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A Paipo Interview with Jacky Rott Jacky Rott
French surfing pioneer
A Paipo Interview with Jacky Rott
October 11, 2012, Dax, Landes, Southern West France.
Interview by Philip Zibin based on questions by Bob Green
Translation assistance from Philip Zibin, Guilhem Rainfray, Benoit Mori and Lucie Josse.

Jacky Rott has played a central role in the development of surfcraft in France. Perhaps most well known for his partnership with Michel Barland, Barland-Rott surfboards were sold throughout Europe, even smuggled into Spain during the Franco era. Less well known is his role in making plankys, the curved nose wooden bellyboards ridden from the late 1940s. The design of the curved nose wooden planky has been attributed to Georges Hennebutte, a creative man, whose inventions included an early leg rope and a rubber ducky, the Swordfish. Both Hennebutte and Rott attempted to copy the surfboard of visiting US screenwriter Peter Viertel. Rott would go on to become one of the pioneers of surfboard manufacture in Europe. Jacky Rott recalls how he began making plankys, the foreunner of the boogie-board, which were ridden by young surfers of the day, including the famous philosopher Joël De Rosnay, as well as his first attempts to ride and make surfboards.
1. So, I have a list of questions, and I don't think it will take too much of your time. In fact, as I have notified you in the mail, an Australian is behind this request. His name is Bob Green. He has a website and he is interested in knowing everything about prone surfing, specifically the "paipo" originating from a Hawaiian word.?
"Paipo" is an Hawaiian term.

Yes, Paipo are surfboards that Hawaiians used in the early days ... but surfing prone.

But that had nothing in common with these ones, because these Paipo that you are talking about, I saw people practicing on them. They are flat planks, relatively long.

Not necessarily, sometimes they are about 6 feet, the height of a man, or much shorter. And of course there are surfboards reserved for the Hawaiian elite, the "Olo": very large boards. So these kind of boards would be for all Hawaiian people. And all people can surf then. And Tahitians also use them because this came from Tahiti too. So they are interested in these kind of boards ....

By the way, there is a big polemic: Who was the first and who said that it was the Tahitians?

It's true, entirely true! There has been an immigration from Tahiti to Hawaii and there has been some studies about it. And some others about Peru, because some people imagine an immigration from Peru to Tahiti and then…

The Peruvians don't have a great nautical history as navigators.

There are so many civilizations in Peru that have disappeared, as they were pushed out by other civilizations from the North. There are a lot of hypotheses and we are still trying to figure it out.

In France, there is someone who is a very popular surfer. I don't know if you know him, it's Gibus de Soultrait.

Yes...Gibus de Soultrait, founder of Surf Session Magazine.

Well, for him, it is surfing, surfing, surfing. It's a passion and he sacrificed his passion for surfing in exchange for creating this publication. He does a lot of research, he lives in Paris and he has a very large book collection. Moreover, this evening I had been invited to Bayonne, and precisely during this event about surfing, he shared with me all his studies, the research he had done. He told me Tahitians are supposedly … the founders of surfing.

Well, I am very similar to Gibus de Soultrait, as I collect many old magazines and books on surfing. For example the whole collection of John Severson's Surfer. He asked me if I had the opportunity to go to mainland France ... and today I am here, as I have had the opportunity.

Jacky Rott, 2012 with a photo of his first surfboard, a solid balsa copy of Peter Viertel's surfboard. This board was blue, his brother's board was red.

Photo Philip Zibin.

Where do you come from?

Well, I come from Saint Pierre in the south of Reunion Island. My grandparents came from Montauban, not far away from here.

Ah! Montauban

I'm a bit from the South West

And do you surf?

Yes, I do.

In Reunion Island?

Yes, on Reunion Island.

And you're not afraid of the sharks?
We deal with it.

They have showed all the safety nets are in place now.

They are very little use, it's just smoke and mirrors.

I don't have the idea to go surfing at dawn and even less at nightfall. I will not go when waters are murky.

Well, the best waves are when the waters are murky and it's raining. The problem with Reunion island is its topological configuration, you have river mouths, canyons and it is true this is exactly where waves form and unfortunately the water is particularly unclear. So, surfing in Reunion Island is a little bit dangerous due to this history of sharks, but enthusiasts still surf. It's like cyclists, even if there are car accidents, they continue.

It must be terrible anyway, being in the water, feet lurking in the water, and instead captivated by the surf, by the wave coming.

At the beginning, this is the first 5 minutes.

After, you think less.

After, it's surfing, we are in the water.

You only feel euphoria and nothing else and not what lives in it.

Hey, when we are in the water, we see turtles, dolphins, etc. But we are focused on our wave, focused on the swell, or we talk with our pals. This is fairly standard. And tragedy should happen, unfortunately we are only passing through this earth.

2. So, I wanted to know what was your first contact with the ocean? When was your first contact with the ocean?
Oh, my first contact with the ocean was when I was just a little boy.

Were you born on the coast?

