For thrill-seekers looking for their next adventure, bodyboarding is a fun option. Sometimes thought of as an easier alternative to surfing, the reality is that it’s a bit as tough as surfing, once you move past beginner skills. Bodyboarding offers a plethora of maneuvers and tricks, that surpass those found in surfing. Once you grasp the art of riding waves, the indescribable thrill derived from the experience is unparalleled.
What is bodyboarding anyway? Learn all about it in this article.
What is Bodyboarding?
Bodyboarding is a water sport where a person rides a small board made of foam or other buoyant materials lying flat on their stomach, chest, or knees. The rider typically paddles with their arms to catch waves and then rides the wave towards shore while executing maneuvers. It can be done recreationally or competitively, with professional competitions held at various locations worldwide.
Bodyboarding is also sometimes called “boogieboarding,” since Tom Morey’s invention, the “Boogie Board,” became popular in bodyboarding circles. The average bodyboard consists of a short, rectangular piece of hydrodynamic foam, and bodyboarders usually use swim fins for additional control and propulsion while riding a breaking wave.
History of Bodyboarding
Bodyboarding started from the ancient form of riding waves on the belly. Indigenous Polynesians rode “alaia” boards either on their belly or knees. These boards are made from the wood of Acacia koa and vary in length and shape. British explorer Captain James Cook recorded seeing Hawaiian villagers riding alaia boards in 1778. The boards he saw ranged from approximately 90 to 180 cm (3 to 6 ft) in length and were utilized for prone (belly) or knee riding.
From the original Alaia boards, a transition occurred to the contemporary “paipo” (pronounced pipe-oh) board. Paipo boards were constructed with wood or fiberglass, with the latter often featuring fins on the underside.
In the 1970s, a surfer named Tom Morey from California began experimenting with different materials to create a board that would be easier to ride and more maneuverable than traditional surfboards. He eventually developed a small, lightweight board made of foam with a curved underside, which he called the “boogie board” after a nickname he had for his favorite music genre, boogie-woogie.
The boogie board quickly gained popularity among surfers and beachgoers, and by the 1980s, it had become a recognized sport in its own right. Morey continued to refine the design, introducing features like channels on the underside of the board for increased speed and control.
Competitions began to be organized, and in 1982, the first World Bodyboarding Championships were held in Hawaii. The sport continued to evolve over the years, with new tricks and maneuvers being developed, and more specialized equipment being created for different types of waves and conditions.
Today, bodyboarding is a popular sport with a dedicated following around the world. It is known for its accessibility and the ease with which beginners can pick it up, as well as for the extreme skill and athleticism required to perform at a competitive level.
Bodyboarding Riding Techniques
There are three main riding forms in bodyboarding: prone, drop-knee, and stand-up.
1. Prone Riding
Prone riding is the most common form of bodyboarding, where the rider lies flat on their stomach on the board with their fins in the water and uses their arms to paddle and catch waves. When bodyboarding towards the left, the bodyboarder positions their left hand on the upper left corner of the nose and places their right arm halfway down the rail on the right side of the board. Conversely, the opposite applies when the bodyboarder rides toward the right. Once the wave is caught, the rider can perform various maneuvers such as bottom turns, cutbacks, and aerials.
2. Drop-knee Riding
Drop-knee riding is where the rider uses one foot to balance on the board and the other knee to drive the board into the wave, creating more speed and maneuverability. The rider can use their hands to assist with balance and control and perform a variety of turns and tricks.
This technique was initially introduced in the late 1970s by Jack “The Ripper” Lindholm from Hawaii and is sometimes referred to as “Jack Stance.” Unlike stand-up surfboards with fins, bodyboards used by drop-knee riders lack fins underneath, which are typically used to maintain a line on the wave face and prevent sliding. As a result, drop-knee riders rely on weight shifting from one rail to another to maintain their line on the wave and execute turns or snaps. However, the absence of fins underneath the board allows drop-knee riders to perform 360-degree spins in both forward and reverse directions, which is a distinct advantage.
