area according to his rules. We had fins on them.

So who did you surf with?

My mate from school, Phil Shapiro, and his mates Dick Bush and Ronnie Ralph. Ronnie was about the best paipo rider on the beach. I've got a photo of Dick Bush. One day I went down to the beach and said, "There's nobody out in the water" and then someone said, "Look where Dick Bush is." He was like a 100 to 150 metres further out than anyone else. I said, "What's going on?" They said, "There's a set once every 20 to 25 minutes." Everybody is going in trying to surf this about 5 foot wave and I've got a photo of him on a 10 foot wave. He took off on the point side of the storm water channel and made it to the center of the pavilion which is half of the length of the beach.
3. Tell me more about these boards? 
We didn't go where we wanted to go with these things because we didn't have the equipment at the time. I have vacuum bagging equipment now. I knocked out a couple of paipo out fourteen or more years ago. I vacuum bagged them so they have a bit of rocker in them and a bit of spoon in the front. I put balsa wood around the rails to give a bit more lift in the nose and to build them up a bit. They're straight plywood with a single layer of glass over it. We wanted to go about 4 ft. long and 2 ft. wide but we could only go to 3 ft. long because we weren't allowed to take anything over 3 ft. long on the bus. So you made them 3 ft. long so the bus conductor didn't get you. They conducted then.

Guys would also make them a specific length so they could get a certain number out of a sheet of ply.

There was a plywood shop opposite Maroubra Fire Station, in Maroubra Road. He'd sell cut up sheets and we could get 3 x 3 ft. or 3 x 1-1/2 ft.

The wood board with a fin is one of these more recent boards?

I called it a Lurline design because that's what we used to ride at Lurline, but it was expanded. It was 46-7/8 by 23-3/8 inches and was shaped on December 29, 2002.

Pete and the Lurline paipo.

Photo courtesy of Pete Berry.

I made two up, that and a twin fin, which is a pin-nose pintail sort of thing. A rounded thing which was what we made more of, than the other. Both were done using vacuum bagging. The originals were fiberglass because it was cheaper and quicker than varnish. You could do it in a day compared to using
20 coats of varnish over a two period. They were made out of two layers of ply. They have a spoon shape in them, with lift in the nose and on the deck they have balsa wood on there. I shave the rails to very thin. A year ago a local guy said he wanted one. I still have the mold to bag them onto, in my workshop and I tried to get hold of some rib cedar ply to go with the balsa but it was going to cost me more to get the ply than they wanted to pay for the board. It was $400 a sheet for the ply. I needed three slices out of a 4-mil sheet. That was three quarters of a sheet. That was going to cost me $300 per board for the ply before I even got the resin, glass and balsa wood for the rails.

Anthony Best and Cameron Haynes with the two 2002 paipos, a single fin and a twin fin.

Photo courtesy of Pete Berry.
4. How far afield did you surf?
The major place we used to ride was a place called Lurline Bay (see Note 2).

I've seen some photos of Lurline.

Were they the ones from a 1964 issue of Surfing World with Aiden Parsons and John Holden? That was a serious wave on a NE swell. John Holden was a guy who pioneered a lot of surfing breaks, like Little Avalon. You'd take off in ankle deep water on a good 6 to 8 ft. wave. He got a good article in Surfing World, all guys bodysurfing. There were no guys riding boards. I used to love surfing that place but you can't surf it under 6 ft. Lurline Bay was the nearest place if you wanted to go fishing, or Honeycombe Rock. It's a 400 metre walk from the house to the sea. Skin diving, fishing, surfing and stuff.

Aiden Parsons and John Dunn bodysurfing Lurline Bay, June 1964.

Photo (left) John Pennings (1964) and (right) unknown, courtesy of Dennis Markson.

I'd heard a lot of these early bellyboard guys were also skin divers.

Most of them did. Especially when you went away, you didn't want to spend money on food. You tried to get a couple of abs, or shoot, fish, a cray or something.
I was a fisherman so I knew where every current was in the local area. So if I got caught out at Lurline I knew where to go. You had to use the currents and the four neutral spots where there was no wave action to drag you around out there. If I lost my board, being a kneeboard rider, with giant fins, I could also bodysurf really well.
5. So you took a few photos?
What I used to do, on Saturday, it was before I was old enough to drink, but I did drink, was go for a surf, dry off, take my pictures, go home and Saturday night I used to process all the negatives, do my prints and contact sheets. I'd take one or two good ones and I'd print them up as a 10x8 which would cost an enormous amount of money if you got them in the shops in those days. I'd print up the ones that were good and sell them for a quarter of the price you'd pay to have them processed in the chemist shop to the guys and I'd take orders for the other ones to be printed up as am ordinary sized 5x3.

Pete Berry photo of a 1960s paipo rider at Lurline.

Photo courtesy of Cameron Haynes.

You were bit of an entrepreneur?

That's how I paid to go through high school. Dad didn't have much money. I worked in Christmas breaks and there wasn't a lot of money for pocket money, so what I did through the Christmas breaks I'd save up as much as I could with my camera and stuff, and I got my board. On Sunday, I'd hawk the ones off the contact sheets.

This was at Maroubra or Coogee?

It was Maroubra; Coogee doesn't have a real surf. It's got some hell surf, it's got an island off the front of it that stops a lot of it. There is a bombora between it and the next beach (a bombora is an Australian term for an area of large sea waves breaking over a shallow area such as a submerged rock shelf, reef, or sand bank that is located some distance from the shoreline and beach surf break).

