"BEN AND THE STING SURFBOARD"
BY Thomas Takao
Long before walking into Ben Aipa's show room we could have found him in a swimming pool at a public facility early in the morning. Still in grade school and was teaching himself how to swim. Because it was empty of swimmers that was the reason why he was there so early. So day after day Ben was there learning to swim, one day a gentleman caught Ben swimming there and asked “how long have you been swimming here” Ben’s reply was “I will pay for swimming here”. The kind man looked at Ben and said “we will work something out”. Years later Ben would meet the man again at Inter Island Surfboards.
With respect for the man Ben never forgot John Kelly Jr. the man who understood a young kid’s desire to learn how to swim. Ben has kept that good will when he teaches surfing. With that in mind I find Ben talking to one of his customer about board design. “Hey Ben howzit” I said and Ben looks over and says “Oh howzit “ with a smile. “It been awhile” says Ben.” Yeah about a year or so” I said.
We talked about the 1968 World Surf Contest in Puerto Rico and his trip to Peru after the contest. Then he places a couple of his boards on the showroom rack. While looking at his boards I asked. “Ben when did you start doing the stinger, was it 1972 or 73?”
“Ok, ok let me correct you on this” says Ben and continued “The word stinger came from the mainland. It was always sting, that’s all it is. I get tired of trying to correct everybody of labeling it as the stinger. (He continues mentioning the development of his idea) It came about because what the kids were doing on the face of the wave. “It all happened ah, when I did the swallow tail first. The thing came in and I did it. Then I went to the mainland to the World Contest in San Diego in 1971 ah 72 it’s the one that Jimmy Blears won.”
“Was he riding one of yours?” I asked. His replied was “No Jimmy was on a fish at the time and Nuuhiiwa was in the finals ok and Peter Townend and two kids from Hawaii were in it too. Both those kids, I was making their boards at the time. So we were off to the mainland and the US had a surf off for the East Coast, West Coast, Gulf Coast and Hawaii to make the da kine of US team.” Lifting one of the boards and placing it in the rack.
“The surf off was at Oceanside, you know by the jetty. They had a contest going for a day to select the final US team. So every heat that those two kids were in, they would win. Ok, what happened is those two kids made the finals. Larry Bertleman and Michael Ho, they were riding my swallow-tail boards at the time” said Ben as he continued to describe the events that led up to the “Sting”.
Right after that day they chose Larry and Michael for the team. The next day we went to practice and I couldn’t believe what the other guys had done, they chopped their tails. Wow, something happened. The design just caught on (snap of the fingers) by just those two kids. They put the icing and the candles on the cake, they both made the finals of the Championship.
These kids, especially Larry at such a young age, he was beyond what the others were doing you know I mean because of skateboard you know. So when we came home we were surfing Diamond Head by the Lighthouse and I was watching him you know and I told someone to take him home and I walked up the cliff and looked back.
Larry was doing this roundhouse almost a figure 8 but somehow it was Ok because it was the board I made him. He threw it so far out, right before he crushed it and straightening it after the cutback (sudden direction change, heavy spray) putting it in a curve and straightening it out so to put the board into a draw, split the tail so deep that the board can make no slide, because the fin was so far up.
So I stopped and I watched, and said to myself Oh, kid!. With that thought in mind I went back to my shop. I was doing my work there putting down a blank and putting Larry’s dimension down from his last board. I drew the outline of the nose and then drew the outline of the tail.
I was going to draw the outline of the right side, but I put the template down and I looked at it. Oh, the template fell in. I am looking at the outline and there was my combination for the Sting, oh yeah! I see the forward edge and Oh Shit! There it was the Hydro foil outline, beside that the Hydro foil races were on Sunday and it was a Sunday.
So I go down to the races and I talked to a guy. Hey what the reason for that and I talked to another guy. I talked to 8 different guys and get the opinion about the design and about the hydro foil. It’s about the water and how the foil pivots on the turns when you punch it. Because of the hydro foil it releases the back section and settles down on the straight a ways. So that’s the reason why the boats would pick up speed yeah.
I went back to the shop and I put the template on the blank and measured it and I shaped the board. When I shaped it kinda close, I never do that kinda stuff before. When I cut the deck, it was square so I flatten the area and blended it. Then I took it and got it glassed. Finished the board and got it Larry. He took it and went back to the Lighthouse. What he did was even more amazing. He was going more, he was going farther, he was going higher, he was going faster.
And where he was going he was stinging the wave. He was just stinging the wave. What we were up to carried us a lot. We were doing this on the mainland with Surfing New Image with Donald Takayama. So I got with them and I worked with 2 shapers over there and made my stings there. What happened next was the other businesses were getting into it, yeah.