JR: I was born here in Dax, but I spent all my holidays at Biarritz, because I had family who lived in Biarritz. Thus, Easter, Great Holidays Note 1, even at Christmas, we went to the seaside, we didn't swim, but we were in contact with the water. For me, even if I don't swim in the ocean, I love to contemplate it. It's so wonderful that we can stay in front of a raging sea at "Rocher de la Vierge" Note 2 and watch the waves splashing during an afternoon without feeling the need to go into the water.

Absolutely, it's a big show. And before you were making plankys you were a carpenter if I understand correctly?

I was a cabinet maker and my father was also one. So, he taught me how to do the job. At that time, we lived in downtown (Dax) but due to the nature of our work with wood and the location of our shop we were considered to be a high fire risk. Because if a fire started, all the area around our shop could burn. My parents wanted to grow their business, but each time, the mayor, banned the enlargement and told us "you should go away". So, they left.

And we came here in 1950, just after the end of the war. You must know that I am two and a half kilometers from the town center, and at that period, there were not many cars, no means of locomotion, people stayed at home. Our business increased, so we decided to change our business and do something else. Gradually as we did things, the business became very successful.

And about this cabinetmaker activity, did it take all of your time? Did you still have some free time to be able to surf?

When I was making furniture, we had time. I like to be busy. My time is 100 % full. After, we built a workshop. Life is funny, orientations change. We made furniture for a gentleman who had established a shoe factory here in Dax. That's how that started. This gentleman came to see his furniture progress in my workshop, he saw some pieces of wood on the floor and he always told me, with all these sticks of wood that you throw away and put on the fire, you should make me heels for my shoes.

We told him, wait a minute when we have made tons of heels for you, you will get enough ... when we finish a thousand pair of heels, you will have enough. But he told us: "No, I need thousands of them every day". After this revelation, I had an epiphany. We started making wooden heels for shoes. At that time, I swam a lot and I did a lot of body surfing. Body surfing was a special thing. Americans arrived in 1950 and they had some particularly huge pillows.


Yes, inflatables. They ran on the sand, with these inflated pillows, sealed them, and they were going into the water on these kind of sausages two or three guys on it. They were carried by the rolling waves. After that, they came with some air-mattresses. Saw them, surf with these air-mattresses it gave me some ideas. The Planky arrived, very quickly after. I think the Planky appeared in 1947. That year we saw the first Plankys in Biarritz. I bought one right away and I started surfing with this one. I had buddies who were lifeguards at the main beach of Biarritz. They asked me: "Why don't you make Plankys for us? We can't find them and everybody wants one, so we can sell them for you." So, with my brother, we started to make Plankys. We made our first Planky and our first prototype to mold the other Plankys, with this design, we could put them in the water and they do not delaminate. We found an extraordinary marine lacquer, which doesn't exist anymore. With this lacquer we could leave the Plankys in the water as long as we wanted. So, we would manufacture surfboards with that lacquer. That's how we made the first Plankys.

I brought them to my friends, the lifeguards, who have each taken one. And actually then word of mouth, sold them to friends. And then one day, I told myself, I will not limit myself to that, now that I've made a prototype. I went to the shops (beach stores) in Biarritz, who had difficulty finding them, and I sold them some Plankys.

Okay, because there were not many manufacturers at the time?

No, there were very few producers. I'll tell you why we stopped, one day, it turned out that some wood veneer manufacturers… by the way, do you know what wood veneer is?

No, I guess it's…

It's plywood, wood which is made up of many wood scraps, you made planks and you can roll it out like that.

As you peel an apple.

As you peel an apple, but in the longitudinal direction, in the direction of the wood fiber. You get wood veneers that are 2 mm, 1 mm to 5 / 10th of a millimeter thickness Note 3. So we had bought 2mm for our furniture and we had scraps of 2mm.

One day, a guy who is set to make wood veneer, it turned out that he had scraps in huge quantities, something we did not ... we had few. And he began to make Plankys. But it had such a costly price, that we could not go on, so we said that we will not continue to bother with that, we stopped it! And so we stopped production of Plankys.

But who was that manufacturer?

I don't know, a manufacturer of wood veneer, he was not in the area, I do not know where he came from. Besides, it was beechwood veneer, and they left it the natural color of beech, usually they were a colorless varnish, and it was sold that way. What they forgot to do as it was delivered with a kind of glue, which were not waterproof glues. Us, we had waterproof glues for furniture, and the Plankys we were selling, they couldn't delaminate because it doesn't dissolve with water. Three quarters of the time plankys had, in the tip of the Plankys there was a wooden crossbar to prevent buckling, although it fell apart, it was not efficient.

3.What was the origin of the famous nose curve?
Well at first the nose curve was made with steam or a sort of steam ... you could take a plank of white wood, white wood here it is ... poplar wood with which we make crates, it is a kind of timber that is relatively light, which is soft enough, and which bends relatively easily by steam. So we lowered the timber in boiling water, soaked it and then left, it was enough to make a counter form of what we wanted and we slightly bowed it and "Plaf" we left it to dry overnight, the next morning when the water was evaporated, the curve was more or less set.

