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A Paipo Interview with Stan Osserman

Knee riding paipo on a taro leaf

A Paipo Interview with Stan Osserman
November 1, 2010. Kailua, Hawaii
E-mail interview by Bob Green
Photos courtesy of Wayne Bartlett and Stan Osserman

Stan makes and rides his own style of paipo which he has been refining for many years. He shares his construction method as well as offering recollections of riding paipo. Stan's motivation for surfing in contests wasn't about winning.
1. How old were you when you first started riding paipo? When and where was this?
I started riding a paipo board when I was 14 years old (1968) at Makapu`u. We did not ride the shore break we strictly stayed outside and we particularly liked it when the surf was big and there was a large center break. This requires most of the sand to be moved out to sea and off the beach exposing some large rocks along the north half of the bay. When the surf is big at Makapu`u, it's usually also very windy, so we got used to riding in fairly rough conditions. My first board was made in the wood-shop at Kailua Intermediate School. It was three-quarter inch plywood 2 feet wide and 3 feet long. I sanded some scoop in the nose and rounded the edges. I couldn't afford fiberglass cloth so I scrounge some old Aloha print material and used that in place of fiberglass cloth and polyester surfboard resin. As a result it delaminated after less than six months.

Stan in the water, ca. 2012.

2. What were your early boards based on? What was the construction process?

After seeing some of the designs ridden by other surfers I decided to try and press my own boards. I particularly liked Harry Akisada's boards although his boards have a little too much scoop in the nose for me [see a picture of one of Harry's boards in the Larry Goddard paipo interview]. I learned that some people use concrete to press laminated plywood together and others used water to weigh down the top of the mold. I didn't have a lot of space to store a big or heavy mold, so I hit on the idea of just using bolts and washers to pull mold pieces together. So if you look at all my board designs you'll see at least one hole in the middle of the scoop area that's been filled in with putty or epoxy because that's where the top part of the mold is pulled into the bottom part. My mold is made of plywood with the bottom section reinforced with two by fours and the shape of the board built up with layers of 1/8 inch plywood. The top of the mold is actually separate pieces which are pulled into the bottom of the mold with 5/8 inch bolts and nuts. My current mold requires six holes be drilled in the board. The additional one hole in the scoop and four holes are used to shape the tracks and the rails on the back edges of the board. My boards are specifically made for knee riding, so they have noticeably less scoop in the front than Harry's. The backside is designed to grab the wave and hold on even without my legs and fins in the water. Unless it's extremely choppy my boards hold tight on the steepest walls even when I'm on my knees.
Stan's drawing of his mold.



3. Paipo riders have told me paipo were ridden all around Oahu in the 1960s, particularly on the South Shore and around Makapu'u. What are your recollections of this period, the boards that were in use and the standout paipo riders?

The only commercially made board I recall from the 1960s and 70s was called "Paipo Nui" and I think it was built by Greg Knoll. It was about 3/8 of an inch thick made of mahogany plywood and not fiberglassed, but just varnished. The scoop was sanded into the front and the back was completely flat with the back rail rounded so that you wouldn't catch the backside as you pulled yourself on to the board. It actually resembled the modern-day sand sliding board, just a more rounded nose. It was about 20 inches wide at the back in about 36-40 inches long. Virtually all the other boards were homemade and designs varied widely. Generally, I didn't surf anywhere but Makapu`u unless there was a surfing contest. Consequently the surfers I knew were strictly from the Eastside, Makapu`u or Sandy Beach. The best one I recall was named George Paku Junior. His parents were the caretakers for Makapu`u Beach Park. He was my high school classmate and he lived in Waimanalo. He could surf on anything from a scrap piece of wood to McDonald's serving trays and make it look beautiful fluid and easy. (As a side note,in Hawaii, before the "Boogie Board" came along, it was common to see serving trays with holes drilled in them at fast food restaurants because folks who couldn't afford paipos would use a large tray to surf with. The holes made stolen trays impractical for surfing on.) But, George died in a car accident before he was even 25, and I don't think there are even any photos of him surfing. He was the best I ever saw on a paipo. The only other names I recall besides Harry were Mercer Aikala, Frank Lee, Craig Matthews, Bud Scelsa, and Wayne Bartlett, but there were others.
4. Paipo boards have been ridden prone, kneeling and stand-up. How did you come to ride paipo kneeling? Was this a common style at the time?
I think I started knee riding just for the challenge. Several folks knee rode at Makapu`u, but I think what keeps people from knee riding is the pounding that your knees take. For some reason, even at age 56, and with no deck-pads on any of my boards, my knees don't bother me. I usually only ride lying down on a large wave at a break I'm not used to yet, with a steep face and a late takeoff. A paipo requires a late takeoff in most cases, but once it's moving, it accelerates quickly across the wave. Consequently, if I'm surfing at a break with regular surfboards, sometimes I'll stay on my stomach to accelerate away from them before I get on my knees.
5. What is the advantage of riding paipo kneeling?
I think the biggest advantage to knee riding on a paipo is you get a better view, but also allows you to do more aggressive manoeuvres and it is more challenging.