3. Stand-up Riding
Stand-up riding is the least common form of bodyboarding, where the rider stands up on the board and uses their fins and body weight to maneuver the board. This form of riding requires a higher skill level and is typically reserved for advanced riders who are looking to perform more advanced maneuvers.
Popular figures who popularized stand-up riding include Cavin Yap, Danny Kim, and Chris Won Taloa.
Bodyboarding requires specific equipment to ensure safety and enhance performance in the water. Here is the essential bodyboarding equipment:
The bodyboard, also known as a boogie board, is the primary piece of equipment. It is a small, buoyant board made of foam or other lightweight materials. It differs from a surfboard as it is generally much shorter, and made out of different kinds of foam. Bodyboards come in various sizes, typically ranging from 33 to 45 inches in length, and have a curved or crescent-shaped bottom to provide control and maneuverability.
The contemporary bodyboard comprises a foam “core” enveloped by a plastic bottom, a softer foam deck on top, and foam rails on the sides. The core material can be dow/polyethylene, arcel, polystyrene, or Polypro/polypropylene.
Bodyboards typically incorporate one, two, or three carbon or graphite rods known as stringers to enhance board durability, minimize deformation, and increase core rigidity. This design feature results in improved speed during bottom turns and transitions on the wave. In the case of a single stringer, it is positioned along the center of the board, running parallel to the rails. When two stringers are employed, they are symmetrically placed around the y-axis. Triple stringers combine elements of both single and double-stringer placement.
Other equipment used in bodyboarding includes:
- Leash – A leash is a cord that attaches the bodyboard to the rider’s wrist or arm. It prevents the board from getting lost in the water and helps the rider retrieve it quickly after a wipeout or fall.
- Fins – Fins are worn on the feet and provide propulsion and control while paddling and riding waves. Bodyboarding fins are typically shorter and stiffer than those used for snorkeling or diving, allowing for quick acceleration and maneuvering in the water.
- Wetsuit or Swimwear – Depending on the water temperature, riders may need a wetsuit or swimwear suitable for the conditions. Wetsuits help maintain body heat in colder water and provide protection against scrapes and abrasions.
- Rash Guard – A rash guard is a tight-fitting, lightweight shirt designed to protect the skin from chafing, sunburn, and irritation caused by rubbing against the board or wetsuit.
- Bodyboard Bag – A bodyboard bag or cover is used to transport and protect the board. It typically features padding, handles, and straps for easy carrying.
- Fins tethers – Fins tethers are attachments that secure the fins to the rider’s feet, preventing them from coming off during powerful waves or wipeouts.
- Wax – Wax is applied to the top surface of the bodyboard for enhanced grip and traction, helping the rider maintain better control.
- Repair Kit – A repair kit may include adhesive glue and patches to fix any dings or damage on the bodyboard.
Bodyboarding Moves and Tricks
Bodyboarding involves a wide range of tricks and moves that allow riders to showcase their skills and style in the water. Here are some common moves and tricks in bodyboarding:
1. Bottom Turn
When it comes to bodyboarding, one of the first moves beginners should learn is the bottom turn. It involves making a turn from the bottom of a wave back into the steep, unbroken section known as the wall. The bottom turn allows access to the fastest part of the wave and facilitates the conversion of speed from one direction to another. Mastering the bottom turn is crucial as it sets the foundation for executing other advanced maneuvers like 360s, aerials, and cutbacks.
To perform a bottom turn, shift your body weight to the inside rail (the side edge) of your bodyboard, depending on whether you’re going left or right. Avoid dragging your elbow and shoulder in the water to maintain speed. Use your other hand to lift the outside rail of your board and pull yourself back towards the wave. The steeper the wave, the more pronounced the pull. Once back on the wave, center your body position and slide forward to create more momentum.
2. Cut Back
The cut back is a simple yet highly effective maneuver for bodyboarders of all levels, including beginners. It allows you to reposition yourself within the wave and control your speed, especially when you’re moving too fast and risk riding out of the wave.