That's the way I made my money. I can remember one night printing 153 photographs. I was making a 400 percent markup on the materials, so it was virtually giving me a wage. That's when I went to uni, so that really helped even though I went on a scholarship which paid me money as well.

Two of Pete Berry's 1960s photos of Lurline Bay. (Left) Paipo boarder in the wave face and (right) bodysurfers.


Footage courtesy of Cameron Haynes.
6. I want to ask about the video footage I sent you. Did you take it?

When was it taken?

There is quite a long section—that's Cronulla Point. It was shot about 1969. I couldn't surf it that day as I'd sprained my ankle trying to surf the southy at Coogee. I had to get a right to go in, but I got two lefts first. This was a serious distance out and I couldn't walk so I went and shot that. I'd got hold of an old Bell and Howell, an American Second World War photographer's camera. They worked  on a 50-foot cassette of film, so you could change them in about two seconds. You'd just snap the back of the thing open, it had three fixed focal length lenses and I started using that. Quite large waves with a right hand break. A few guys riding bellyboards and coolites. We used to call them bellyboards in those days—they became known as kneeboards later on.

(Left) Tony Hubbard on a coolite at Lurline Bay and (right) unknown kneeboarder at Cronulla Point, late-1960s.

From video footage courtesy of Pete Berry (see the YouTube video at Pete Berry's kneeboard and prone surfing footage).

So some of those were coolites? They rode them pretty well.

They used to ride them at Lurline when it was enormous. They'd drop in on each other. They were about 5 inches thick. I saw one guy snap his board on his head. His head got driven through his own board. He had a headache for almost a week. There is also some footage in quite slow motion. It is a left hander and there's some guys standing on the rocks. One was Paul Minard, a South Australian kneeboard champion. They're standing on the rocks and it is just slamming onto the rocks, saying, "You can't ride that." The footage is of me surfing. It was shot around 1972. At that point we'd gone up to using a 16 mil Bolex Reflex. I had it set up with a 90 to 230 mm zoom on it. It also had an underwater housing, with a 11.5 mm lens on it. You've only got the short version—the full version is 3 hours with me surfing Crescent Head. Screaming along long walls, just having a great time flying along walls, throwing cutbacks and going down tubes the wrong way and coming back out again. The boards had a lot more acceleration than the boards they build now or before.

(Clockwise from top left) Pete Berry putting theory into practice riding the Lemon board at Winki Pop; riding the Chimera Phase 3 at Botany Bay; surfing the NSW south coast, ca. 1972; and, riding Crescent Head, ca. May 1974.

Stills taken from video footage taken by Peter Bird (top row), bottom right taken by Glen Wright. This footage was taken using Pete Berry's equipment. Bottom left is Crescent Head from the movie Room to Move by Karl O'Loglan. See the YouTube video at Pete Berry kneeboard footage.

Were there many bellyboards around?

Around 1964, there were quite a few guys riding Cronulla Point on plywoods. That's where Barry Hutchins came in. The nearest beach to Caringbah is Cronulla.
7. It is what is amazing what people have stashed away. I'd be interested to see some of these photos.
A good excuse to pull out old photos.

I interviewed a guy who had a letter that John Kelly, of Hawaii, wrote in the 1960s, advising him how to make a paipo.

The big guy in Hawaii surfing them was John Waidelich. I remember seeing pictures in a surfing magazine. He was surfing Rocky Point or somewhere. He was the only person out there. On his first wave he broke his jaw right through. He was also surfing Sunset. He hits the inside section and does a 360 on the flick off. I think he was riding them with very small fins.

They didn't have any fins (skegs).

The guys that were riding them on the northside that I ran into, that was 1965, they said they were using John Waidelich designs. But they had done a couple of things. One, they'd put small fins on them but they were very, very small fins and the other one is they'd made them like the original kook box, the hollow ply board. And the guy cranked it. It was at the Butterbox at Long Reef. But it started to sink so the guy said he'd have to get his other board. He's gone in and drained it out and came back out on an ironing board with the front planed up. I just went, "I've got to have a go at that." We swapped boards and I had a go at it. It was pine and he'd just planed the front up a bit.
8. By the time boogie boards were introduced bellyboards had basically disappeared.
I had the first boogie in Australia. I got it in 1974, and took it over to New Zealand. I used to have a letter on the wall of my workshop to show how dumb you can be. It was from Tom Morey asking me if I wanted to be the Australian agent for Morey Boogies. They were something like $20 in the U.S. and I had to sell them for $50, and we were dollar for dollar at that point to just break even. One of the guys two streets from me saw me surfing at Maroubra and talked to me about it. He imported them and was selling them for $65 each which was making a reasonable profit. Then he decided he was going to cut them up and make fins go on them using pieces of the stuff. Then Tom Morey heard about it and canceled his franchise. You don't muck around with boogies because they were designed to be ridden the way Tom Morey designed them. The classic was getting the thing here. It took almost a year because we were working out freight and stuff. It turned out that he had a mate who was sending fin box systems to Tom Arnold in South Australia and I had a mate who worked for Tom Arnold. So they put it in this container with Fins Unlimited, then got them put on Kwikasair and sent up to me. In those days you had to glue your own skins on. There was a high volume one, we only got the low volume one out here. I glued it up. You could put your own curvature into it. So I put it with a hook instead of a rocker. In other words the tail went down, which is the way I use to build all my boards, by that point.