After we tried real steam, because we have done all these tests, we tried steam, the steam was really a steam engine, and it was a real mess. We thought we will do the same as for furniture, ogee doors, we made curved doors like that, we will make a matrix, we'll make a frame, and we will mold the stuff with the nose curved. So where did the idea for the curved nose come from? I have no idea, there's a thing, it is the air mattress, which the americans had arrived with, the mattress was fixed and you had the headrest which was slightly bent like that. And when they wanted to catch a wave, they lifted the headrest. Did it come from that, I don't know. But there's one thing we know, when a wave breaks, it has a relatively steep angle, when it breaks this steepening occurs, and if there is something very flat, it will pearl. On top of that, the skis, they are all bent at the front. Progress has been made in downhill skis, now they are less curved than before. But at that time the skis, they were very curved, so I think this is logic from that. That's the logic why a Planky is shaped to have nose curve.

That is to say that at the beginning in the 20s, we saw what might be called the ancestor of the Planky but completely flat. (I am referring to the early English surfing plank … known as coffin lids)?

Because it exists since the 20s?

Coffin lids at Perranporth 1919

Photo source unknown..

Before that! I have some information, now it is to be verified, it seems that in 1925 Georges Hennebutte developed a surfboard, maybe curved or not. One of his nephews is Claude Durducoy.

Have you seen Claude?

No I haven't seen him!

I called him last night to know, to avoid telling nonsense, if he could remember the time when we first saw them appear? So together we have located them in the year 47. And then I said: "George, what did he do?" He told me this story where he went to the store "Au Bonheur" ("To Happiness") in Biarritz, to retrieve what textile was packed with. Well, fabric is rolled around flat boards . Then he would retrieve these boards, from clothier merchants, these boards, he would have bent, soaking them in hot water and put a counterweight to give a shape to it ... the disadvantage is that it was not long lasting.

Ah ... he tried.

It's normal he tried. Anyway, he was a boy who tried everything.

Yes, he made many innovations.


Henri Poncini with a planky, 1958 and the curved nose planky.

Photo from the 2007 Anglet exhibition courtesy of Antony 'Yep' Colas and FreeWave site.


Photo by Hervé Manificat.

4. And can you talk to me a little more about George Hennebutte?

Georges Hennebutte

Photo courtesy Antony 'Yep' Colas .

Yes, this is beyond the scope of Planky, I knew Mr. Hennebutte by accident. I made my first surfboard in 1952, after a movie I had seen about the commemoration of the attack on Pearl Harbor, it was in December. The attack was in December 1941, it was the 10 years anniversary, so it was in 1951. On the theatre news, I saw the attack on Pearl Harbor and I saw the Americans enjoyed themselves with all sorts of games. Suddenly a flash! A guy was standing on a board; in the meantime we did the Planky, we were prone. I was with my brother. When we saw that, we jumped on the seat, and we said: "We can do that standing up, it is fabulous!!!!" I could not see the shape of the board ... and here is how it happened. After that, I made a board in 1952. We started to work with white wood panels, poplar, to do a surfboard. We said that to be buoyant, it has to be big enough, we will make a length of 2m20 long, besides the boards (poplar) were not much longer. And we made the nose curve; we said that we will make a curved tip, as we have for skiing, and as is done for Planky. Here's how by deduction we figured it out. It was a square box. We made it simple. There was no skeg, nothing.

And then I went to try it at Biarritz, a total failure, I tried it at the "Chambre d'amour" in the morning and at "Ilibarritz" in the afternoon with life saver buddies, we ended up in the rocks, the board was cut in half, it had a hole. The panel, as it was not plywood, has cracked, water filled inside. We surfed again, the guy was at that time a friend who was on the board, waiting, during that time the board was filling with water, and then when the wave came, the surfboard is set like this, all the water that was inside passed to the front, then he caught the wave, he pearls like a submarine, he wiped out, the board went up in the air and "boom", it hit his head. "What the fuck?" The board finished on the shore broken.

This adventure lasted for one day. So that was in 1952. I did not renew the 1952 experience, and in the meantime I saw "Hawaii, dream island" of Jacques Chegaray. I went after the conference Note 4, he was a young brat at the time, he gently rebuffed me. I couldn't get anything from him. I asked him technical information, nothing . So I left, but I had seen enough, to get an idea of the stuff. That was in the autumn of 1952. In 1953, I was called to the army for my military service, so I went into the army, March 1953, I stayed 18 months in the army, and I went back in December. Because when I went to the army, I came back and was recalled the next year to Algeria, from Algeria I came back at the end of 1956.

Meanwhile, this summer 1956, Viertel came to Biarritz with a surfboard. He made a film with Hemingway, and came to see the waves of the Basque coast, and he said: "We might be able to do some surfing there". You should know that Viertel did not know how to surf. It was Zanuck who knew surfing, not him. So, he dispatched a surfboard from California, and tried to stand up, he failed, he did not know he had to put wax on it, he wiped out. The board finished in the blocks, the nose of his board broke, and had to be repaired. And Hennebutte was there!