6. Who do you recall surfing paipo with in the early days and since then? Was there much individuality in how paipo were ridden?
In the mid-1970s, after college, I got to the beach less and had to work more. In the early-1980s, I joined the military and spent a couple years away from Hawaii so I lost touch with a lot of my surfing friends. When I came home I still only surfed at Makapu`u, but only a few times a year. About 10 years ago, in 2000, I moved to an office on Diamond Head. Since then I've been able to surf in the mornings at Diamond Head, at least in the summer months. I developed a closer paipo boarding friendship with John Clark then, because I only knew him from the Fire Department before that. This summer I actually started surfing at "Publics" in Waikiki and got re-acquainted with Bud Scelsa. Most of the folks I surfed with I mentioned in question 3 and I hardly ever see them. As far as styles, there were some variations in style that made everyone just a little different. Some of that may have been the board design or body weight or some other variable. When we ran contests, however, the judging criteria was: size of the wave, length of the ride, position on the wave (staying close to the curl) and any manoeuvres or tricks (spinners, riding backwards, etc). I must say though that I admired George Paku's particular style. At 17 years old, he weighed about 225 pounds, but that big Hawaiian looked as graceful as an Olympic skater, no matter how big the wave. His timing and ability to "use" every bit of the wave was fluid and exceptional. If I had to say what style I tried to copy, or influenced me the most, it would certainly be George Paku's style.

Pictured on the right: Stan on the North Shore, ca. 1972.


6. Who do you recall surfing paipo with in the early days and since then? Was there much individuality in how paipo were ridden?

In the mid-1970s, after college, I got to the beach less and had to work more. In the early-1980s, I joined the military and spent a couple years away from Hawaii so I lost touch with a lot of my surfing friends. When I came home I still only surfed at Makapu`u, but only a few times a year. About 10 years ago, in 2000, I moved to an office on Diamond Head. Since then I've been able to surf in the mornings at Diamond Head, at least in the summer months. I developed a closer paipo boarding friendship with John Clark then, because I only knew him from the Fire Department before that. This summer I actually started surfing at "Publics" in Waikiki and got re-acquainted with Bud Scelsa. Most of the folks I surfed with I mentioned in question 3 and I hardly ever see them. As far as styles, there were some variations in style that made everyone just a little different. Some of that may have been the board design or body weight or some other variable. When we ran contests, however, the judging criteria was: size of the wave, length of the ride, position on the wave (staying close to the curl) and any manoeuvres or tricks (spinners, riding backwards, etc). I must say though that I admired George Paku's particular style. At 17 years old, he weighed about 225 pounds, but that big Hawaiian looked as graceful as an Olympic skater, no matter how big the wave. His timing and ability to "use" every bit of the wave was fluid and exceptional. If I had to say what style I tried to copy, or influenced me the most, it would certainly be George Paku's style.
7. Have you ridden foam/fiberglass paipo or mostly wood boards?
I made a foam paipo with a short skeg in the early 1970s, didn't like it and trashed it after just a few sessions. It was not as manoeuvrable, and it was too buoyant and hard to get under larger waves.
8. I believe you experimented with skegs, or "runners." What were these like and were they positioned like surfboard fins? What are your thoughts regarding fins on paipo?
On two of my early boards that I used strictly on large waves (over 8 feet), I had short, solid fiberglass "runners" at the widest back corners of the board, about 3 inches in from the rail. The runners were only about an inch high and 3/8 of an inch wide with no sharp edges and tapered into the board on the front and back ends. I screwed them on through the deck so I could remove them in a contest if the judges didn't like them, but they were critical on my earlier boards when riding a steep, hollow wave like Pipeline. My new boards do not need runners to achieve the same control and my new design has less drag. I don't have any pictures or samples of the old runners, but I'll draw some sketches and scan them for you.
Stan's drawing of his board with runners