Peter Berry profile in Smorgasboarder magazine, 2012.

Photo source: Swan, Dave. (2012, September/October). Peter Berry: Mountain Dew Kneeboards. Smorgasboarder, 13, 41-42. Also on the Internet at Issuu and Smorgasboarder.

(Left) The original Morey Boogie along with instructions and cat damage. (Right) The potential culprit.

(Left) Photo source: Swan, Dave. (2012, September/October). Peter Berry: Mountain Dew Kneeboards.  Smorgasboarder, 13, 41-42. Also on the Internet at Issuu and Smorgasboarder. (Right) Photo by Pete Berry.

So they had reverse rocker?

Later on, after many years, I learned that the proper term for it is hook, in naval architecture terms.
9. Do you still have any of the old ply boards?
No, what I used to do was use them for a while then sell them off so I could build more new boards. That was the other way I was making money. I was building boards. I think I built my first board in 1963. A kid up the road snapped his balsa board in half and I shaped it into a bellyboard. I've got design books that go back to the early-1980s that I've kept. There's projects on bellyboards to get the curvature in them. In the mid-1980s, I was teaching TAFE (Technical and Further Education) and got a whole lot of vacuum bagging stuff and knocked out a couple of boats. I didn't get my arse into gear and actually make a mold to get curvature in the paipos until 2002. The mold is only made out of chipboard and some scrap oregon. The idea was to try and make a Greenough style spoon out of plywood.

I've got drawings for about 10 percent of the customs I built. I'd have drawings for about a hundred boards. I don't have drawings for the bellyboards because that was earlier. Kneeboards, surfskis, mals, windsurfers. I did the whole lot. I used to get the Spirax notepads, a little bit bigger than A3 and work on 1.5 inches to the foot scale. So I could scale up exactly. The only thing is I drew them all up in pencil so they are hard to copy.

How long did you ride the bellyboards for?

I just went from bellyboards to kneeboards. I just started to progress, I started to kneel on them and that was it. We were still riding plywoods, I was kneeling on plywoods.

When did you get your first fibreglass kneeboard?

That would have been 1964. I've got a board under the house that I haven't dug out in years. It was made out of maple and pine. I put these Perspex fins on it. It was 4-1/2 ft. long and 19 to 20 inches wide. The very first time I took it out, we used to ride a break around here, these days only boogie board riders go near it, as I paddled out the fins landed on a rock because it sucked out to nothing. Just took the fins straight off it. Stashed it under the house. It got about two rides. I'll dig it out and take a picture of it.

I used to build seven boards a year for myself. Even when I was working full-time I was building three boards a week so that was 150 a year. When I went full-time I was only doing about four. I was doing everything, shaping, spraying, glassing, glossing, polishing.

What label did you make your boards under?

The original one was Nomad. When I got rid of full-time employment I called it Mountain Dew. It used to have underneath it, 100 proof moonshine kneeboards.

"Miles apart from the mainstream."

Source: Holmes, Paul. (1976, November). Nomad: Different Directions In Kneeboard Design. Tracks, 74, 33. Courtesy of Ray Henderson and the Fryer Library, The University of Queensland.

My mate Cameron has about 20 of my bellyboards. A Maroubra guy, he's got a 1966 green F100 ambulance, which is renowned for rust. He has a 3-1/2 to 4 ft.' (42 to 48 inch) bellyboard. It's a foam one. It's set up as a stinger. But the thing is, you can take it out in real small waves and get lots of waves nobody else can get into.

Pete Berry designs: 4 ft. 5 in. x 27 in. 1986 bellyboard and BigFoot; 1972 pintail for Cam Haynes and 1986 board: 6 ft. x 27 in.

Photos courtesy of Riq de Carvalho.

Pete Berry designs: Pre- and post-flex-tail (Big Foot). Deck view of Big foot (5 ft. 11-1/2 in. x 29-1/2 in.).

Photo courtesy of Mal Veigel & Riq de Carvalho.
10. I'd like to ask you about the evolution of your kneeboards. The boards look like they ride like plys, but the latter boards are surfed quite differently. (See a chronology of Pete Berry's kneeboards in Note 3.) 
I was using basically the standard shape, but a more pointy nose. The original surfboard I had was a pig board. It was balsa, and the wide point was further back than half way, with a reverse pinky fin. I liked the style of it, the way it worked, even though I couldn't surf it very well because of my lack of balance. At one stage, somewhere along the line I saw an advertisement for some surfboards in an American magazine. The angle they'd taken them from, made the nose look narrower and the tails were wider. Just the angle. I looked at them and thought, "That's my original surfboard." I thought, "I'll go into that sort of design, that idea of putting the hips half way back or more than half way back." This was good on a kneeboard because you can't move much. You've got your major planning under where you are kneeling, whereas everybody else had these great, big fat noses and narrow tails, so they were kneeling really far forward on the board.

More traditional looking Berry kneeboards. (Top row) This is likely a Werri Beach special (about eight were made for Werri Beach surfers to make long sections). (Bottom row) This is a 5 ft. 6 in. x 23 in. board made for Steve Brady. The board had a deep vee in the nose, going into a double barrel concave and a deep vee in the tail. Spray was done by Kev Rogers.

Photos courtesy of Gary Clist.

You were kneeling back a bit further?