Hennebutte repaired this board, he had just started to work with polyester. He repaired the nose of the board, and when it was repaired, he wanted to try again with Viertel. So they did not know surfing, neither one nor the other, they were not able to stand up, and they gave up.

And I, when I returned in December 1956. Biarritz buddies told me, "Jacky, there is an American who came with a surfboard, a real one, and he left it with Hennebutte in Biarritz "

I didn't know Hennebutte. So I called him and I told him who I was, and I asked him could I come up and copy this board to make one? He said, with pleasure, come. I went, I met him, really charming. He left me to do everything that I wanted to do. So I took the board dimensions, rough curves. And I immediately ordered balsa, in Paris, I had a supplier named Henry Caumes, and he brought his balsa from Peru, I believe. Unfortunately I did not have big planks, but small beams, which needed to be joined. So, the beams were not very thick.

More like model airplanes, something like that?

Yes, these small pieces of balsa were intended for model airplanes model, not for surfboards. The company was mentioned Note 5 as a balsa retailer.. But I did not know how thick it was. I thought he was going to send me a beautiful beam. He sent me beams that are 80mm thick. In 80mm thicknesses, to get the rocker to the front and rear, I did not have much way to work with.

And so I made two boards. When I say "I" it's us, because I did everything with my brother. We made two boards. These two boards, when they were finished, we had to seal them. I didn't know about polyester, I just knew the polyester lacquers, which I used for Plankys. But I remembered we had a friend who was shoe manufacturer in Saint Paul, named Josée Doyoresti, a family from Biarritz, some of whom lived in California. So he told me, every time he came for heels, you know, that's fine, but you'll slip. You should put wax on it and…underneath , they put silicone, to make it slide more easily, it's called, I always remember the name, "Carplate". Under they sprayed Carplate and above, put wax on the deck.

But I told him: "Wait! Wax on a surfboard! I put it under my skis to go faster, I didn't see myself putting some wax on my surfboard, I will wipeout" Here's the story. So, meeting with Hennebutte happened just like that. I went to his home, he let me copy the board, and I made two surfboards. I put them in the water just after summer 1957. That's how, I knew Hennebutte.

It's a beautiful story.

5. There were other manufacturers in Spain, like Marcelo Linazasoro, who was a carpenter in San Sebastian. I have some pictures to show you how he made his boards. I think it is almost the same process as you do. There was a mold, here is what remains and the result.

Yes, he puts his wood veneer there, then it's a two, three plys. 3 plys mean nothing; we need 5 plies. If you want it strong, it must takes 5 plys. And with the press you compress it all, and you unmold when the glue is dry. In addition, it had a curved tail, I saw Plankys with the tail curved. I made some of them like that, but I stopped quickly because it does not add anything, this one I've never seen (first one on the left). It was much larger like this I think, yes like that. I have the first one that was used to make the frame, which is below.

Marcelo Linazasoro Egaña's planky (Basque txampero) press and Spanish planky with curved tail

Photo from Lázaro Echegaray Eizaguirre and Mikel Troitiño Berasategi (2007). What the waves brought in: a history of surfing in Zarautz. Zarautz: Ayuntamiento de Zarautz, Departamento de Cultura and Spanish planky photo by Gavin Randall of Traditional Surfing company, UK

I would love to take pictures while we go.

I'll show them, and I have one that I made the Planky with (Blue one). I brought them back from Biarritz this winter. But the first one, it is raw wood, it is all dirty, she suffered all the ravages of time.

Jacky Rott with his blue planky and the board used as a mold

Photo Philip Zibin.

And on your boards, do you have a logo, a brand?

Not, the first boards that I made, I called them "Neptune".

Yes, it's for surfboards.

On Plankys, nothing. No, there was nothing. My brother reminded me of a story about that. Because I thought the board was a little "nude". And we were after the war, there were Pin-up. I had decals with a pin-up, and I put them on the boards. The boys in Biarritz were very happy to have a pin-up on it, they were not naked.

I know, that's what was on warplanes ....

Well, pin-up of the post-war. One day, I arrived in a shop to sell my "pin-ups", they told me, we do not want this "thing". I should sell completely plain boards with no pin-Ups.

Do you know, how many boards you crafted? Per day?

I do not know, it was done in my spare time ... how many was I doing? I don't know…

The approximate volume?

I don't know exactly ... around twenty a day.

Were you doing rental too?

No, I was just into manufacturing and they were delivered to stores, we couldn't do it all.

It seems that Sosthène Larcebeau from Bayonne also was making Plankys. Can you tell me more about him and the boards he made?

No,I never met him, I lived in Dax and we were not many.

Who else were making Plankys?

There was few at the time, but I don't remember.
6. Jacky a commencé à parler d’équitation et de faire des planches de surf.
I haven't told you how I used wax, you remember my first attempts in 1954, I didn't know I needed some wax on my surfboard. My mother made some jam, I stole some wax from her, I put this wax on, which allowed me to stand up. And after that, I was associated with Barland, we also manufactured bars of wax. I still have one or two bars of this wax somewhere.