To execute a cut back, shift your weight to the outer rail of your bodyboard and apply pressure with your hand toward the center of the outside rail. Simultaneously, lift the nose of your board using your other hand and turn it in the desired direction. Once you’re pointing in the intended direction, you can continue riding the wave in a normal manner.
3. El Rollo
The El Rollo is an impressive and challenging bodyboarding maneuver that involves reaching the lip of the wave and swiftly completing an arc before landing back in the water. It was invented by legendary Californian bodyboarder Pat Caldwell in the late-1980s. The El Rollo combines an aerial with a full twist (roll) of the body and board, making it a visually dynamic and exciting move to master.
To perform an El Rollo, start by positioning yourself as you would for an aerial, ensuring a secure grip on your board. As you approach the lip of the wave, arch your back, throw your head over your shoulder, and focus your gaze on the desired landing spot. Allow the power of the wave to initiate the spin of both your body and the board. Now, align yourself towards the beach, maintaining your grip on the board and shifting your body’s weight to the inside rail. Prepare to land board-first and smoothly ride out of the maneuver.
4. 360 Spin and 360 Reverse
The 360 spin is a fundamental trick in bodyboarding that spans from beginners to advanced riders. As the name suggests, it involves completing a full 360-degree rotation in the water, which can be performed in various sections of the wave, including the flat section, whitewater, and even in the air. Both prone and drop knee riders can execute this maneuver, adding versatility to their repertoire.
To execute a 360 spin, it’s ideal to attempt it after performing a bottom turn and returning to the curl or steep concave area of the wave. Position your body by sliding forward to center yourself on the board. Lift your legs up, arch your back, and turn your head towards the wave, either to the left if going left or to the right if going right. Use the momentum to carry your body in the desired direction. Once you complete a full circle, you can drop your legs and continue riding.
For a variation of the 360, there’s the 360 reverse, which follows the same technique but with a different head positioning. Instead of turning your head towards the wave, you need to turn inward to face the bottom, meaning to the right if going left on the wave, and to the left if going right.
The invert is a foundational trick in bodyboarding that falls into the intermediate-to-advanced level category. Bodyboarders gain speed on the wave face until they encounter a close-out section. They then hit the lip, launch themselves toward the flats with their back facing down, and rotate to land, eliciting applause from onlookers.
6. Air Roll Spin
The air roll spin (ARS) combines the el rollo with a classic spin 360, performed in aerial mode. This trick presents a higher level of difficulty as it necessitates speed, momentum, and precise projection in the ideal lip section. Riders execute a half roll and spin inward toward the face of the wave.
An aerial, also known as an air, occurs when a bodyboarder takes off above the lip of a wave, similar to a skateboarder lifting off from a halfpipe. To perform an aerial, choose a wave with a steep section, execute a bottom turn, and direct yourself toward the lip. When reaching the lip, use your body’s weight to propel yourself into the air and let gravity bring you back into the wave. Approaching the lip at an angle rather than vertically facilitates a smoother landing.
The backflip entails completing an inverted flip while in the air, typically executed after coming out of a barrel and hitting the lip on the wave’s shoulder. After landing on the flats, the rider turns around and continues riding the wave.
9. Tube riding
Tube riding, also known as barrel riding, is a classic move where a bodyboarder positions themselves in the perfect wedge of a wave, stalls with the tail of the board, and enters a fully enclosed tube for an exhilarating ride.
10. Drop knee
Drop knee is an alternative stance to prone riding, where the rider positions their back leg in a kneeling position on the board while keeping their front leg with the foot flat on the board. This technique is also referred to as the Jack stance, inspired by the pioneering bodyboarder Jack Lindholm. When attempting to drop your knee for the first time, choose a small, flat wave to make it easier to lift up from the board. The transition from prone to a full kneeling position and lifting one leg to the nose of the board, using a hand for balance. With practice, stability can be achieved, and the rider may even be able to lift both hands from the board, although some wipeouts are expected during the learning process.
