A Paipo Interview with Richard Whiting
July 23, 2011 - Portreath, Cornwall (UK)
E-mail interview by Bob Green
Richard has been surfing a traditional English bellyboard for many
years. He likens riding a minimalist wood bellyboard to bodysurfing.
1. How long have you been
riding a wooden bellyboard? When and where did you start riding
The board I use is a traditional Cornish wooden
board which is normally used in waist depth water. You stand and launch
yourself onto a broken wave. I started by doing this in the late-1950s,
at about the age of 7, or so. As I got older it seemed logical to try
using fins. This was from aged 10, or so.
2. Did you come from a family of bellyboarders?
Richard at Bathseba on the east coast of Barbados two
years ago. "The
locals were rather confused as to what the board was!"
Photo courtesy Richard Whiting.
No! My parents were from London. They moved to
Cornwall to open a pub. They were far to busy to go to the beach. I was
left to my own devices and spent all my summers on the beach.
3. When you were younger who were the respected
Where I lived in North Cornwall was a bit of a backwater and in the
early-1960s surfing had not really taken hold. I think the first person
I heard of was George Greenough.
4. What was your first board like? Who made it?
Were there any local surfers that you were able to
watch and learn bellyboard technique/maneuvers from or were you self
taught, learning through trial and error?
There were 3 of us of about the same age who where the first to start
surfing on our beach. Surfing was very much in its infancy in the early1960s. We had access to Surfer Magazine and that was about all. So it
very much trial and error and self taught.
It was identical to the one I have now (see picture) you could get them
5. What are the boards like that you surf now? Who makes
Did you see surfing and want a board? If not, how did
you first come to start surfing? Where did your first board come from?
I was aware that surfing was going on in Newquay and Bude, both fairly
close, and I wanted to try it. My first board was a 10'6" lump made by
Bilbo in Newquay.
Richard's current board
Photo courtesy Richard Whiting.
See above. I bought this one at my local surf shop.
6. Have you tried riding a foam bodyboard? How does it
compare with a bellyboard?
What is the name of your local surf shop? Was there a
choice of board types or just one type of board? When did you buy this
The shop I bought this body board is Savage Surf. It was the only type
they had. They are sold to tourists for use in waist deep water for use
without fins. I bought this 3 or 4 years ago.
Yes, it is very different. My board is more like
7. Have you traveled much with your bellyboard or do
you mainly stick to one area? What type of wave does your board go best
Locally I tend to use it at my local
beach, Portreath, because it is the only local beach that works in the
prevailing wind (southwest) and if the swell is from the right direction the
harbor wall works. It can easily hold a wave up to 8 feet. Apart from
that the board goes where I go. I have used it in SW France it has also
been to Barbados with me. On the reefs on the west coast and at Soup
Bowls and Parlours at Bathsheba on the east coast. The board needs a
steep open face to work well.
8. Do you always use fins? Have you seen a technique
where the board is swum out?
Yes, I have tried without fins. It doesn’t work.
No one else around here rides one of these boards.
9. What technique do you use to get under breaking waves
and white water?
It is very easy to get out in any surf. I swim on my front with the
board held across in front of me and use like the diving plains of a
submarine to control my depth.
10. I’m interested in the technique involved in turning
your board? How do you turn the board and what sort of turns do you do?
Is your board parallel to the oncoming whitewater? If
so, how do you submerge the board and your body?
The board is parallel, it is just a matter of duck diving. The board is
only marine ply so it sinks easily.
As I said before it is like belly boarding so turning it is a whole
body movement. I have to pull the nose around and bend at the waist. The
board will happily pull bottom turns, cutbacks and will turn up and
down the face.
11. How do the boards go on steep take-offs and in
tubes? What technique is required in these conditions?
The parallels between bellyboarding and bodysurfing
are interesting. Can you provide some more detail regarding how you
make your board turn? Is it through hip pressure, turning with your
arms, or some other means.
Now you are making me think! Bottom turns and turns up the face of the
wave are hip pressure and a lean. Turns down the wave and cut backs are
done by bending at the waist and pulling the board around.
It goes well on steep take offs but if you
leave the take off too late you tend to drop down the face because it is
difficult to hold into the face. Tubes are rare around here. As far as
technique goes speed is a problem so it is just point and hope.
12. Are there many other bellyboarders in your local
There must be a few but I haven’t come across
13. Are there any waves or surfs that stand out for you
over the years?
The wall at Portreath on several occasions,
high tide at Le Porge in SW France a couple of years ago, back at
Trebarwith, my local beach when I was growing up, and an unnamed reef
on the west coast of Barbados last year the day before a hurricane
14. What is the attraction of bellyboarding?
It has to be the involvement and the fact I can
take it out in any size of surf.
15. Any other comments?
This has been an interesting process. It has
made me think about something I have been doing for over 50 years. Over
the years I have ridden all sorts of boards. I first stood up on a
board in the early-1960s, on an 11-foot lump. The shortest board I have owned
was 5’6’’ before buying a kneeboard. I have also owned an SUP. At
the moment I also have own a 9’6’’ single fin but the bellyboard has
always been my fallback board. Have you any plan or pictures because I
am tempted to make another board from foam and glass.