A collector!

Yes, yes I preciously kept it. Now, I can show you a picture of me before returning to Biarritz in 1957, after the failure of 1952… Because of the failure of 1952, it was with all my friends who were life guards in Biarritz, they remembered, they still remember, those who are still alive. So they knew I built surfboards similar to Viertel's model. But I thought to myself, the Viertel model, I have to test it on the "Landes" shores, where there is nobody. So like that, when I'm back in Biarritz I will not be ridiculous again.

So, what I did one evening, it was in May, around that time, it was not warm, and it was stormy. They had finished our surfboards and we went to pick them up. I have not talked to you about the sealing of the boards, as I didn't have any idea what we needed.

There was a gentleman in Uza, who had begun to use polyester resin. It was the "forges of Uza", which belonged to the "Marquis Lur-Saluces", who was the owner of "Château Yquem" Note 6. He started up this thing. I went to see the director of the factory and asked him if he can laminate these boards. He told me: "No problem, we can do it."

So I left them with him ... I arrived at the factory with finished boards, which had a net weight of just under 15 kg, due to the kind of balsa that I had. When I came back to get them, with my brother, they were beams, the boards weighed 30 kg. They had absorbed the resin.

He had forgotten, or he did not really know what balsa was. When I arrived, I was shocked, "how come they got such weight"?

Ah….well, the workers, every time they glass the resin was absorbed ... "poof" ... so they glass until it was no longer absorbed.

So they saturated the cloth and it finished at this huge weight ... It was a transatlantic liner style board. It could have stormed, with the weight they had, they would not move. And so it may be that, surely, that allowed me to be able to stand up onthe first try, standing steady, because the board does not move, it was very wide and very long, 3m40 length ... I will show you the photo because I don't have the board now.

So I'm going to try one of these boards with my brother, my father and my mother, one evening in Hossegor at "l'epi nord", where today the world championship occurs between "la graviere" and "l'epi". We went there. There wasn't a soul on the beach, nobody, absolutely nobody! So, I am going in the water there. And as I was body surfing and doing planky, that's where I was going. I knew that there were waves, so I went directly to that location. I took this first wave, I was the happiest man, and I said while going out, "right now I can go to Biarritz, it works".

Because, all the guys who come and see me, they all told me, "you're crazy, it'll never work." I had the father of a friend who was not an engineer, but almost, who told me it cannot work making a demonstration on a blackboard.... "The waves of the Pacific have this shape. As the waves of the Atlantic, they have this other shape. So you cannot! It'll never work your thing!" I proved the opposite.

I waited until June when it warms a bit, because we surfed without wetsuits. So one Sunday, I went to Biarritz, I went to the "Cote des Basques, near the Belza Villa. I went surfing there for the first time. After that, I went to "la grande plage" beach, I surfed it on all the beaches of Biarritz. And after that, my friends saw what I had done. I had two boards, one, which was for me, I always used. The other one, I lent to other buddies. And when I came out of the water, they waited until I finished, they asked me for my board, I lent it and they went surfing with it. At the end, inevitably, "you make me one". That's how it began.

French planky

Photos courtesy of Gérard Decoster.

7. What is the influence for you of Plankys on surfing in France?
The influence that it had on people like me? Because everyone has seen the planky, some saw it before me, people like Hennebutte saw it before me. It has not given us the idea that we will make a longer board to stand up on.

The movie I saw in 1951, this sequence of the bombing at Pearl Harbor, I'm not the only one who saw it, it was in the news, do not ask me the title of the film, I don't remember, so it reminds me of that day that I saw a guy standing on a board. I thought "Gee" Note 7, is what remained marked in my memory. So, a lot of people have seen it, but nobody had the idea and the passion to realize it, that's all.

It has been a realization. I loved to go to the beach and I loved everything that makes me glide. Skiing is the same, I was all the time doing that... as soon as I had a weekend , well I went skiing, I adored it. I love skiing, so ... the first time I glided with a surfboard ... this is an unspeakable happiness.

When you catch a wave at the peak, it's the silence, we heard nothing, the waves took us and I did not do anything compared to the boys today. In the beginning I glided straight and then I started to turn and go across ... and all that, it was a long process.

And I'll always remember, a meeting was organized to rescue the great beach of Biarritz. And so there was Viertel's board, my two surfboards, and there was the Australian team there. We are truly beginners compared to them. And then, they asked us for our boards, I lent them my boards. Then, they went to the water and I will always remember, there was one person who went into the water with the red surfboard I had, not this one [photo above], he goes far out suddenly, in front of him arrived rolling waves. I said to myself, "he's not turning his board, he never turned back the board to catch the wave, he just spun his body on the board and caught the wave fin first. The fin was out of water and as the tail was a little pointed, he started to surf, and he used the nose of the board as a skeg, with the fin still out of water, and we all looked, and saw we had room for improvement. We had no words to describe what we saw. We did not believe it.

They have a history of surfing, much older, they had experience.

