Birth of a Handboarder, or How a Handboard Changed My Life

By Thomas Ekman, J.D., M.Ed. • 

I started surfing in 1987, but until last year, I had no idea that you could bodysurf down-the-line. In 2014, I was dating a pro-am surfer chick on O’ahu, and (to avoid embarrassing comparisons) I would paddle out with a water cam and shoot pix of her shredding. I bought a Hydro plane for added paddling.

One day at Mokuleia (Haleiwa), I caught a wave in the bowl and stuck out the Hydro plane. My first thought was: “I’m planing!”. My second thought was: “this skitchy thing needs a skeg!”

In March 2015, I found Sole Handplanes online, and knew instantly that Todd had the formula with Sole’s unique convexity. The problem of tracking was solved. I bought a pair of Da Fins and got to work.

I got my first big wave at Publics in Honolulu, and when I started flying down-the-line high in the pocket, I instinctively threw my back hand behind and above me to keep from sliding down the wave (not even knowing that about the layback technique – it just happened). I rode that wave an 1/8 of a mile over near-dry coral heads, with a couple of surfers hooting me on – I was slotted! At the end of the wave, I was seriously sucking wind. I looked back at the pack, and they were like fly specks. I couldn’t believe I had ridden that far. I was HOOKED! Long rides have been my passion ever since.

I’ve been bodysurfing almost-daily since that wave.   I’ve been surfing Suicides on O’ahu at first light to beat the crowds, or Pt. Panics (bodysurfing’s Mecca) mid-day, where I discovered that bodysurfers are a cool breed: guys would regularly give each other wave, or double-up – no big deal.

I made the most progress night-surfing Queens in Waikiki – one of the most crowded breaks – during the 10 days around the full moon. I used Stellarium to plot when the moon would be between 40 and 20 degrees to the horizon – optimal for seeing incoming sets. Having that perfect right all to myself, I moved forward in skill fast, pulling rollos and pull-out moonlit barrels. I would catch 20+ barreling waves per session regularly.

I’m now living in Guerrero, Mexico, riding sandbars for the first time. While I still like long rides, the crowds on O’ahu were very tough for a bodysurfer, and dodging skegs was frustrating. Now, I have the freedom to bodysurf freely until my body is a limp noodle.

On a consistent left or right, I use a Sole Handplane Moon Tail for my leading plane, and a 2nd Whomper as my trailing plane. I find the 2nd plane not only makes for more balanced paddling, but I’m constantly using it to either layback, hold my edge below, or stick it out in front for added speed. In A-frame sandbars, I use 2 Whompers.

I see bodysurfing as the ultimate finesse form of wave-riding – profoundly more satisfying than board-surfing. I love the feeling of planing, doing a layback and getting perfectly slotted, the barrels, and the simple joy of being unfettered in the water without a board or leash.   I often wear goggles so I can watch the beautiful spectacle of waves breaking underwater. I’m also a fitness junkie and bodysurfing is the BEST exercise on the planet, bar none.

After 25 years of board-surfing, I had been feeling my stoke waning for years. Bodysurfing is like starting the surfing love affair all over again – a most precious gift.


Thomas Ekman, J.D., M.Ed.
Thomas Ekman, J.D., M.Ed.


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