Yes, I was kneeling back a bit further. The only unfortunate thing about this was that you have a tendency to lean forward to trim it and that meant I got hit in the back of the head by some serious lips a couple of times. I have a really good scar across my chin and my nose slides side-to-side. I was slammed into the board a couple of times.

When did you add in the hook?

That would have come in around 1970. What I did, I built one board that actually went really well. I put three planning surfaces into it. There was a front planning surface, one in the middle and a bit of lift at the tail. It was wider at the tail. We found it manoeuvred really well. It went hard. You could really get it going. Then I went to gradually get flatter and flatter because I found when I had a board that was totally flat I got a lot more acceleration. Because it's flat, there's no drag. Then I went to the point where I said, "Well, I'd like to get more maneuverability so what I'll do is make a board that's average flat." I had a vee in the tail and instead the vee went down, the tail went down. On the sides, what was up, was above the datum line for the center. The center of it went down. At this point I realized that this board accelerated so much faster. Years later, I realized that the curvature of the shape of the bottom of the board, the rocker, determines where it sits in a wave. If you have a lot of tail lift the board works best inside a tube, where the tail lift matches the curvature of the wave. The only place where a tail that is curved down matches the curvature of the face of the wave is on an unbroken wave. So what happens, is when you get in a tube they don't want to be there so they come out. So you have massive acceleration compared to anything else.

Pete Berry flex tails: The Five-finned Shadowfax II is a pintail measuring 6 ft.  7-3/4 in by 27 in.

Photos courtesy of Neal Cameron.

You were using a lot of fiberglass in the tail. What was the idea behind that.

The flex in the rail? The flex tail?


I like spoons, the way they worked, but they were so hard to get into waves. If I put a lot of foam in the rails of the spoon it would basically defeat the purpose because I would be getting the center to flex but the rails would be that rigid they wouldn't flex much. I put the foam in the middle with the glass on the edges. Then the rails could flex and as well when you drove it up on a rail, the rail penetrated the water like a fin. I was running a single center fin mainly and a lot of the time I had guys commenting that I had ridden a wave where they could see the fin completely out of the water because of the fact I was riding really sucky waves. I just had the rail slicing through which was working like a fin on each side.

That's the principle behind the finless paipos.

Yep, you use the edges as fins to penetrate. So that was basically where I went with that. I liked the flex in the tail because I wanted to control the curvature in the bottom, whereas on a spoon the whole thing bends. I wanted to control the entry point and through to the center. One of the first major boards I had with a lot of flex in it, besides the spoon, had about 15 inches of glass on the tail. It had a glass tail and you could actually flex the tail. I got onto the boffins over at Fibreglass Australasia and I said, "I want a resin that will flex." So they put more of the stabiliser into the resin for me in a 20 litre drum. It's dimethyl phthalate, the buffer you get in catalyst so it doesn't blow up. It's readily available material. It means if you add more catalyst, you don't overheat your job, it doesn't go more brittle, it goes more flexible. It took me a lot of mucking around at TAFE to work these things out. After I started teaching reinforced plastics at TAFE I had time to go over there and play around and use their lab.

So material selection was something that you got right into?

I got into materials and I was changing the formulas of resins. I was buying off the shelf ones but I was adding things to them, which changed how they reacted.

(Below left) The board being held is the Shadowfax (5 ft. 8 in. long and around 29 in. wide). The board by the fence is called Nazgul. The second of the Chimera series is the board with the kneepads (made from Morey Boogie skin offcuts). The board in the front is the Cosmic Debris. The Shadowfax and Nazgul were built under the "Mountain Dew" label. The others are a bit older and were both designed and built under Pete Berry's "Nomad" label. (Below right) The lettering on the Nomad board uses a font created by Pete, who had a done a fine arts course.

Photos courtesy of Brad Arman and Neal Cameron.
11. You mentioned that one board was the most advanced that you'd built. What was this board like?
It had five fins but the fins didn't fit in the normal pattern. The shape of the fins were different. It was very pointy nosed. It was basically designed off a cross between the SR-71 aircraft and the X-15. The X-15 was the fastest aircraft ever built.

Some of the inspiration was aircraft design?

Yeah, a lot of it was. I was a wing-nut when I was a kid, I was into model aeroplanes.

What were the handles for on some of the boards that you made?

That came in when I thought, "You're getting drag from your hands into the water when you grab a rail." So I thought I'd put a handle on and they'll get rid of the drag. It meant that you got a lot more leverage on the board too. But then they got banned in competitions, "technical advantage." A guy from South Australia went up to Queensland for the Australian titles. I only made it to Crescent Head before the car broke down, May 1974, which was the biggest swell in New South Wales I've ever seen and probably, anybody's seen. He hitchhiked the rest of the way. After he went in the first heat, they said, "You can't use handles in the contest." There was no statement before that you couldn't. You couldn't use handles because it was like using legropes. They said it gave him the advantage of not losing the board. He'd been riding a place like Burleigh Heads, only it's a left hander - for 9 months training. It was working 28 out of 30 days in the month. It was a really long left hander from hell. He trained there.

At Burleigh, he was just like home where he was surfing. They told him he could still surf but if he came higher than fourth we'll have to re-run the heat. You can go in it as long as you lose. I was a bit peeved with that, so what I did, what I'll do, is so the same thing but build an extra rail on it on the two board. We have two rails, one above the other, grooved in. The first one I made, Neal Cameron and I at the time were having a pinline war. We were seeing who could do the most pinlines. I did this thing with like 25 different colours, stars and pinlines that overlapped each other. They were trimmed out around each other. It wasn't multiple colours over the top. It was just this great big stream of stars running up the board.