In fact, when we arrived in 1961 at the world championship over there, different people who came from different countries, different continents and all the surfers of the planet. Pouffff !! We learned more there than anywhere else because we saw things that we were not used to seeing Note 8.

Jacky Rott, 5th from right at 1962 Peru International Surfing Championships.

Wiese, Guillermo. Playa de Kon-Tiki, Waikiki Surf Club Magazine, pages 26-27..

Yes Peruvians were already good.

Yes, they were already good, and there were the Californians and the Australians too. Yes, the big stars of the era were there, the South Africans were there also. But me, what I will always remember is that at the beginning of surfing here we very quickly found a group of ten Note 9. And surf trips, we phoned on Saturday, we found ourselves at a certain time at the beach or another ... and we all left there on safari with the boards on the car ... we went to La Barre, Guéthary all the spots that had been discovered on the Basque coast. We surfed as a clan, as a team of friends. I will always remember Guethary, from 3 on the wave, with the strong desire to surf 3 on the wave, crossover each other on the same wave.Today, if you did something like that, you would get killed ... "You stole my wave." Wait, it's finishes in a fight.... it's not possible ... I have not experienced that fortunately.

Top right (from left): Pierre Laharrague, J. Bichuet, Paul Pondepeyre, Carlos Dogny, Robert Bergeruc, M. Lartigues, Michel Barland, Georges Hennebutte, Claude Durcudoy and Joël De Rosnay. Bottom right (from left) Jo Moraïz Henri Etchepare, Jean Brana, Robert Bergeruc, Jackie Rott, Paul Pondepeyre and J. Fagalde.

Photos from'Les origines du Surf' by "Carrefour du Futur"

Jacky Rott and fellow surfers, Cotes des Basques, ca. 1957.

Photo by Joël de Rosnay, courtesy Antony 'Yep' Colas..

It's another kind of mentality, indeed.

I confess that surfing it has been for me something extraordinary in my life.

I have known skiing, skiing ... the joy I experienced surfing, but I think I had more feelings in surfing than I had skiing. Skiing is one thing, I loved the powder, however I don't like the packed snow when the track is already made, it is a little bit like when we glide on a wave. The top of the mountain is there, we choose a track, and the mountains, they do not move unless there is an avalanche, of course.

When in the water, it is the avalanche, and it is behind you, and it only wants one thing and that is to catch you. And sometimes, when it closes out, you must kick out, you must get out in time, and there is another feeling. It is much more intense than skiing. Much more. I think, free riders must be really scared, but I think they are crazy.

The physical ability is similar between them but I feel surfing is more frightening.

Yes, especially now, people surf anything, anywhere.

8. I have a few stories, and wanted to know if you have heard about them? There was Justin HIRIART (un maire de Sare) ... who would have gone to Hawaii in 1912, and...
In 1912?

Yes that's the information I had ... and he made a kind of planky from a wine barrel. Have you ever heard about that?

I'll tell you that we hear everything, and my answer to that one thing is very simple. Now I do not know why, moreover, everybody wants to know who was the first. We cannot know it, I know what I did, I do not pretend ... I invented nothing, I merely copied. But one thing I notice is that before what I did, given what I've seen, I hadn't seen anything else in France. So now, I hear about a board that was built by someone in Biarritz, but I have never seen them! But from the time I was seen on a board in Biarritz, I can tell you immediately that there were imitators who started to manufacture some surfboards.

Michel Barland, who became my associate, he saw me in the water, he asked me: "What is that thing there? Where did you get it?" I told him, the model of this surfboard is in Hennebutte's home. I told him the same thing. He went to Hennebutte, and he did what I did, he came to measure the side of the Viertel board, in 1957, and because he was a mechanical engineer and had a big mechanical workshop in Biarritz he began to manufacture surfboards. He made them hollow and he sealed them by covering them with wax clothe. And then one day, I happened to see Michel Barland with a surfboard, hollow, with wax clothe and it worked great and it floated. A few days later I see a guy from Orthez, Bruno Reinhardt. Bruno was the director of Bearn Orthez, a wood factory that created seats. So there was plenty of wood available and he had an idea for a surfboard. The top was made of plywood which was screwed onto two chords of wood that made a frame. So we were all there. I said: "Wait a minute, your board is varnished but it will not work." He asked me why. I answered him: "It will fill with water, you have not put in a drain plug. You need to put in drain plugs, because when you come in it will be full of water." He said to me: "It is not possible, I used Caurite that I made my Plankys with." I said to him: "You have to glue Caurite, but you used screws, they make holes, and the water it will get through the holes by the thread of the screw." Sure enough, when he came out, it was full of water. At first, he caught some waves, but it was like a submarine after. He returned the following Sunday with two holes on the back and two drain plugs. Whenever he went out for an hour of surfing, he undid the cap and emptied the thing.

