MyPaipoBoards | Paipo Forums | About | Interviews | Bibliography | WaveRiders Info | Search MyPaipoBds | Donate |

A Paipo Interview with Peter Kidman

Why buy a board when you can make one with handlebars?

A Paipo Interview with Peter Kidman
April 11 and 12, 2011. Terranora, NSW (Australia)
Telephone interview by Bob Green

Peter is the father of Andrew Kidman and great grandson of Captain William Frazer Milne, the Arctic whaler who assisted Amundsen in finding the North-West passage. He has lots of projects on the boil including one to enhance the number of indigenous teachers, doctors and nurses. However, this interview is about Peter surfing in the late-1950s on a curved, shaped board with a set of handlebars mounted on the front.
1. How old were you when you began first riding a bellyboard?
About 12, I suppose.

What year was that?

I was born in 1942. So, around 1954.

Peter in 2011, and as a younger lifesaver (second from left).

Photo by Bob Green (left) and excerpt from: North Cottesloe Surf Life Saving Club. (2003). The History of the North Cottesloe Surf Life Saving Club. Cottesloe, W.A.
2. Where were you in 1954?
In Perth. The surf in Perth is pretty ratshit because Rottnest is in the way. We could catch waves in Winter.

This is pre-surfboard stuff. They were just starting to come. The first ski I ever went on was a canvas one. From that bloke I learnt how to fish on skis. When we lived at Mackerel Beach I had a couple of skis that I went down the Murray on a few times. I'd trail a line off the back and get all the taylor and salmon that I wanted.

Peter on his ski going down the Murray River - 1992.

Photo courtesy Peter Kidman.

In Summer the only place we could get surf at North Cottesloe was on this reef. That's why we had these bellyboards. Because the board would hit the reef before we would. It was underneath us, so that's how it all started. We'd just grab bits of wood and away we'd go.

But then a fellow called Don Bancroft, he ended up a very good jazz player when he came over here. He was a legendary sort of fellow who liked mucking round with wood. So he got some 3-ply and then he put a bend in it. He heated it up and put a curve in it. Then he put a keel on it.
3. Where did Don Bancroft get the idea of bellyboards from?
He was trying to make a cut-out female body. He sort of had the hips and chest and then he went round. Then he thought, "Shit I can use this as a bellyboard." He used to just muck around with things. He didn't put the legs on it. That's how he started.

Outline of Peter's bellyboard.

Drawing courtesy of Peter Kidman.

So it had a fin on it?

No. It was an inch keel that went from the top to the back of it. That held the curve in it.

The keel went the length of the board?

Then we realised if we could put some handlebars on the front of it, we were further away from the rocks but we could plane on them. So you could be on a wave in deep water and come back onto the rocks and you weren't going to get killed, you had this board underneath you.
4. How were the handlebars fitted to the board?
He made a plate -- he was a pretty handy kid. He made a plate then welded them on.

What sort of handlebars were they?

They were like the handlebars of a scooter. Like a t-bar. There were bikes around in those days that had that type of handlebar. We only had back-pedal brakes, we didn't have brakes on the handlebars or anything like that. They were like motorbike handlebars. You just welded them on.

They would have weighed the nose down a bit?

Not really. They were hollow. We had flippers.

Would you steer with the handlebars or lean on them? How would you use them to plane and turn?

You pushed down on them, lifted your chest up and your body seemed to plane and then you can spin it around underneath you on the wave. We'd be on an angle as we were angling away from the reef.

Could you cut back?

Yes, you'd just turn the handle.

Where was your body in relation to the board.

The back of the board was about in line with your waistline.

So your head would be over the handle bars.

Yes, you've got to remember I was only a kid. The curve at the front was so it wouldn't nose dive.

5. How much curve was there?
Not much.
6. What shape were the boards?
How we came up with the shape - they looked like the shape of a woman's body.

Like a peanut?

Round at the top, came in like a woman's waist and then it went out like a tail. You sort of sat in that area. You lie on these boards and you just kicked out. Like the modern boards, but I see kids down there on boards today and I say, "Geez, you buy your boards. You should go out and learn to make them. Put handlebars on them and then you can plane on them."
7. How many guys were riding these boards?
Only my mates in the surf club riding our reef. Don wasn't in the surf club. About four of us had them. They were identified by the colours.

They used to have these rubber boards that you could hire from the local shop. The pump up type. We'd never rented them, we'd pinch them when the kids would fall off them. You'd lose them before the half hour was up because we couldn't return them as they weren't hired in our name.
8. Which Perth beach was this?
North Cottesloe. Eric Street used to be quite good. The reef went all the way from Cottesloe all the way to Eric Street. The surf would come either side of the reef. It's changed a lot because there used to be an old jetty but they blew it up and put in a groin. The groin worked ok but it covered everything in sand. The surfboats even used to catch the waves on the reef. They couldn't do that today with the amount of sand.

Two views of the reef off Eric Street, North Cottesloe Beach.

Source: Google Maps, 2011, and excerpt from: North Cottesloe Surf Life Saving Club. (2003). The History of the North Cottesloe Surf Life Saving Club. Cottesloe, W.A.
9. How long did you ride the boards for?
All the time I was a kid. I started swimming at 16. Then I started paddling skis and stuff like that then. It was only a small group of guys that had these. I used to be in Melbourne and my father died and my mother ended up at the Brewery, that's why we moved here. A couple of carpenters at the brewery made the boards for us for Christmas. They painted them in our footy colours. I had a blue and gold striped one (Claremont). Another kid had a black and white one.
10. How did they come to make the boards?
They had a workshop at the brewery and everything like that. They had a paint shop because I remember when my mother got a car she didn't like the colour so they repainted her car for her.

