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