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A Paipo Interview with Richard Whiting

Modern moves on a traditional ply bellyboard

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 bellyboards?
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.

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.
2. Did you come from a family of bellyboarders?
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 bellyboarders?
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.

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.
4. What was your first board like? Who made it?
It was identical to the one I have now (see picture) you could get them anywhere.

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.
5. What are the boards like that you surf now? Who makes these boards?
See above. I bought this one at my local surf shop.

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 board?

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.
6. Have you tried riding a foam bodyboard? How does it compare with a bellyboard?
Yes, it is very different. My board is more like bodysurfing.
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 in?
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.

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.
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?
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.

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.
11. How do the boards go on steep take-offs and in tubes? What technique is required in these conditions?
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 area?
There must be a few but I haven’t come across them.
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 arrived.
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.

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

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Last updated on: 08/25/11