They were handy at the brewery?

The boss of the brewery was also my guardian because my dad had died. I had pretty good connections. We used to get kegs of ginger beer. She would have said, "Could someone make the boards for them?" My best mate, Jerry Knowles, would sneak down and steal the board.

This is a good story. One of the blokes who used to coach our footy team, that would have been under-13. I would have been 11 or 12. Ray had a truck and we put the surfboats on the back of his truck to start with. And he had an old canvas ski. He would let us use the canvas ski, but Jerry would come over and inch that too. The bloody thing would leak and sink. So we had to get the bastard from the bottom. In the end he joined us and became one of our mates. It was a great group of kids
11. This wasn't before the Bancroft boards?
No, this was as a result of them. The blokes at the brewery made them for us based on what Don had built. Don was a couple of years older than us. He always wanted to be a pilot but he failed the exams. He was an amazing bloke and a great trumpet player. When they discovered Yallingup, not Margaret River, Yallingup came first. Donny and some of these surfboard guys (they were just starting to make surfboards then) they would all be camping in the hills and stuff. If you heard the trumpet playing in the morning that would be Donny playing the trumpet because he knew the surf was up.

Later they used to take the surfboat down there because we wanted waves. I had to go down there because I was the vice-captain of the club and I had to go down there and keep an eye on them. I spent most of the time sitting under the sweep. If we sunk, I used to have an old belt in the front of the boat. I had to swim that into shore and we'd bring the boat in. We'd empty it out and out we'd go again. It was good fun. You could take your bellyboards down there. You'd kick them on with your flipper and it was even better on those huge waves. You'd be pushing down on the handlebars and you'd be planning.
12. I'd heard they used to have ply bellyboards around Scarborough?
They could have done. I met a guy from Scarborough who I used to swim with and I think he could have had one. They didn't have the reefs. They weren't as protected from Rottnest as we were. We basically had the bellyboards to surf on the reef. They didn't wash away, they'd always stay around. You'd find them - they floated.

Triggs was another place you could ride them. There was definitely surf up there and the boats used to go there. The boats would go through the surfboard riders. Bellyboards were good up there too. It was more exposed to the south-westerly and north-westerly in winter.

On a different note, did you ever see the Vidler bellyboards? Don Vidler made them?

Ken Vidler was in our swimming squad. So that's how he got to know about bellyboards. I'm sure he would have seen our bellyboards. Ken was fantastic. He was the best ironman over here for many years. [See Note 1 for additional information.]

Vidler boards.

Photo by Henry Marfleet and courtesy Currumbin Surf Museum/Carl Tanner collection.
13. I'll send you some links to other ply bellyboards.
Did they have a curve in them? The reason we had a curve in it was that it didn't nosedive. If you nosedived on the reef you were ratshit. The handlebars were mounted on the curved bit.

I don't know what happened to my board. When you leave home parents tend to throw things out. I'd like to see young kids making their own boards.
14. What did you enjoy about the bellyboard?
The fact that you could plane on them. The aim of the thing was to get a beacher, pick up a wave out the back and get into shore. If you achieved that it was a beacher. We used to do this on the body but the board made it even easier. This made it even more exciting as you were closer on the reef.

Western Australia is subjected to the south-westerly winds that blow during the summer. That's when we were on the reef. The swell would be coming from the south-west. You could stand on the reef and when the wave came push off. It was good having the board because you could go onto the reef and get them. They weren't huge waves but they were in our minds.

Captain William Frazer Milne, Arctic whaler and Peter's great grandfather.

Photo courtesy Peter Kidman.

Note 1. Colin Vidler advised that Neville Kenyon and Don Vidler initially made the boards before Ron Vidler replaced Neville (Colin Vidler, personal communication, November 29, 2010). The boards were described by Vidler as transition boards between rockerless bellyboards of the time and later kneeboards. These boards were made in Scarborough, soaked in a swimming pool built by their father in 1957. Colin advises that the boards were "Made of marine ply, cut to shape, including a V cutout at front of board. The ply was then submerged in water for a couple of days (parents swimming pool) and then clamped to one half of a plough disk to obtain the "spoon" and left clamped a few days. The V was then filled in with, I think, foam and was then glassed so as to retain the spoon. Boards then sanded and sprayed with Estapol. They were heavy but they used to go pretty good and fast". The boards were manufactured over a four-five year period, from the late 1960s to the early 1970s. Colin noted the boards were made "so they could buy a Kombi (of course) deck it out and do the East coast surf trip, before getting regular jobs. Ken, Colin and Jeff Vidler won Australian lifesaving titles in ski events while Ken was a 1980 Moscow Olympian (Galton 1984).

Sources for Note 1:
  • Vidler, Colin. E-mail correspondence of November 29, 2010.
  • Galton, B. (1984). Gladiators of the Surf. The Australian Surf Life Saving Championships - A History. Frenchs Forest, AH & AW Reed. 

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

MyPaipoBoards | Paipo Forums | About | Interviews | Bibliography | WaveRiders Info | Search MyPaipoBds | Donate |

I am aware that some of the images and other content on this website may be subject to copyright and will gladly remove any such items if so requested by the genuine holder of the rights. Such content is not used for commercial exploitation. The sole purpose is to share knowledge with enthusiasts and interested parties. To the extent possible copyright holders have been contacted for permission to share content on this website. Likewise please respect the copyright content of this site.

All contents of this site ©1998-2018 Rod's Home Port
for SurfMarks and MyPaipoBoards.
All images within this section copyright of
respective credited contributor.
This web site is hosted and maintained by and

Last updated on: 05/04/11