9. I read that your boards have a shape like a taro leaf. What are the other design features of your boards (e.g., dimensions, bottom shape, rail line)?
Although I still experiment with the shape a bit, I feel my current generation of design comes very close to meeting my definition of near-perfect surfing board: light, stiff, low drag, high speed, nimble, and it fits easily inside my Mini Cooper. In plan form my board resembles the Paipo Nui [see two photos of Paipo Nui in the Sean Ross Paipo Interview], except it is a full four feet long with a width varying from 28 to 32 inches, and the back of my board is shaped a lot like the base of a taro leaf (see figure below). If you look at the side profile of my board you will see that the scoop starts almost the midpoint and slowly sweeps up to about 1.5 inches. Where the scoop starts at zero the rails slowly start to turn down on the two back corners (and this is where a picture would really help, because it's hard to explain in words) but the rails never go "below zero". When you look forward from behind the board, you will see that the board is completely flat through the middle of the board until you get to about 5 inches from center line, where the board turns up about 3/4 inches and then down to zero at the rail. This forms two parallel channels on the back corners of the board, and that becomes my planning surface and skeg combined. It will hold a wall, but if you need to, you can still ride 10 inches of white water as far as it will push you to the beach, there is little drag to slow you down (so long as the channels are parallel). [Note: The four bolts that pull the aft end of the blank into the mould are 10" apart, the tunnel height is 3/4", but I can move the center of the tunnels about 2", left or right based on how wide the board is or how I want the tunnel shaped.]

  
Stan Osserman's newest board
(ca. November 2010).
Photo by Stan Osserman

"This is my newest board (as of yesterday it now has a camera mount on the nose too; not in this photo though). This shot gives you a feel for my "taro leaf" description.

For my whole life I used "Custom Duck Feet" (Voit), but I switched to "DaFin"
this year (pictured to the left of the board) at the recommendation of the lifeguards, and I must admit, they are great! The DaFin gives me more power and they are more comfortable. They are very hard to find right now for some reason!"

Compare the board's plan shape to the shape of a Taro leaf.



Four boards.


The board on the left is an unfinished 1/2" blank bottom-side facing out (a little wider than my standard board and thicker too. An experiment I haven't completed yet.). I gave a 3/8" blank like this to John Clark. He glassed it, but I don't know what he used for glass or resin and he thought it was too wide. I tend to agree, so I may reshape this one.

The board second from the left has a Koa veneer on top. This board is thicker (1/2") and heavier than the last two and is made for bigger waves (stiffer and heavy for easier take-off). The third board is my newest one, light and fast with a little flex, 3/8" thick and 4 oz. glass and epoxy. The black board is almost identical to the one next to it, but it's painted to match my Mini Cooper.

Photo by Stan Osserman.

10. Without giving away too many secrets, what is involved in making one of your boards? How does your press work?
The base of the mold is a 3/4 inch sheet of plywood 2x4 feet. I stiffen the plywood in the long axis with 2x4s glued and screwed to the ply. I build up the front edge of the plywood to the shape of my scoop, and I put two 'half dowels" where I want my tracks to be. There are four bolts that pull the back flat down to the base and one bolt that pulls a shaped piece of plywood down into the scoop to form the front. I use wedges pounded under the wood that forms the back of the board to force the back rails downward. I use 1/8" maple, birch or mahogany plywood, either 3 or four layers for the blanks. Occasionally I will use one sheet of 1/4 inch ply and two 1/8 inche ply's if I want to have a koa wood top on the board. I like Weldwood Plastic Resin glue to do the laminating, but regular Tightbond woodworking glue is fine as well. Apply the glue with a notched trowel with small notches. I let it dry over night, pop it out of the mold, plug the holes then shape the edges as I like, then glass with epoxy or polyester resin and 4 oz. glass. 
The bottom of the board looking forward and gives a feel for the shape in the aft end.


Photo by Stan Osserman.


Looking front to back with the bottom up.


Photo by Stan Osserman.


A pure profile of the aft end of the board with the bottom facing up.