From the first time I saw a Viertel board, I immediately made one. I continued to make more boards after that. The boards that I made and the boards that Barland made, we made on our own at our own private shops. And it was only after I do not know how many years ... two, three years we associated to try to faster advance techniques. We were visited by chemical engineers from Rhone Poulenc and Saint-Gobain, they made Barland do the same stupid things they did with me Note 10 . This caused us to make the same mistakes on our boards. So we said, we cannot continue like this, we will work together to advance the model and this is how we became associates. The association was made on the water, in the water, we said we were partners, tape in hand (high five), and we never signed any paper. We stayed like that associated for some years. We did the boat shows together, and then one day I got fed up, for different reasons that I can't explain, so I told Michael, I quit. You continue to manufacture boards, all I ask is that for a while you leave the brand as Barland / Rott, and should the day arrive that I would like a board, you would make it for me. This is where I stopped. Done!

Jacky Rott 2015 at Vintage Surf Meet -Hossegor, Barland-Rott surfboards

Photos by Jean-Pierre Guedon. Jean-Pierre Guedon blog

Barland-Rott logos

Photos by Jean-Pierre Guedon.

I stopped surfing, as I stopped the planky manufacturing. I had other things to care for. I had other activities, which were more profitable than this, because making the boards did not provide enough extra money. Fortunately, I had a company that allowed myself to live. And for Barland it was a metallurgical activity, but it cost too much money to continue making the boards. If we had not had other businesses we couldn't live. After we stopped making boards there were still people in our lives that continued this craft. My friend, Pierrot Alarague, he made a board in his basement, it remained in his basement, it didn't work, it didn't hold. After, I received phone calls from guys from Hossegor, from everywhere. They wanted to ask me how to make surfboards.
It creates a tendency for confusion, that's what I tell myself about these stories, there are plenty, and never based in fact. We did not see them.

They were stories told by others.

I think that when you have a passion, it goes to the end, otherwise it is not a passion.

Hennebutte, he had a passion, it was alive until the end. He had different passions and he never quit any of them, he would make mistakes but he would learn from them, start over or correct and keep going. He never gave up on anything. Even when he was told, it will not work, you're gonna drown, etc. ... precisely with the Swordfish, crossing the Etel bar Note 11.
Even in the beginning when they were forbidden by the prefecture to have the wood workshop in the town, he didn't let that stop him. Well, just like myself, I saw something I liked that interested me , and I began to make a copy for me to use and I did not let my failures in 1952 stop me, I continued.

The purpose of this research is to see how the French planky you saw in 1947 influenced your planky design.

We were discussing (with Durducoy) last night: we first saw the planky in 1947, because in 1945 it was the liberation, during the war we did not see them.

It was forbidden to swim I guess?

We couldn't in France, therefore, in 1945, the first people who glided on the water were the people from the US in Biarritz with their pillows and air mattresses.

This was the first time, I saw people gliding on the water like that. We used our bodies only, no flippers or fins.

And before the war, there was something? People went surfing?

No, I have never seen Plankys, nothing at all, ever, ever.

Some people said that in Biarritz, planky was practiced. I think there might be photos somewhere. I think we would have heard about it. And I also think that we would not be left with such a long period, without the development of a few things. I tell you that in 1952, if I had not gone to the army. I would have made a real surfboard after seeing the film "Hawaii Islands Dreams" of Jacques Chegaray, because it was in this film that I saw the profile of the surfboard, although I had not touched it with my bare hands, I saw it. So I would have ordered the balsa and made it then, but I had to wait until 1957 after leaving the Army.

So all these people talking, talking, I let them talk. As I told them, we can go much further, I am convinced that one day, Leonardo da Vinci designed a surfboard.

It is possible, it has not yet been found. He had to think about it anyway. He was a genius with great ideas. We talked about all the questions around the Planky, we want to and clarify the history of the planky. Especially the French planky. In England there are pictures, journals, it was practiced in the 30's. But not this curved shape that is specific to France. They were flat boards (I made a mistake, they were slightly curved). People pushed on the back to avoid pearling.

They held the surfboards themselves?

Yes, They held the planky firmly and it was on the Cornish coast beaches, they pushed their feet on the sand to catch waves.

Ah ... They were pushing with their feet, then it's possible to catch waves.

They were pushing off the bottom with the feet, and then they would glide on the roller, on the broken wave, up to shore. So it was done in the thirties ... and it was thought that as the British Royal family spent many holidays on Biarritz, perhaps it was an English import in the 20's or 30's.

A surfer pushing off the bottom is visible in the middle of this postcard

Photos courtesy Philip Zibin.

There, I confess frankly, I was born in 1932. Between 1932 and 1935 I was little and I have no memory of such things. I remember when we went to Biarritz, we would pick up shrimp and crabs, did not look too much at what was happening in the water. And I have no recollection, and my swimmer friends, we talk sometimes. We have no recollection of having seen people gliding on the water. Me, I was not there every day in Biarritz, but they were there every day, there were lifeguards watching the beaches. There is no one who has been able to give me a story of this nature. None.

That's what we try to clarify. There is a lot of information, but it is questionable, because we have no documents. There may have been actual individuals trying, who did not go further or abandoned it for unknown reasons. Like manufacturing a board with the remains of a wooden barrel, nothing remains .

