When the old makes new.
By Dan Dobbin.
I’ve got a little rock shelf that I love like nowhere else. Short, bowly and fun.
A place of adolescent thrills and hijinks with your crew for life. If this place is breaking, I want to be there.
But no matter how good something is, or how much you love it, if you do it enough it eventually starts to get stale. Think the missionary position, or chocolate at Easter.
As human beings we crave novelty.
So, ten or so years ago something was needed to keep it fresh.
Bodysurfing it was sick.
The forget art of stealing and employing a McDonald’s tray to get pitted utalized.
Surfmats didn’t really work, too hard to get a rail in the sucky conditions, but hilarious fun trying.
Surf cinematographer Thomas Campbell’s film ” Sprout” was on high rotation on ye olde’ digital video disc player at the time. The film documented the burgeoning ” surf anything” mindset of the time.
Hipsters, before hipster became a dirty word.
One of the sections in the film featured Noosa based board builder Tom Wegener. Wegener’s interest is in revisiting pre-colonial Hawaiian surf craft design like the 18ft long Olo’s and the shorter Alaia’s, using paulownia wood for a traditional feel.
Being a history geek, this sparked my interest.
With my old man being a builder, I raided his shed for some plywood and a jigsaw and went about cutting the outline of a Paipo, the wooden Hawaiian precursor to the bodyboard.
Despite not being a dropkneer, I had a mates Manta Crispen Hughes DK1 lying around the garage. The straight railed, rounded nose, and lower wide point looked similar enough to the pictures of Paipos I’d seen to serve as the template.
A coursery glance over the workmanship on display in the photo below will give you some insight into why my builder’s apprenticeship lasted less than a week.
Still, a quick sand and a few coats of linseed oil allowed to soaked in for waterproofing later, she was ready for launch.
Observation one: A 2 inch thick plywood Paipo is fucked to paddle. What little buoyancy it has is offset by your weight.
You basically end up using it like a big kickboard, relying on the thrust you generate from your flippers to push the board against the water to generate lift.
Observation two: Once up and going on a wave the Paipo would fly! The thin, square rails, totally flat rocker and lack of any real kind of flex meant it went like a rocket in a straight line.
Observation three: It could be surfed.
Spins variations where totally achievable, lip maneuvers done with circumspection because, well elbows, hips and stiff wood make strange and painful bedfellows. (There’s old footage of a young Pierre Louis Costes pulling backflips on a small hawaiin beachie riding a Paipo, but we all know PLC is a freak).
Observation four: The best technique for generating speed was the old bus driver, two hands on the nose, not the traditional offset hand placement we’re used to when bodyboarding.
This may be because of the lack of flex, you can’t really apply the twist on the outside rail to load up on potential energy during a bottom turn like on a bodyboard.
Rather, it’s similar to riding a longboard, in that you pick a line and let the board run, then redirect and go again.
Observation five: The Plywood Paipo and waves with ledges, steps or gurgles were not friends.
The lack of flex in the wood meant hitting any kind of sizeable chop or bump in the wave face was like driving a car on an unsealed road with no suspension.
Observation six: Lack of buoyancy can mean loss of board. The sucker does not float to the surface like a traditional board.
More than a few times I’d give up the ghost of seeing the Paipo again after an uncompleted ride, only to spy it hovering just below the waters surface.
After the novelty started to wear off, I took to stashing it under a rock shelf on the headland and wrote a message on the deck encouraging people to take it out for ride, but to please not steal it.
I don’t know if anyone actually did, but after a few months I decided to take it back home with me, where it sits buried behind all my kids skateboards and wetsuits.