But looking at it, looking at the ads, they were prostituting the idea. They were making it look ugly. They were placing the fin were wrong, the bottom contour was wrong, They were chopping it up you know, But it was my design and through Surfing New Image we did a lot of them, we did it for 4 years on the Mainland.
That’s how it went you know. Then MR (Mark Richards), I met him in the San Diego World contest and he was on the Australian Team. He caught my eye, he was walking like a wounded seagull and he was riding a fish board, yeah. So I met the kid up there and we talked, we had dinner at the same place yeah. So we talked and I said “on his way back he should stop by Hawaii and give me a buzz”.
So I picked him up you know and we would go out to the country and surf. That’s how we got to know each other. I made some boards for him. That must have had an influence on him. Oh yeah, a couple of months before he became World Champion he started shaping his own boards. But when he came to visit, I would showed him this and that about shaping.
I was fortunate enough to be at the right place at the right time. But the people that was changing surfing the Bertleman, the Ho, the Dane Kealoha, the MR. Just at the time when things were progressing. The guys in Hawaii you know, before I was making their boards, they were trying to do skateboard stuff and they cannot. So one year I went up to Santa Monica after the World Contest at San Diego. So I met Alan Sarlo and Jeff Ho with Larry (Bertleman) at Malibu and went down to the main street on Lincoln. I was watching these kids being towed behind the back of a car.
It was Alan Sarlo and Dog Town guys, oh Jay Adams. I stopped and asked where Jeff Ho’s shop was and they said around the corner. I went inside to talk with Jeff and I lost Larry, he went skateboarding. It got quiet so I went outside and everybody was watching Larry and what he was doing, laying out sweeps and oh unreal maneuvers, he was amazing. So I hooked up with Jeff Ho and left some of my boards there.
It just goes on and on, there's no end. Don’t forget those Dog Town Boys, they were the rebels. The Dog Town Boys rocked. It was a year after when they came over to Hawaii and Larry took them to Uluwatu by Olakai. They all came up there and were watching Larry and in the movie they shut out Jeff Ho, he was the biggest supporter of those guys.
He was completely shut out. Doing the competitive thing, for me it was going to the guys, hey look at the progression of surfing. You’re not progressing man, if you don’t watch out the Australians are going to pass us, the California guys are going to pass us. So that was my involvement, getting into coaching. When I got into coaching, not knowing that I was coaching Bertleman and those guys. I thought Ok, I was coaching the Hawaiian Team in the 72’ World Contest.
During the 80’s I got off my label and went to Town and Country. They ventured into the longboard thing and I was the one doing it. Doing about 6,7,8 boards a day. They were all computer cut. I was the first to bring computer blanks into Hawaii. Also during this time I was coaching the Town and Country Surf Team. Picture this, I was working with Brad Gerlack, Sunny Garcia, and Johnny Boy Gomes. I coached Brad for almost 4 years. Through the years my hallway was nothing but pictures and stuff like dat.
After his experiences in 70’s and 80’s, Ben had some pictures lying around on a chair and we talked about them. After that Ben showed me his shaping room.
Ben recalls when he met his good friend Joe Kuala. I was living on Sand Island and had been playing semi-pro football. I got hurt on the job and couldn’t play anymore. So me and my cousin would go body surf and borrow a board and learn to surf. During this time I was working for a lumber company and was their driver. I would take a truck load of lumber to a termite treatment plant on Sand Island that would coat the lumber. The process would take a few hours, so not a person to waste time.
I would leave my board at Sand Island and would surf for those few hours that I had to wait. That board was my first, a Mexican made board called Ten Toes that I bought at Wig Wam Departmnet Store. So I was surfing every day during work. I would see Joe surfing Sand Island too and after a while we got to know each other. Joe was working at Inter Island Surfboards and invited me up to the shop. The board I was riding didn’t have the right stuff. So Joe made me a custom board. After getting use to it, I would enter local contests and became one of the top surfers in my age group.
How I got into shaping was through Joe, there was a Wardy shop that was going out of business and Joe bought some blanks for real cheap. He tells me to shape a board with one of those blanks. So I was still working for the lumber company at the time and I called in sick. I go down to Inter Island around 7 in the morning, this was back in 1965.
I started shaping the board with the help from Joe and by 7 that night I finished it. "Wow, that’s how I got started in shaping". In 1968 I won most of the contests that I was in and got on the Hawaiian Surf Team that went to the World Surf Contest in Puerto Rico. Having come full circle in our discussion, I thanked Ben for his time and the next time I saw him, I order one of his custom shapes.
Ben and Gordon