No, a barrel stave, it is curved over its entire length. There is no flat portion. The only advantage they have is that it keeps the curve, but it is oak and it's thick, it's heavy. The oak is very heavy. While for floating, we look for wood that is very lightweight.

I remember some pictures. All of my friends, they laughed at me, because I remember the first time I arrived in Biarritz with a board. I carried it over my head because it was too heavy, 25kg, 30kg and 35kg at the end of the season when it absorbed a little water. They were beaten up, there was no leash, they went onto the rocks, and the balsa absorbed water. It was not until at the end of the season that it would dry. And everyone made fun of me, mostly, "what is that that thing? "," You think this is the Hawaian islands," This and that.

Yes ... the sceptics. There are a lot.

Yes, there were a lot of skeptics. "It will never work your thing", "Never it will not work." And then when I see the mass of surfers across the Atlantic coastline across Europe. Who surf both sides, and "it will not work."

My brother often tells me, there is one thing that we have ... I have not seen the commercial side of surfing. We used surfboards, that were sold everywhere, but it wasn't a lot of sales. Surfing was slow to develop in the beginning but with the Hennebute's invention, the famous "fils a la patte" Note 12 it allowed surfing to become more popular. I talk about it all the time, the French invention, and it happened a few years later in the United States, they called it the Leash. Sophisticated and now it's everywhere.

And here I am at fault, while we were in Biarritz, the group that we were in, we made fun of him. Because the rubber he was using was very stiff. It was a kind of like a bungee cord but it was only long enough to wrap around our ankle, there was no extra length. And I told Durcudoy, who was his guinea pig. "But Claude, you come from Guéthary with that, if you have a wave that breaks on you, and you have no extra leash then it will pull out your poor leg with the board because there is not enough elasticity in the rope."

As a mountaineer with too tight of a rope...

Exactly, we did not want it, they said it will not work your thing. And the poor boy, instead of taking an international patent, he took a French patent Note 13. It remained as a French patent, I do not know if he had the means to defend a world patent, a world patent, it is expensive, and the search for previous similar inventions is expensive, you see what I mean ... the guy who invented the bungee cord, might have sued him, even if it wasn't primarily intended for that use as a surfboard leash.

But thanks to this application surfing is accessible to everyone, like the ski tow for skiing. Because at the time we were more of a swimmer than we were a surfer, because if we fell off, we would have to swim back in and our boards would reach the beach before us. And often on the Basque coast, there were blocks and rocks so we had some boys that would pick up our boards before they could hit the rocks. They could take the boards out for a few waves while we swam in. After we reached the beach they would give us our boards back. Hennebutte's is the real invention. His "fils a la patte" was great, but it now also creates the problem of having too many surfer's in the water at one time.

Well we have arrived at the end of this interview. I would like to thank you for the time we have spent together and for all precious insights and information you shared with me. So, please let's see your famous plankies in the shed. I will take a few pics of them with you.

Barland-Rott fin logo

Photo by Guilhem Rainfray.


Note 1:
Grand holidays are the Summer time, July to August.
Note 2: A place in Biarritz, on the seaside, where a statue of the Virgin Mary stands.
Note 3: See Construction of veneer sheet
Note 4: In French, a conference is a presentation (Q and A session) by a director after a film showing.
Note 5: In one of the French industry directory books.
Note 6: Famous white sweet wine brand.
Note 7: In the French the word "tilt” was used, tilt is the sound made by a pinball machine or when you switch on a light bulb…meaning I have an idea…the Greeks said “eureka”
Note 8: The 1962 World Surfing Championships were held in Peru.
Note 9: The Tonton surfers of Biarritz. http://www.thebottomturn.fr/news/1318-l-histoire-des-tontons-surfeurs-bia.html For a French book: (Source: Gardinier, Alain. 2004. Les tontons surfeurs: Aux sources du surf français. Anglet, France: Atlantica) The tontons surfers included: Michel Barland, Jacky Rott, Georges Hennebutte, Henri Etchepare, Jean Brana, Claude Durcudoy, Jo Moraïz, Joël De Rosnay, Arnaud De Rosnay, Bruno Reinhardt, Alain Bégué , Jean Brana, B Pierre Laharrague, André Plumcocq, Paul Pondepeyre, Robert Bergeruc, M. Lartigues, J. Fagalde and Carlos Dogny.
Note 10: Chemical process, product dosage.
Note 11: See The Swordfish crossing the Etel Bar The inventive Georges Hennebutte (1912-1974) who amongst other things was a sculptor, designer of the Swordfish (the l’Espadon, an inflatable boat), a surf leash, life saving devices and many other inventions and is credited with developing the distinctive ski-lift nose of the planky (Source: Gardinier, Alain. 2004. Les tontons surfeurs: Aux sources du surf français. Anglet, France: Atlantica)
Note 12: Georges Hennebutte developed a surf leash referred to as fils a la patte.
Note 13: Soleau envelope- a sealed envelope serving as proof of priority for inventions in France (French only patent).

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

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Last updated on: 07/08/17