Paipo - Bellyboarding in Australasia

Riding prone on wood and fibreglass boards in Australia and New Zealand.

by Bob Green

Noosa 1960s - unidentified surfers heading out
Photo by Stuart Scott.

Kit Carson at Winkipop, 1969. Photo courtesy Kit Carson.
Bellyboarding in Australasia


Paipo or papa paepo'o boards have their roots in Polynesia, with the most sophisticated boards and surfing occurring in Hawaii. While, the origins of the word paipo is contested, the first known written use of the word was the logo on Wally Froiseth's 1950's Pai Po boards . Clark (2011) interviewed Froiseth who stated that he coined the term from the word Hawaiians used when they referred to bodysurfing or bodysurfing with a small board - papa pae po'o (to ride a wave head first), shortened in common use to pae po. The word paipo has also referred to boards made around Newport and Huntingdon Beach, California (some of these specifically included paipo in their name:Newport Paipo, El Paipo, House of Paipo, Jacks Huntingdon Paipo) in the late 1960s-1970s.

The 2004 edition of Matt Warshaw's Encyclopedia of Surfing describes bellyboarding as "all but forgotten" by the mid 1970s and the online version doesn't have an entry for bellyboards or paipo. Warshaw did, however, acknowledge that modern surfing techniques and surfboards were influenced by the bellyboard. Richard Kenvin's 2014 book, Surfcraft, well sums up the place of bellyboards in surfing history:

"The paipo maintained a link to ancient boards and riding styles while demonstrating, in the midst of the longboard era, that incredible things were possible on thin, flexible boards with little flotation ... the paipo was a testament to the power of pure planing hydrodynamics".

Rod Rodger's paipo forum, Tom Wegener's passion and promotion of the alaia and the World Bellyboard championships in the UK have rekindled an interest in these boards, which for some didn't need rekindling. Bellyboards are being "rediscovered" and either being ridden in new ways or their potential explored through new technologies and designs. Compared with the history of stand-up boards little has been written about paipo/bellyboards and who made or rode them. Even where there are photos, the surfers are typically not identified.This site tries to record some of the story of these boards, primarily in Australia, but also in New Zealand.

Challenges in documenting the history of paipo or bellyboards

Documenting this history is not straight forward. In the 1960s and 1970s the term bellyboard was also used to refer to a kneeboard. This can be seen in Andy McAlpine's 1968 film 'Children of the Sun'. In a 'Tracks' magazine interview George Greenough is asked his aims in riding "a scooped out bellyboard" (Quirk 1971) while in the Design page of the January 1972 issue 'Tracks' is described as receiving "lots of letters asking for details of bellyboards" and then referring to Greenough's spoon concept (Unknown 1972).

Tracks Interview (Quirk 1971)
Photo courtesy Tracks magazine

Tracks Design page (Unknown 1972)
Photo courtesy Tracks magazine.

Greg McDonagh (2009), Bill Wallace (2009), Dick Laycock (2009), Eddie Sawden (2009) and the kneeboarder Lenny Woods (2009) were contacted about their knowledge of bellyboards in Australia. Initially, all thought they were being asked about kneeboards and used the terms interchangeably. Further, in Hawaii paipo were ridden prone, kneeling and even standing, which makes definitive statements about these boards difficult.

Shane bellyboard resembling an early kneeboard.
Photo by Mike Brown.

Andy McAlpine's 'Children of the Sun'

Wally Froiseth - stand up paipo.
Photo courtesy Wally Froiseth.

Bill Wallace bellyboard resembling a short version of a malibu.
Bob Smith collection.

Identifying whether a board was a bellyboard is similarly complex. Early kneeboards were often below five foot in length resembling a bellyboard while some bellyboards were like shorter versions of stand-up boards. Long paddleboards can be ridden prone while small boards designed as bellyboards, may be ridden kneeling or stand-up. Examples of the latter include Wally Froiseth at Makaha circa 1957 and the 1963 footage of Val Ching riding the Wall, Waikiki.

Table of contents

To e-mail Bob - bgreen [add @ between bgreen and dyson]

  • Additional photos of Australian bellyboards can be found on the Geoff Cater's surfresearch site
  • To share your bellyboard or paipo story with Bob Green & Rod Rodgers Rod Rodgers' Paipo Survey Page
  • Interviews with people who have ridden paipo boards and bellyboards, or know something about them The paipo interviews project

  • BOAC poster, designed by Hayes c.1956
    S. Anthony and O. Green. British Aviation Posters: Art, Design and Flight

    Cortina and paipo ready to travel .
    Photo courtesy Gary Clyst

    Last updated September, 2022

    Feel free to cite this work. All contents of the site copyright (2010) with images copyright of respective credited source, where listed.