A few years ago I started looking at alternative surf craft, especially for smaller days. As a kneeboarder things get tough when the waves are fat and small – which is a lot of the time over summer in Sydney. Sure, a quick dip with a bit of body surfing is fun, but I wanted more. Enter ye olde world of ancient Hawaiian surfcraft – a world where the alaia and paipo rule the roost – and as you can see from this pic, not a lot has changed in the way they look.
An alaia is a thin, square-tailed surfboard and were extensively used in pre-20th century Hawaii. The boards were between 7 and 12 ft long, and generally made from the koa wood – which made them pretty heavy. The modern alaia reveival has seen board lengths drop back a bit and paulownia become the timber of choice – much lighter! A paipo is essentially a short alaia (paipo means “short board”) that is used like a modern bodyboard.
It was probably about six or seven years ago that I first became interests, and at the time alaias were getting a bit of press. For me, the first step was to make one!
I found the excellent Surfing Green website where I was able to source some paulownia – a great timber that’s very light and rot resistant. I got enough wood to make two, but instead decided to make one long one and a couple of shorter versions for the kids, versions that are effectively paipos rather than alaias.
The first alaia is 7’6” x 17.5’ x ¾” and is something I’ve never really been able to get the hang of. On the other hand, the longer of the paipos is 4’6” x 16 ¾’ x ¾” and has become my go-to choice on those classic small wave summer days.
It really is an amazing experience to feel just how fast these “planks” go in even the fattest of waves. They also hold their edge amazingly well so if things do get a bit hollower they are still at home.
Last summer I made another – the 4’6” version is too long to sit in the boot of the car! This time I used the timber “doubled-up” to increase the thickness and potentially get a little more buoyancy out of it.
They are very easy to shape and I really recommend having a crack – using something you made yourself is always a satisfying experience.
Finally, I’ve got another project that’s been half done for a couple of years – a palownia mini-simmons/kneeboard/paipo. At the moment there is a ton of work to do routing out each of the sections, but once that’s done the process of glueing it up and fitting a couple of small skegs should be reasonably straightforward – and I think it might work reasonably well. Until then my little paipos will do their job perfectly thank you!