Berry's kneeboards featuring handles: (Top left) 1986 and 1972 decks. (Top right) Chisel nose fish tailed Fugley, 5 ft. 5 in x 27 in. and Step bottom fish, 5 ft. 7 in. x 24 in. (Bottom left) 1971 Star board 6 ft. 4 in. x 21 in. and the nose broken off. (Bottom right) Phase 4 pintail gun.

Top photos courtesy of Riq de Carvalho. Bottom photos courtesy of the lyttlestreet blog and Neal Cameron.

This was the 1970s?

Yeah, it was the 1970s. In 1976, I built the second one. With the first one, what I found was that it air under the rails at the tail, when I put it up on a rail to turn it. The bottom base of the board came over to a very hard rail. Like an edge basically. There was another rail built above it, but stepped in from the side of the board. I realised that the cross sectional area on the first one I built, was larger at the front than it was at the back. This meant, when I put it up on a rail, any air that got pushed under this double rail, as it started to come down, was compressed and pushed sideways, it made the tail slippery. Air was being pushed out the side. I changed it so that the cross sectional area at the front of the void, under the rails, was smaller at the front than it was at the back. I got an unexpected effect—this rail made the board suck onto the face. When you drove it up on a rail, you got your fins clean out the water, it was stuck on there like glue. Some of Neal's boards are based on that system. I've got a reconstruction of the one that really worked the best. In Tracks (surf magazine) they've got a photo of it end-on and you can see it. I've got a step on the bottom. They used to build a step on the bottom of some old malibus. It raised the rails. They had like a rounded pintail sort of pattern on the bottom, your sides were a square tail. What I did, I put my one the other way around. I created the finest pin so the curvature was not convex but concave, around the line. You got to see a picture of it.
12. You've ridden kneeboards and prone - how do you reckon the two differ? 
You obviously don't have to worry about the time in getting up. Taking to your knees takes time. Once I started to get into riding on my knees, the first boards were 3 ft. 6 in. plus. Before that I was riding a three-foot-board and I found the area was a bit too small. Ron Ralph handled 2 ft. 6 in., he could even kneel on it. He was an awesome surfer, absolutely awesome. I found that when I went a little bit longer I could kneel on them, which some of the guys did and then everybody got into kneeboard riding. By that stage the boards had got longer. The first board with the curvature down was a pin nosed, pintail 6'4'. I rode it at Angourie. I went out on a Easter Sunday. Only about 10 guys got in the water and three had to get out, they were injured. A guy hesitated when he jumped off the point, I said, "When I say jump, jump," but he hesitated and went 15 feet vertically down the rock face, landed face first into his board and knocked two teeth out. I was used to jumping in off rocks. I just waited for a wave to hit the top and slipped down the back of it. He was scared and jumped too late. Another tried to go through Rincon and went through the rocks. He went through the mill pretty bad and another guy got hurt. Everybody got out of the water so I was out there by myself. I thought I'd better have a rest so I paddled out past the big black rock out the front there, where Rincon is. I paddled out past there to Back Angourie, about 50 metres. I was probably 80 metres out and 50 across out the back of Angourie. A wave came up and I took off on it. It was the longest face I've ever seen on a wave. Lengthwise it was hundreds of feet long. The wind was onshore but it was like being in a refrigerator because of the offshore wind the wave created. I don't know how big it was. I always have claimed it was 15 feet. I rode this, going into Spooky's backdoor and three guys dropped in on me. I went right across the bay, I didn't go around into the bay. I got out of the water into the carpark and you couldn't have seen the board for people looking at it. That was the first one I put handles on.

Where did the idea for the handles come from?

I don't know, handles on paipo. They were on the front of paipos, so I put them on the side. For leverage.

I'd read somewhere that you used handles to try surfing underwater?

That was another one. I had a whole book on it. Unfortunately it's gone out in the rubbish somewhere. I had a whole design of things. They used to do underwater bodysurfing. You take off underwater so you come out halfway down the wave face. I wanted to stay under there. If you could get this underwater takeoff organised, you went down towards the bottom, as you came back up again the reduction in water pressure on your body made it so your feet could almost leave the water as you hit the surface because of the massive force of the wave. The water pressure variation would squirt you out, like when you pick up a lemon seed. You got spat out. I worked this thing out, it had fins on the side and flaps, so when you went forward it would hold you into the body of the thing and when you got water pressure from behind, they opened up. It would probably have been totally impractical, but it was from underwater bodysurfing. I used to love doing that.

You were pretty keen to experiment?

Oh yeah. I'm a mad scientist.

Pete Berry in Surf magazine, 1977. Pete's boards had distinctive names: In the quiver photo, #1 is Shadowfax, #2 is Cosmic Debris, #3 Lemon Board, #4 is Starboard, and #5 is Phase 4 gun. The #6 board was made for Wayne Butcher.

Source: Elfes, Chris. (1977, November). Design: Peter Berry (and Who Is This Man & Why Are His Kneeboards So Radical?). Surf, (1)6, 42-45. Courtesy of Adam Williams.

You said your fins were different on the other board, what were they like?

