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A Paipo Interview with Rick Boufford

Black Sheep restaurateur who makes and rides wooden boards

Rick Boufford Paipo Interview
June 22, 2010. Tustin, Orange County, Southern California
Questions and e-mail interview by Bob Green
(Click on images for a larger view - photos courtesy of Rick Boufford)

1. When and where did you begin surfing?
I began “getting into the water” in 1963 at age seven. We had a boat in Newport Harbor and stayed on it many weekends, Easter Vacations and as much of the summer as possible. Mom would take us to Big Corona or Newport Beach to the waves, and we would “ride” anything that would float. Inflatable mats, pieces of wood, the “Styrofoam boards,” and of course everything was ridden prone or on the knees. A couple years later (1965) a friend of my dad’s took me tandem on his huge wooden board and I felt like I was standing on a door. I went back to prone and knee riding and never bothered to learn to stand.

2. Had you ridden paipo or bellyboards before returning to the water in 2004? If so, what was your background in riding paipo?
Wooden “belly boards” became popular in the late-1960s early-1970s in California and were a lot less expensive than a surf board. I began college at Orange Coast College and lived on the beach front (5107 Seashore, Newport Beach) where my front yard was 48th to 52nd Street. I was in the water every day using a “Water Wonder" (see Note #1) and fins. So it was kind of the best of both bellyboarding and body surfing.
3. Where did the idea come from to make a comeback on a paipo board? What was the learning curve like? Any role models?
My love for cooking, women, skiing and scuba diving took me away from spending so much time in the surf. Although before or after a beach dive we’d get in few waves here and there, it got to the point where I’d pretty much went down a few days a year at best. Then one of my waiters happened to be a surfer since age 4 and he challenged me to get back in the water on a more consistent basis.
4. There is a history of bellyboards being ridden at Wedge. Do you have any recollections of bellyboards at Newport?
When I was going to The Wedge in the late-1960s to the mid-1970s it was pretty much all body surfing, belly boarding and a few knee-riders. Because of the break in such shallow water, stand up surfers were rare.
5.  You’ve described going “completely silly” making boards for family. How many paipo boards do you estimate that you have made for family?
I was used to a hard surface board and wasn’t real fond of the way the new sponge boards handled, so I found an importer of balsa wood and bought it in bulk, got redwood for stringers, and ended up making about 50 boards in 2-year period. They ranged from 2ft hand guns to a 7’3” “fun board”. Most were more of a paipo board size from 32” to 60”.

Rick and his quiver (left) and Rick's quiver and gear at-rest in the garage waiting for surf (right).

Photo by: Hans Bode.

6. You have posted a “how to” guide to building a paipo. Does your nephew Corey surf his board much? How about the other relatives?
That nephew is currently landlocked for now, but I’ve got a brother and his two sons who love to surf.

Corey making his paipo and with his finished board

7. What woods do you use in your boards?
Thus far I’ve used only balsa and redwood. Down the road, after the restaurant biz, I’m looking at using all kinds of exotic woods. My father was incredible with wood and he taught me. I look forward to using some of that knowledge for some fine looking boards.
8. What are the design features and dimensions of a typical board that you would make? Any tips on what makes a paipo work?
Design features?
Depends on who the board is for. If it’s for someone who I know, that knows how to catch a wave, I’ll custom design something fun. Longer and thinner for ripping, and speed, something shorter and fatter for carvin’ and plunkin’. I’ve found that especially for the novice, smaller and shorter is better to start with. I’d measure someone from say belly button to their nose, and make it no wider than their shoulders.

As far as what makes a paipo work, I’d say it’s 90% driver and 10% board. Someone who knows what they’re doing can ride plastic cafeteria food trays if that’s all that’s available, and get great rides. As one who creates and works with his hands a lot, I’ve found that in many arenas, surfing included, many features in the past were created because people thought they looked good or fast. I think the future of board design may find itself looking to the animal kingdom, like the designers of both cars and planes have done. Look at the boxy cars coming out now, all based on the aerodynamics of the boxfish (e.g., see article here).

Now think whale flippers, dolphin fins, and fish fins. They are not flat and smooth like a glassed board. Think dimples on a golf ball. The all important question is this, “How can I get the board to plane better?” With stop motion photography we are seeing a world we didn’t know existed. The dimples and indentations on flippers and fins (and feathers) create incredible little vortices, mini-hurricanes if you will, that lift and actually push forward rather than drag like a perfectly flat surface can.
9. What sort of waves are your boards made for?
#1 Barrel and Tube chasing! The great thing about paipo is that every day is overhead, and small tubes are almost as fun as the big ones. A small board is much easier to control, and both slows down and speeds up quicker, so it’s easier to get and stay right where you want to.

10. The photos of your boards that I have seen, show they are finless – any special technique involved in riding them?
I make my boards both with and without fins. I prefer the freedom of no fins, and I feel they are safer for those around you, so I’m working on different designs to perfect it. As far as technique for riding a finless board, you just need to dig more with your edge, like skiing.

Ryan with a Quad Fin

Kamran with a bread knife twin-fin set-up

11. You also make handboards – do you see much connection between riding paipo and bodysurfing?
If there’s surf, just give me a pair of fins and I’ll try anything that planes. Small handboards are great for control and steering.
12. Have you also made fiberglass boards or do you only make wooden boards? If you’ve ridden fiberglass paipo, any comment on how the respective boards ride?
I’ve never made the fiberglass boards. In fact we just marine varnish ours and they are a heck of a lot easier to repair. The buoyancy is different for wood and foam. I prefer the weight of the wood.
13. Any surfs or waves ridden on your wooden boards stand out for you?
Too many to count. What can beat that rushing train tunnel sound of being back in the pocket of a perfect rolling tube? Add to it being on a board you hand shaped and finished yourself (even though I’ll still argue for the 90% rider/10% board bit) and it doesn’t get any better. Soon you find, every one is more fun than the last! It’s a hoot hearing from some young grom eyeing your board and saying, ”dude, you’re sick,” especially when you’re over 50. Then there was that record breaking surf week at Newport in 1977...
14. What is the attraction for you of riding paipo?
I find I’m swimming and moving more than the stand-up surfers around me. So I’m always doing something, like the difference between fly fishing and bottom fishing. I also find it safer, quicker, easier to store, care for, travel with, etc. etc., and ... everyday is overhead.
15. Any special significance to the term “Black Sheep”?
Yeah, I am one. While most sheep are content with a shepherd who lets the flock feed in place, I look forward to finding ways to steer the herd to new and challenging directions.
16. Any other comments?
As for me, I miss the world of hand made and home made. Although we have pictures of how to make hand made boards, I'm hoping to get video of the process sometime this summer. We’ll be posting and updating at:
Just look in the surfing section.

Note 1. What is a "Water Wonder?" They were called "kickboards" and were probably designed for pool use to keep peoples heads above water while they learned to kick. Many of us in the 70's donned fins and used them as handboards. I hate to say but I've gotten some of my most memorable rides from these simple little boards. And because of the size and lightness of materials, they were easy to hold on to, or throw over the big waves that caught you by surprise. In the garage quiver pic, that yellow thing is a Water Wonder knock off. My original Water Wonder is the red one with the dolphin on it barely visable behind the blue and yellow fins! Here's a link to the modern day examples [see PDF here].

Time to go surfing!

Other Notes: Visit Rick's website,, his hobby surfing page, and his How to Make a Paipo Board site.

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

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Last updated on: 07/13/10