After bitching about growing crowds for 25 years, I had to fall in love with the one form of surfing that is really only fun when its super-clean, requires a late takeoff, and subjects your face to surfboard impacts. Yup, at first blush, bodysurfing would seem to be a terrible choice in the world of already-teeming surf spots.
But actually, in my fourth year in this high-finesse sport, I think I’m getting possibly more riding time than I used to on my surfboards. How is that possible?
Well, for starters, it’s just easier to take off on anything, at a moment’s notice. You don’t have to eggbeater your stick around, and you can quickly poach any wave lost by a surfer.
Two, it’s so damn easy to punch through waves that you can afford to sit inside in the impact zone, in places you wouldn’t go if you had to duck-dive a board.
Three, you don’t make a lot of sections, which means you’re more willing to just jump on anything. No need to wait for the perfect set. Quantity over quality. You never know which wave you might connect to the inside.
Four, if you add up 40-50+ shorter rides, that might be the same riding time as 10-20+ longer rides. That’s more-or-less how I’d compare respective wave counts between the two forms of wave-riding. At any decent spot on O’ahu, getting 10+ waves on a surfboard was a solid sesh. In California, maybe 20+. But in bodysurfing, its not unusual to have 50+ wave sessions.
Five, you don’t sit around when you’re bodysurfing. You’re not locked into an ad hoc position in the pack like you are on a surfboard. You can be constantly moving around the lineup without really agitating any one (on a surfboard, you’d be really pissing people off). Surfboards only have two modes in the lineup: paddling, and sitting. Bodysurfing gives you 360 degree movement at any speed you want. You’re always moving.
Six, you jump on waves that you encounter as you’re paddling back out. On a surfboard, you’re often bee-lining for the pack to avoid getting caught inside.
Seven, you take off on closeouts, quasi-closeouts and possible closeouts – few of which you would try on a surfboard. You don’t make most of your barrels, so you’re more inclined to take off on a gas chamber.
Eight, you can dive under guys taking off, which means you can sit in perfect position to poach waves lost on takeoff.
Nine, you’ve got arms, legs, and multiple strokes to choose from, so you don’t get as fatigued paddling out as you do on a surfboard (though overall, it’s much more of a workout).
Ten, you don’t end up with only your thruster at a longboard break, or vice-versa.
Eleven, you don’t have to deal with racking and packing your sticks, which gives you a little more time to surf AND makes it more likely that you’ll paddle out in the first place.
Twelve, you can often get away with less rubber, which makes you more likely to be willing to go through the hassle of suiting up.
Thirteen, you may paddle out into a pack that would intimidate you on a surfboard because its too thick, knowing that you’ll be getting many waves inside of the pack.
Fourteen, it’s a new sport for many of us, so there’s a lot of extra stoke behind us.
Fifteen, you get so many barrels that its addictive. Each successive barrel demands another.
Sixteen, you can make a sesh out of close-outs if that’s all that’s available (see Rio…)
Seventeen, you’re more likely to get in the water “just to get some exercise”, because swimming is satisfying in a way that paddling a surfboard is definitely not.
Eighteen, you can ride shorebreak like Sandy’s.
Nineteen, you don’t have to stay out of the water because you dinged your stick.
Twenty, when I find a good wave that I can tap repeatedly, I will bodysurf it over-and-over for 4 hours. Why do I surf so much longer than I would on a surfboard? Because it’s more fun, dammit!! Nothing beats liquid flight freesurfing.
By Tom Ekman
@goodvibes_84 R.I.P. Photo @Sole Handplanes
Apparently bodysurfing is not for everyone, but that’s no excuse not to throw a pair of fins and a handplane behind the seat of your truck or in the trunk. I mean, why not? They don’t take up much room and you probably have a bunch of other crap back there anyway. Next time you’re sitting there looking at smoking little drainers charging through, you’ll have just what you need to log some tube time in said drainers. That handboard is also going to greatly increase the odds of you popping out of your next barrel and who doesn’t want that? Yeah, sure there are ‘purists’ that think it’s uncool or lazy or cheating; they may say that real bodysurfers don’t need props. Ok, what are those things that are attached to your feet mister awesome?
It’s an undeniable fact that using a handplane gives you more lift, speed and control over just using your body (yes it’s still bodysurfing, Mister Awesome) giving you better positioning so you can stay higher, travel further and make sections you normally wouldn’t make. Using a hand board makes a big difference in riding small mushy waves. Obviously they work, or they wouldn’t be growing so much in popularity.
Another reason why you should own a a pair of fins & handplane is because they make great travel partners. Note that you can throw ‘em in your suitcase or backpack and not pay ridiculous oversize luggage fees. Hell you can just carry the damn things on the airplane with you –can you say no lost gear? Scenario: quick cab or bus ride to the airport; walk on the airplane in your flips and trunks with your fins and hand board. Next thing you know you’ve scored seriously overhead Colorado’s in Nica, you’re back home stoked out of your gourd –and no one even knew you were gone. Stealthy. No matter the destination isn’t it awesome to have your gear handy for that impromptu go out at that random beach break you just spotted from the rent a car window, no matter the tide? Or what about the last-light go out when you don’t want to bother with a surfboard?
You get the picture: body surfing is the best half hour of fun you can have in the ocean. And if I haven’t tempted you sufficiently check out this great piece in Surfermagazine.com A Brief History of the Handboard by John Hazen, Jr. An excerpt follows:
“The waves were breaking with an inviting precision. After the third ride I was having a ball. If my take-off was early, I’d fade into the curl, then change direction with a smooth carving turn. The wave would form ahead of me and I’d charge to the shallow spot in the reef to position myself inside the inevitable pitch-out of the wave over my head. Later take-offs required a more intentional drive down the wall, putting the skegs and inside rail to work. Pursued. Then escaping...time after time.
I began to chuckle aloud, reveling in the solitary pleasure of riding water crystal walls of speed and fun, all by myself, on a warm windless morning.
“Wave after wave...tube after impossible tube...He was invincible,” I narrated myself and laughed as I recalled the lines from an old surfing movie.
Summertime. Oahu’s North Shore. The waves were no more than two feet high.”
Feed the Urge!