The one's on the one I was telling you about? If you have a look at an X-15 aircraft it doesn't have a normal airfoil on the tail fin. It's got a wedge shape so it is very narrow in the front and wide at the back. And it had a flat thing that kinda stuck out the side. This thing had to work on the verge of the atmosphere. It went into out of space. It's high flights were 300,000 feet. It flatlined at 15,000 mph. A seriously lunatic rocket with a motor at the front. The idea was that they were wedge shaped so I built wedge shaped fins. I found these fins were incredibly fast but incredibly nippy. When you started a turn it would bite in the turn, really push it. It was like you had no drag at all. You weren't relying to create a wing (airfoil) that went through the water, a flattened blade you tried to make a thing that cut through it and behind it you'd have a vacuum trail, which shaped the water out. (Read more about Pete Berry's ideas on board fins and other design innovations in Note 4.)

1978 pintail with a Greenough style fin.

Photo courtesy of Neal Cameron.

I was teaching TAFE at night, running my own industrial fibreglass business during the day and I was also working in a surf shop. It gave me diversity and made me look at a really broad spectrum of things. The weirdest job I had was a tour driver. I used to drive from Kathmandu in Nepal to London, 20,200 kilometers each way. This was in 1979 and 1980. Going through Iran with 26 naive tourists, five days after the Americans tried to get the hostages out in Teheran. There were rumours infiltrators were left behind and we were in an Army truck painted white. Guess what we looked like, infiltrators. You've got to get on with Indians, and Pakistanis, Turks and Greeks and everyone. I've been to Syria twice, the people were beautiful. It's terrible what they are doing there, they were nice people.

Travel broadens your perspective.

It changes your perspective. I was watching stuff on television recently and realised I came from an era, when multiculturalism and we were getting the Vietnamese here and we weren't going, "They are all evil, they're going to kill use and take our jobs." We went "poor bastards who went through the worst shit ever" and empathised with them.
13. Where do you reckon the best waves you surfed were?
Angourie and the south coast of New South Wales. It's not just that the waves are good, it was the fact that it wasn't crowded. If you went north, at Crescent there were a 100 guys in the water. If you wanted to drive down the dirt road, Point Plomer would be 2 ft. bigger, it's not as good a tube as Crescent is, we'd get there and there would be two or three guys out. I'd drive there so I wouldn't get the crowds. The longest wave I'd ever ridden was in Port Hacking.

Inside the bay?

At this place was called Cabbage Tree Point. I was outside Cabbage Tree Point and I made it down to the Deeban Spit, which is over half a mile. It was when I was riding the paipo and I didn't own a wetsuit. Three waves and the entire day and half way up the spit there was a boat that had been grounded on the spit. When I got there I sat down in the sun to warm up. I was freezing.

Pete surfing the Starboard at Pebbles, 1972.

Photo by Des Clark, courtesy of Pete Berry.

You'd sacrifice some qualify for peace of mind?

No drop-ins because I get very aggressive in the water. I'd yell my head off if I was on the inside. A maniac yeti. A mad yell makes people hesitate for one stroke on their paddle and they usually miss the wave.

What sort of wave were the old ply bellyboards best suited for?

They surfed virtually anything but I liked the point at Maroubra which had a good peak takeoff, a bit of a wall where it backed off a bit and then it had an inside section. By then you'd built your speed up. Loved it. But I also surfed Lurline, which is big, mean, horrible and inside out. I've got a photo of me kicking in on a 15 ft. plus wave on a piece of plywood.

I'd read about you having a pretty heavy wipeout at Lurline?

The worst wipeout was at Coogee bombie. I got sucked over the falls seven times. I took off, and had a wetsuit on, kneepads, safety straps and flippers. I came up and I had the arse blown out of my wetsuit and nothing else. By then I was 10 feet from the rocks and about an 8 to 10 foot reform about to chew me only a reef that is about 4 inches deep. I had to swim about a nautical mile. It was getting dragged by the current by the time I got out of the impact zone, with no flippers on. A guy turned up on a surf-ski. I said, "You haven't seen any flippers around here?" He wiggled around out the back and pulled out a flipper with a bootie still in it. The safety strap was gone. I found another of the flippers but I didn't have a bootie. I did get the board and as I said, it was about a nautical mile, that's 1.8 kilometres. I would have had a second go at the bombie but I'd lost the other bootie so the flipper didn't fit anymore because you needed the bootie to fit the flipper. I'd got deeper and deeper because I couldn't get into it, so every time I missed the takeoff I could deeper and deeper. I got a spot where I finally got into it onto one of the ones where you shouldn't have gotten into it in the first place.

Pete's last wave riding a four-finned, four channel bottom flex tail with a square nose, 1987. The board was stolen and recovered from a pawn shop eight years later, for $60.

Photo by Pete Merrick, courtesy of Pete Berry.
14. Any other comments?
The thing I really hated about surfing in the older days was that everyone treated it like a secret society. Nobody wanted to teach anybody anything. Nobody wanted information to flow, to create development. The same thing they got today, tunnel vision. It's built this way, it's always been built this way, so it should be built this way.

(Below left) Pete Blom, a northcoast kneeboarder who competed in local contests, is holding Neal Cameron's Stepbottom, which is based on the Chimera Phase 3 design. When Pete Berry was asked if that was him in this photo he said, "I wouldn't wear a crash helmet like that!" This board is now at the Australian National Surfing Museum, located in Torquay, Australia. (Below right) The first Chimera.