Bodyboarding Tips for Beginners
Here are some tips to improve your bodyboarding skills and enhance your overall experience in the water:
Improve your swimming skills
As with trying any water sport, it’s best to improve your swimming skills first before trying to bodyboard. If you struggle with basic swimming strokes, you may not be able to catch waves effectively. In case you ever lose your board, it’s crucial to feel comfortable swimming so you can retrieve it or make your way back to the shore. To successfully bodyboard, you have to develop a strong paddling technique using your arms and fins.
Consider enrolling in swimming classes or practicing regularly at your local pool to refine your swimming technique. This will enable you to approach the water with confidence and style, knowing that you have the necessary swimming skills to complement your bodyboarding adventures.
Always take note of the weather forecast
When embarking on your bodyboarding journey, the same equation applies as with other water sports like surfing, kitesurfing, or windsurfing: timing + knowledge = security. It is crucial to familiarize yourself with weather forecasts and conditions before each session. Just as you check the weather to see if rain is expected over the weekend, staying updated on your local break’s swell forecast will help you determine the optimal timing. Riding in manageable conditions will not only keep you safe, but it can also make your sessions enjoyable. Starting your bodyboarding practice with a friend or under the guidance of an instructor is highly recommended.
Similar to choosing the right pair of running shoes, personalization is key in bodyboarding. A valuable tip for selecting the appropriate board size is to ensure that when the bodyboard is placed on the ground, it reaches about the height of your belly button.
However, the board is not the only essential piece of equipment. Depending on the water temperature, it is advisable to wear a high-quality neoprene wetsuit or a Lycra rash vest to prevent irritation and provide buoyancy and sun protection. Also, don’t forget to equip yourself with a leash, which attaches to your bicep to prevent the bodyboard from being swept away. Fins and fin socks are also necessary to ensure comfort during your sessions.
Warm up before entering the water
Before diving into the waves, it is essential to prepare your body and engage in a proper warm-up routine. In an ever-changing aquatic playground where the unexpected can happen, ensuring your body is primed for any situation is essential. Warm up like you do before you exercise, and also, do some warm-up exercises in the water.
One example of warming up in the water is by practicing how to get into the right position. Lie on the board with your hands on the front and position the back of the board beneath your lower stomach. From this position, practice paddling and kicking your legs underwater to improve acceleration when catching oncoming waves.
Choose the right wave
As a beginner, prioritize safety over trying to outperform or impress others in the water. One valuable tip for novice bodyboarders is to resist the temptation of waves that are too large or fast. Instead, focus on riding “rideable” waves that flow directly toward the beach. This lets you practice paddling, catching waves, and getting comfortable with the board without being overwhelmed by larger, more powerful waves.
When ready to ride back towards the shore, kick your feet while paddling vigorously and position yourself to catch the front of a wave. Let its power carry you effortlessly and bring you maximum joy with minimal effort!
Position yourself to catch the wave
Get into the proper position in the lineup to catch the best waves. Observe the wave patterns, watch other surfers, and look for sections of the wave that offer a good takeoff point and a manageable line to ride. Learning how to read the ocean and choose the right waves will greatly enhance your bodyboarding experience.
Learn how to find the proper timing and takeoff
Timing is crucial when catching waves. Start paddling early enough to match the speed of the wave and get into the wave’s face. As the wave approaches, execute a strong and smooth takeoff by pushing down on the front of the board and using your arms to lift your upper body.
Respect wave etiquette
Always follow proper wave etiquette and respect other surfers and bodyboarders in the lineup. Take turns, avoid dropping in on others, and be mindful of the safety of yourself and others in the water.
Bodyboarding is a thrilling water sport where you can master the art of riding the waves to executing gravity-defying tricks. Whether you’re a beginner just dipping your toes into the surf or a seasoned rider seeking to push your limits, the possibilities for growth and excitement in bodyboarding are endless.