Photo by Stan Osserman.
11. What is the story of you being a 'test pilot' for the early Morey boards?
Wayne Bartlett had a friend named Rich Parr who owned a surf shop on Queen Street in Kaka`ako, near the Queen's Theater. One day Wayne got a call to come by the shop and check out the Morey Boogie Board. Rich was into long boards and big wave boards and didn't know much about paipos, so he asked Wayne and I to test out the Boogie Board and tell him what we thought about it before he invested in any inventory. I don't recall the year, but it would be 1969-1972. So we took the Boogie board to Makapu`u and ran it through its paces. We liked it, and I recall telling Rich, "It's fun; not as fast as a paipo, but faster than an air mattress, and easy to manoeuvre, but at $25 each, it's too expensive for most folks." Guess that's why I'm not a millionaire today! Not long after that, however, Rich had to close his shop and move to the mainland for personal reasons, so he never got a chance to market the Boogie in Hawaii anyway.
12. When did the Makapu'u Bodysurfing Association (MBA) start?
Again, it had to be 1969-1971, but if I run across my membership card I'm sure I can narrow the date down. I don't think it's still in existence though.
13. In Australia board riding clubs range from being super competitive to social clubs. What was the aim of the Makapu'u Bodysurfing Association? How often were meets held and what did they consist of?
The main aim of the club was to run contests with a slightly lesser role of being a social club. But like a lot of great efforts here in Hawaii, when the administration of a formal organization gets too cumbersome, the thing just fizzles out. And I don't know if the Makapu`u Bodysurfing association still exists or how long it lasted, but it was losing momentum as I stepped away to join the military.
14. What would you have to do to get a high scoring ride or to win a meet?
My strategy in a contest was to catch three waves in rapid succession, then look for the biggest waves I could catch and go for quality/ tricks and long ride. Usually only 5 rides were scored, they would take the top 7 waves, eliminate the highest and lowest scoring wave on each judges card, and give you points for the 5 waves (or however many you got). Size of wave, length of ride, staying in the critical spot the longest, and tricks were the big point items. We tried to have 5 judges, but would use as few as 3 if we were short. Contestants would wear colored life guard caps (modelled after Australia), and we would have spotters call out the colors so judges could concentrate on scoring.
15. You sent me some photos taken at a North Shore bodysurfing contest, which included "Open Paipo" and "Hawaiian Paipo" divisions. How did these divisions differ and who stood out in these contests?
The "Open Paipo" division allowed foam boards with skegs and was unique to contests we held on the north shore, because at Makapu`u, Sandy Beach and Point Panic, the usual contest spots other than the North Shore, skegs were not allowed. So, on the North Shore we had two divisions. I don't recall anyone as a stand-out in particular.
Photos were taken during a North Shore bodysurfing contest back in the early-1970s, at Pipeline.



Photos by: Wayne Bartlett.


Photos were taken during a North Shore bodysurfing contest back in the early-1970s, at Ehukai.



Photos by: Wayne Bartlett.

16. I've heard Harry Akisada has won a few contests. What is it about his surfing that stands out? Actually, I don't recall Harry ever entering a contest.

He may have entered some at Makaha, or in Town, when I was away from Hawaii, but Harry liked surfing, not competing. There is no doubt in my mind that he would have been in the top spot in many a contest if he chose to compete, but he usually chose not to. Quite honestly, the biggest attraction to competition for many of us was just to get out on a big day with six of our friends and no novice knuckleheads getting in the way for a couple half hour sessions! Think about having Banzai Pipeline pretty much to yourself, on a paipo, for a half hour on a really nice day!!!
17. What has been the attraction of riding paipo?
I'm a minimalist for the most part. Paipo's are compact, you don't need (and probably wouldn't want) a leash, you can dive down 2 to 10 feet to get under large waves and pop up all alone after all the surfers get cleaned out by the big set, it's still a novelty after all these years, fast, fun, close to the water, and I build them just the way I want them. I'll never switch to surfing anything else.
18. Any waves or surfs stand out for you? What type of wave are paipo best suited for?
Generally speaking, a paipo requires a fairly late take off, but it also accelerates fast and that's a great rush. I wish I could report that I've surfed hundreds of spots, but I haven't. Here's a rundown of my favourites, and why;

Publics - I think it's hard to beat Publics on a big, clean south swell. The wave peels off in a very long wall that seems to let you ride for hours. The down side is that it can get crowded, and it is a bit shallow inside. Nice on a small day, fantastic on a big day and usually little wind in the early morning.

Makapu`u - It's a beast! On a big day, it's fast and offers lefts and rights. It can be pretty bumpy but on a clean day it's a thick, fast , freight train of a wave. When it's big, only the regulars are out there.

Diamond Head - My second "home" in the summer time dawn patrol. Almost always has surf in the summer. When it's big and clean it's great, but when it gets over 8 feet it can be deceptively dangerous.

Pipeline (and even Sunset Beach) - Great wave, if you can find room nowadays!

Most of the rest of the spots I've tried haven't been consistent enough to spend a lot of time at. I stick with the locations and crowds that I'm used to. I would like to try Makaha some time, but it's a long drive!

19. Any other comments?
I've tried just about every kind of surfing you can imagine, long boards, hand-boards, rigid air mattress, boats, canoes, body boards, and just plain body surfing, but I always go back to paipo and I know that will never change. Aloha,
A close up of my company logo. I don't sell paipo boards, but I do custom woodwork and use the logo on my boards. I finished this board on the 9th anniversary of my dad's death, so I added "for Dad" on my latest board.


Yes, the widest part of my board is farther forward than most, and certainly farther forward than the HPD or Paipo Nui and even Harry's boards. All these photo's are mine. Aloha.

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


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