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The Paipo Postcards

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Wood plank bellyboarding, Italy, hand drawn, ca. July 10, 1906

Hand drawn postcard, posted in Italy at Forte dei Marmi, Tuscany in July 1906.Posted to
Facebook by Charlie Spurr, who bought the postcard on ebay (Germany). Charlie comments,
"Belly boarding was invented by the Hawaiians thousands of years ago and started to take
off in the the UK in the early 1900’s. It appears it was also popular on the continent." 
Awaiting translation. The card has not been authenticated but it certainly seems authentic.
Translation might provide more context.
Images and translation courtesy of Charlie Spurr.

Bodyboarding North Carolina, ca. 1907

Skipper Funderburg, author of Surfing on the Cape Fear Coast, recently discovered a 1907 surfing
photo postcard
view of people surf bathing on the ocean side of the Sea Shore Hotel, including
a surfer on a Hawaiian styled body board on Wrightsville Beach. For more info see the article from Global
Surf News
[reprinted as a PDF file here].
Post card image courtesy of New Hanover Public Library, Robert M. Fales Collection.
See Funderburg, Joseph. Surfing on the Cape Fear Coast. Carolina Beach, N.C.: SlapDash Publishing, LLC, 2008.

Bodyboarding Muizenberg, South Africa, ca. 1908

This postcard represents one of the earliest photo postcard records of paipo boarding (bellyboarding).
Of special note are the jigsaw puzzles of bodyboarding in Muizenberg -- see The Paipo Jigsaw Puzzles.
Post card dating and image courtesy of Gary Clist.

Diamond Head and Surf Board Riding, Honolulu, ca. 1910-1915

Post card dating and image courtesy of Gary Clist.

Surf Riding at Waikiki, Honolulu, ca. 1910-1915

Post card dating and image courtesy of Gary Clist.

Paipo Board Riding in Honolulu, ca. 1915

Post card image courtesy of Mr. Mike, Coronado, CA.

Bodyboarding England, ca. 1920s

Pete Robinson of the British Surfing Museum has unearthed some great shots of bodyboarders
surfing English waters in the 1920s.

Bodyboarding England, ca. 1920s

Post card image courtesy of Mr. Mike, Coronado, CA

Surfers at Perranporth, Cornwall (England), ca. 1922

Postcard courtesy of John Heath.

Bodyboarding North Carolina, ca. 1920s

The post card is identified as being printed sometime in the 1920s. Exact date is still being researched.
It clearly shows kids riding wooden paipo's (bodyboards) and at least one alaia-sized board.
Posted on the Legendary Surfers Blog, February 22, 2009.
Post card image courtesy of Skipper Funderburg.
See Funderburg, Joseph. Surfing on the Cape Fear Coast. Carolina Beach, N.C.: SlapDash Publishing, LLC, 2008.

Surfing at Muizenberg, ca. 1929

Post card image courtesy of Hilton Teper of the UK, formerly of Cape Town, South Africa. Hilton spent
much of his youth, in the summer months, at Muizenberg (pronounced Mew-zin-berg), in False Bay,
where he notes the water temperature is very warm.

Boys & Boards in Ocean City, New Jersey, undated (1930s-1945)

Card published by Harry C. Meyer. Comments by Poobah: Not postmarked, but it is an old style linen card. I can only guess at these handled surf craft, and I'm going with cork and painted canvas. Similar to an old life preserver. Cork sheets were commonly used for insulation before the advent of spun glass insulation and polyurethane foam. The linen (textured) postcards were mosty made from 1930 to 1945, but some also came later. The bathing suits vary, but some are belted. The belted suits are found in the same time range as the linen postcards. One kid has a rather baggy suit, but he could have borrowed that from a bigger person. Plus kids are more likely to wear "hand me downs." Keep a look out for a postmarked version of this card.
Source: Poobah. (2012, February 23, 2012). Postcard: The boys at Ocean City, New Jersey.
MyPaipoBoards Forums. Retrieved March 04, 2012, from

Japanese Paipo Postcards From Early 20th Century

The appearance of postcard for sale on eBay featuring a Japanese woman holding a surfing board (called itako) and subsequently appearing on Joe Tabler's weekly Surfblurb sparked a huge discussion within the surfing world regarding the origins of waveriding in Japan. Needless to say much has been learned since Winter of 2012.

1903 Japanese Surfer Girls & Surfboard (Itako)

This postcard appeared on eBay in February 2012. The sales description reads:

Japanese Surfer Girls & Surfboard Original Real Photo

Hand-Tinted Postcard

Date on back: 1903

These Japanese girls are wearing stylish vintage bathing suits and are standing in front of a painted background of breaking waves. One sits and holds a wooden plank, obviously used for watersports. Printed on the back are Japanese characters, as well as Russian characters. In English it reads Made in Japan. CARTE POSTALE. Someone has written in ink Glasgow 1903. I've been collecting for a long time and have never seen another example of this card.