Photos courtesy of Neal Cameron. Thanks to Adam Williams for identifying the issue and to his mate who had the magazine. The source for the Pete Blom photo came is an article appearing in Surfing World magazine: Ware, J. (1978, April). Duranbah '78. Surfing World, 27(1), 70-75 (also known as issue number 157).

Do you know about Bushrat Surfboards? I read he was influenced by your ideas.

Yeah, I know Jed Done really well. He had a week up here where he came into my workshop to do some vacuum bagging and build some kiteboards. We also had a night out on the town, on the piss, talking surfboards from 7 o'clock at night until 5 am the next morning. He's utilising the ideas I had. He's taking baby steps whereas I wanted to make giant leaps every time. I only had one board that didn't work, but it was designed as a dual purpose board, to be towed behind a board or work as a kneeboard in a really heavy tube. It had a curvature in the bottom crossways, rocker was straight lengthways. Crossways it was a cross-section out of a cylinder, so it could roll from side to side behind the boat. We found it worked but not very good. We sawed the fins down and put it behind a boat and my mate bought it straight up. It flew behind the boat. It was a hybrid thing. It was a failure on one side but I have never had a board that I would say "that's a real dog." Even though I was doing these radical departures in shapes, and designs and curvatures and things, I never had anything that I said was a real dog. I had things that were limited in what they did and some where I had to adjust my surfing style completely to a different style to actually ride it. That's the one with the five fins, the weird fins that I told you about. Neal Cameron couldn't ride it at all. Whereas I could ride it. What you had to do, if you wanted to do a forehand turn to your righthand side, you had to flop the board to your lefthand side to get it flat on the face before you could turn it.

That wouldn't be intuitive?

This is very counter-intuitive. Normally you are pushing it onto a rail. This thing you had to start it off flat. It had to be flat on the face like you were doing a cutback, to do a forehand turn. If you wanted to do a backhand turn you had to situate it like you were doing a forehand turn, and then turn back. Neal's board were all basically the same shape, Chimera Phase 3, a mythical beast. Where the name came from, I wanted to do full rail 360s or barrel rolls. Barrel rolls is what I really wanted to do. So I built this board to try and do the impossible dream. It was Phase 3. It's still in my workshop. He bought it off me and kept copying it and doing subtle changes. He 'd go, "It's never as good as the first one" and then the next thing you'd know he would go "best board I've ridden." I really reckon it was because he had to tune to it. I could get on a Friar Tuck and change my surfing style. I used to always surf with my knees fairly back and leaning forward. That involved me getting the scar across my chin and my nose broken. I could ride a Friar Tuck and kneel really vertically, like a standup but on his knees. I used to get out in the water and just slide my board over to somebody else and say, "Ride that for a minute I want to ride your board" and get a couple of waves on their board. I wanted to try everbody else's ideas.

An inquiring mind?

Nah. You never learn unless you look around you. Try other things. You become static unless you try different things.

Did you ever try making fibreglass bellyboards?

Kneeboards are just overgrown bellyboards. I've a three and a half footer downstairs that's called a knellyboard (spelt with a 'k' like deathknell). It was basically the same as the original larger Morey Boogie. Really round in the front, 42 in. long, really flat. I found I could go past a 5 ft. 8 in. Friar Tuck on this thing on my knees. But we used it as a bellyboard. The name came from a Tumbleweeds cartoon, where everyone in town is trying to think up a name for a kid who wandered into town. Then Tumbleweed said, "What about plain old knelly, I know the k is silent, but I know it's there."

What's the theory behind his board?

It was designed as a bellyboard, that's why its got the groove right around the front, to get your hands in there and hang on. In the old days they had a handle, but I just made a giant groove to get your fingers into, so your hands don't go in the water, when you grab a rail. You grab the top rail rather than the bottom rail.

It's like two boards in one, you get area and volume but a thinned rail?

Yeah and you got suction on the rails when you pushed it on a rail, because the groove increased in volume as you went toward the back. It created a suction so the end of the board hung on. The fins are asymmetrically foiled.

My mate Cameron Haynes has a bellyboard I made him. I think it is 4 ft. He still rides it all the time. When it's small and there are a million kids out there, he doesn't have to kneel up, that slows you down. So he's off on it and away he goes. The bottom on it is almost a bonzer style hull, with concaves and everything through it. It has handles too.

I'd like to see a photo of that?

A lot these things are still around and being used. I built Cameron three boards in the early-1990s. Prior to that the last one I built was 1987. He's riding boards I built before 1987 all the time.

The 3 ft. 7 in. x 21 in. knellyboard made in 1978.

Photos courtesy of Pete Berry.

Cameron Haynes - Wamberal. Cameron is riding a XT1, a double flyer fishtail which was Pete's first attempt at a thruster. It was made in 1982.

Photos courtesy of Pete Berry.

(Below left) Neal Cameron riding a Chimera Phase 5. (Below right) Neal Cameron with a Chimera Phase 3 (1971). (Bottom) Neal drawing long lines.

Photos courtesy of Neal Cameron and Adam Williams.

The vacuum bagged ply boards are really the last boards you made?

They are the very last, the one's I built in 2002.

Knellyboard and bellyboard; Pete with a 9 inch square-nosed 5 ft. 3 in. x 27 in. Chunder Board II, shaped in 1978.

Photo courtesy of Pete Berry and Mick O'Neill photo, on page 72 of the book, Scott, Mark and Tony Nolan. (2014). Maroubra: Golden Age of the 'Bra. Alexandria, NSW: Kingsclear Books.