Paipo Research Project Note: The date of 1903 needs to be corroborated.

Click here for a large image of the postcard.

1911 Japanese Girl holding a paipo board  (Itako)
This postcard appeared on an Austrian collectibles site in February 2012. The sales description reads:

Yokohama - Wien: 1911, Japanese Beauty in Bath suite

b / w postcard depicting a young Japanese girl in an interesting bathing suite.

The postcard has been mailed Yokohama to Wien / Austria via Siberia. The stamp is not existing any more.

Paipo Research Project Note: This postal card appeared after the 1903 card of two Japanese girls holding a paipo board. The bathing apparel appear similar as does the board and the background scenery and wave breaking on the shore. Need to see actual surfriding to assist in authentification of this being paipo surfing.

In Joe Tabler's weekly email distribution of "The Surf Blurb" of February 27, 2012, there was a small discussion:

"So far Tim de la Vega, John Clark, and Peter Robinson agree that the card is a studio image (painted studio backdrop), same girl, same log and piece of wood in both cards...  Anyone know enough about Japanese culture to make a call? (cute beach garb)"
Since the email of Feb. 25, 2012, a more extended discussion has ensued regarding the two Japanese post cards. This information appears on the website version of The Surf Blurb, as of Feb. 29, 2012 and March 5, 2012:

Regarding the Japanese postcards from last Blurb:

Skipper Funderburg:
I have several vintage images in my North Carolina collection that look "identical" to the piece of wood in the 1911 image. My images are taken on the beach at Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, about the same era or before with swimmers and lifeguards.

In my book, Surfing on the Cape Fear Coast 2008, I wrote, "It may be correct to surmise that swimmers sustaining themselves on wooden floats existed long before written records on the Cape Fear Coast. It is only common sense that wooden floats had a very important place in the life of those that lived by the sea. So it cannot be interpreted as something disingenuous, let us say for documentary proof, your author presents what is in the written record."

Most surf historians interpret my images, as more related to swimming, like a kick board. At this point, I would venture to say, the 1911 images may be considered flotation device too. During my many oral history interviews with nonagenarian natives of the Cape Fear Coast, I identified the word "boards."

John Elwell:
The Japanese girls in the photo have a simple wooden rectangular plate that has been milled and will plane in small waves.  What is not known is the who, where, and when of the photo which is really intriguing.

They were indeed ahead of their time!

Desoto Brown:
1) "Glasgow 1903", written on the back on the back of this card, is in ballpoint pen. Ballpoints were not common until the 1950s, so that means this was written in that decade at the earliest. Thus the writing is not as old as the card itself.

2) My own suspicion is that, judging from the bathing suits the two girls are wearing, this image dates from the late teens at the earliest and might even be from the early 1920s. That they also have traditional elaborate Japanese-style hairdos suggests it's not from too much later, because short hair became popular in Japan for young women by the middle to late 1920s. But the point is, I do not think the photo is from 1903.

3) The presence of the "paipo" (which I'd use advisedly, since this looks like just a plain unshaped plank of wood) is pretty much just a photo studio prop, I believe. Pretty girls in bathing costumes were going to be a popular subject for postcards in Japan and everywhere else in the world, and like every other photo studio setting, props could be added whether they were relevant or not. So while I doubt that these particular 2 girls really had anything to do with swimming or surfing at all, I do think it's interesting that a photographer in Japan would be familiar with any kind of surfing items at all. It does suggest that surfing existed in some form in Japan at that time, or at least the awareness of it.

Hal Forsen:
In Matt Warshaw's Encyclopedia of Surfing, the Japan section begins with: "Evidence suggests that Japanese fisherman were riding waves on small wooden bellyboards as early as the 12th Century............... "

From Sandy Hall:

Who called these paipo?  Not accurate in my opinion, I would call these bathing boards -- popular thru'out the eastern USA at this time too and EARLIER also.  usually just a piece of wood lying around to help learn to kick in a stream, river, pond or ocean.

What makes this lovely to me, is that someone bothered w/a studio (at a popular beachside) and made it into a setup for which people paid money.  These ladies may never have put their dainty toes in the water, nor used a board.

From Geoff Cater:
44 swimsuit girls of Old Japan:

Notes beneath some of the 'Beauties':

A. JAPANESE SWIMSUIT GIRLS - Meiji Era Bathing Beauties of Old Japan (18)

It's a take into the surf...but it's not a surfboard.
We Meiji girls used them for floats, because most of us didn't know how to swim.
But that didn't stop us from having fun in the sun.

This is actually supposed to be a bathing suit.
She holds a "float board" for use in the ocean surf.
However, the frilled collar and sleeves, the embroidered front design, and the loose white shorts are vastly different from the swimsuits seen in a majority of contemporary "Bathing Beauty" images.

These old pics are from a shoe box full of Late-Meiji and Early-Taisho era images (1900-1920) showing Japanese girls in a range of atypical poses and dress.

And: I do have a reference to surf-bathing in Japan, circa 1857.

These people are, like most Orientals, a nation of ducks, - their greatest luxury consisting in vapour, warm, or surf bathing,- and much of their time is devoted to  their enjoyment.

- pages 241-242

Surf-bathing seems to be peculiar to the lower classes that reside near the sea; and it is probably the attendant exposure which bronzes the skins of those who indulge in it, until the stranger wonders why the natives along the coast are so much darker than those of the interior.

I have seen as many as several hundred men, women, and children,- the entire population of villages, apparently,- rolling about in the surf in one promiscuous heap, and all the while yelling and screaming like so many savages.

- page 246

Habersham, Alexander Wylly:
My last cruise; or, where we went and what we saw: being an account of visits to the Malay and Loo-Choo Islands, the coasts of China, Formosa, Japan, Kamtschatka, Siberia, and the mouth of the Amoor River.
J. B. Lippincott & co., Philadelphia, 1857.
(An account of the travels of the United States North Pacific Surveying and Exploring Expedition 1853-1856.)

Tabler, Joe. (2012, February) The Surf Blurb. Surfing books, magazines, cover galleries, surf blog. Retrieved February 29, 2012 and March 5, 2012, from

Other postcards added from the website, by Okinawa Soba (No real name given).


This Set contains photos of GEISHA and MAIKO Posing as Bathing Beauties During the Meiji and Taisho Eras of Old Japan. Different, surprising, and even nice, this flickr set of 50 photographs show Meiji-era MAIKO and GEISHA [GEIKO] stripped of their normal Kimono, and posing in the old Bathing Suit fashions of the day. They are random selections from a set of over 200 sitting around here somewhere.

Caption for figure on the left: JAPANESE SWIMSUIT GIRLS - Meiji Era Bathing Beauties of Old Japan (18). It's a board... to take into the surf... but it's not a surfboard. We Meiji girls used them for floats, because most of us didn't know how to swim. But that didn't stop us fromhaving fun in the sun.

Caption for figure on right: RUB-A-DUB DUB, TWO GIRLS ON A TUB -- Young Geisha posing as Bathing Beauties. Young Geisha? Maybe. They might also be MAIKO (apprentice Geisha). Cute now.... but in another five years, they will be tough as nails.

Caption for figure on the left: GEISHA STUCK ON A DESERTED ISLAND -- Posing as a Bathing Beauty.

The dialogue on Joe Tabler's Surf Blurb continues (blurb email of March 26, 2012)

A discussion re: the small boards in the Japanese postcards eventually brought up the Itako Nori:

From John Clark: A friend of mine from Japan said the boards were known as "Itako nori." When I searched that name, I found a brief reference to them in the Nobbywood Surfboards website.

From Desoto Brown: I keep thinking also of the Japanese women pearl divers, who were famous / notorious for wearing only trunks and going topless in their work, even into the 20th century.

They worked before there were cultured pearl farms, in which oysters are cultivated to grow pearls. The pearl divers dove for naturally-occurring pearls.

I believe - but I'm not sure - that they used boards like these for when they were on the surface, in between dives. Or they might've used them to help return to the surface - ? They were known for being able to hold their breath for long stretches.

From John Clark again:

When I wrote Guardian of the Sea: Jizo in Hawaii, I did some research on the ama, the women abalone (and later pearl) divers in Japan. My best source of information was a book I bought online, Hekura: The Diving Girls' Island written by Fosco Maraini. Maraini, an Italian, visited several ama villages in the 1950s, then wrote his book about them, which includes 74 photos. From his accounts, the ama dived mainly from boats, but if the weather was bad, they would dive in calm, protected areas near shore, taking wooden tubs, or oke, with them to hold the abalone they gathered while they were diving.

And the pics....(I had this book a couple times when I had my bookstore.):

Who knows where this will lead to next?

Postscript: A good place to start is the history of Japanese waveriding website operated by Nobuhito "Nobby" Ohkawa.

Feel free to send me suggestions for additions to: The Paipo Postcards.

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Last updated on: 10/24/18