Note 1: Read more about Barry Hutchins's paipo surfing in the Interview with Barry Hutchins.

Note 2: Lurline Bay resides in the heart of Sydney, Austraila's coastal suburbs, nestled between Coogee and Maroubra beaches. Pete Berry describes Lurline Bay:
"At Lurline there is a peak that runs across it and it works off the wave bouncing off the rock. When you are looking for the good wave to ride you're not actually looking at the wave coming in, your'e making sure there is a big enough cross wave. Your wave coming in might be 8', but the cross wave might be 2'. But you actually take off on the cross wave and backdoor the main section. It's really a giant take-off that goes int a big sludgy wave. The whole thing is the adrenalin on the take-off, it's as scary as hell. A lot of people get sucked out to sea because there's no beach and the currents in that bay are absolute hell."
Note 3: A chronology and description of Pete's boards:
  • Chunder board (1969). Egg-shaped S-deck boards, flat bottomed, before curve down the tail was added.
  • Chimera* Phase 1 and Phase 2. The Phase 1 (aka the Starboard) Phase 2 boards had square tails. Neal Cameron described the Starboard as the first "ground breaking" departure from traditional design.
  • Chimera Phase 3 (1971). This design features a pintail, a double concave, and heavy noselift.
  • Chimera Phase 4 (1972). This Chimera design is a  pintail gun.
  • Lemon board. This board is 5 foot 6-1/2 inches long, 27-3/4 inches wide, and 1-1/2 inches at its thickest point. It prededed the Shadowfax. 
  • Shadowfax (mid-1970s). Pete's favourite board was named after Gandalf's horse which was silent, fast, and left no track.
  • Nazgul (mid-1970s). This design was 29 inches wide, about the same width as Shadowfax.
  • Cosmic Debris. This is a pintail, square-nosed board built to ride Racecourse at Crescent Head.
* A chimera is an animal in Greek mythology with a lion's head, a goat's body and a serpent's tail.

The Chimera Phase 5 board design was Neal Cameron's development of Pete's design ideas. This board design is a Chimera Phase 3 design combined with Shadowfax's step bottom.

Note 4: Pete Berry provided addtional information on board fins and other design innovations. See below.

Fins: Pete reported he had over 60 templates for fins.

Where I went weird is where I built that 5 fin, assymetrical wedge shaped fins. 32 layers of 6 oz, that's your standard fin, then I started to make them out of straight rovings, like old Jarvis Walker fishing rods. You get so much more punch out of your flex, because you were going with something that was all linear, rather than crossweaved. If you're using rovings you virtually have to cast the things. You can't just lay them up on something flat. You got to cut the patttern out (woven base i the center), put the resin and rovings in there and grind them down.

Flex: power came out of the rails and the fins.

'Up to 15 layers. Depending on how long it was and then you'd taper it off. You laid it up like doing a fin. You start off with a flat slab, then you start grinding it away, bending it as you are grinding away, until you get to where you go, "this is is pretty close." Then you cut the foil into it. '

"I started off with a really long tail, over a foot of flex. Then I kind of put it onto the rails. I wanted to create the main hull of the board as rigid, then the rails bend to follow the water flow. You had more control over the rocker an then the water chnaged in the shape of the sides to release and allow the water of it.

"Curve, that's what Greenough was about, bending things to follow the water flow. That's why I couldn't work out why he had foam on the outside of his boards, that meant the center was flexing but the sides weren't. Later I learned he was building them in molds, so the whole thing was flexing."

"The whole thing about flex is, you got to control how much power comes out ... the power that comes out is how you structure it. The old chimera III had straight rovings around the edge of the rails. It really put the power back out. When they bend, it takes a lot of force to bend them, you got the force back. It's something a lot of people haven't looked at."

The hook: "...with the rocker in the tail, the way I had it, the hook as it should be called. It felt like it should nosedive but what it did was give you acceleration, it felt like it should nose dive but it didn't."

Other Information
Pete was active in surf administration, including at various times being president of the Southside Surfriders and the Maroubra Kneeriders Club. Tony Wales, in a Kneeboard Surfing USA (KSUSA) Internet forum post, dated March 21, 2008, recalled that he attended a launch of a book by Peter David Hunt. Tony's post quotes from this book, "During the 1970s and early-1980s, Peter Berry and Don Bosco ably held the Southside together. It is ironic that for a period in the mind 1980s, the Southside was solely run by Peter Berry, who was in fact a kneerider, not a stand up surfer."
Source: Hunt, Peter David, & Surfing NSW. (2007). Beyond the green room: A history of boardriding clubs from Bondi to Garie. Maroubra South, N.S.W: Surfing NSW.


Surf magazine article about the Golden Breed-O'Neill Kneeboard Contest, 1976. The article features a photo of Peter Berry with some of his boards while in another snapshot photographer Martin Tullemans is posing on one of Peter's boards.

Source: McCausland, Bill. (1976, October). Vincent had 'em on their knees. Breakway, 35, 6-7. See the surfing magazine on the Internet at

Pete Berry designed the Maroubra Kneeriders Association logo shown below (ca. Dec. 1976). The design was inspired by a photo of Mark Munro surfing Cronulla Point on a spoon.

Maroubra Kneeriders Association logo.

Photo source: Scott, Mark and Tony Nolan. (2014). Maroubra: Golden Age of the 'Bra. Alexandria, NSW: Kingsclear Books, p. 71.

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Last updated on: 11/02/18