The journey of a thousand tasty waves begins with a single bodysurf. So said someone, somewhere... probably. Either way, there's truth in this retro-fitted and surf-inspired Lao Tzu knockoff: until you understand the mechanics of catching waves, you won't be riding any, and there's no better way to learn than with your very own, nature-made equipment; in other words, by bodysurfing.Bodysurfing is a serious sport in its own right, with a world champion and some heavy competition, to boot.
"Bodysurfing is as pure as you can get of a sport," says Tim Casinelli, director of the World Bodysurfing Championships competition. Casinelli, himself a two-time WBC Grand Champion, points to the interaction between body and wave, and simultaneous lack of very much equipment, to explain its authentic appeal.
That's right, you don't need anything to be able to do it; just a good technique. And all you'll need to get really competitive is a set of fins (though some bodysurfers also opt for swim caps and handplanes to assist with speed). By bodysurfing, you'll come to understand waves on a whole new level. In no time, you can be rocketing back to shore like a natural. Here's how:
Choosing Your Beach
Just like in any sport, you're going to need a little practice. First, find a beach with a gently-sloping, lengthy wade-out to just beyond where the waves break. Bodysurfing beginners should practice in chest-high whitewater a good distance from the shore.
Try your technique a good few times while allowing already broken, rushing foam to propel you forward. Here you can find what works best for you and get a sense of how your body should feel when the momentum takes you.
When ready to ride a wave, look for ones which break cleanly down themselves from the top at a manageable angle. Your first waves shouldn't be any bigger than about four feet in height (a little over one metre). You should still be able to touch the bottom where you launch yourself into an approaching wave.
Catch The Wave
When you see a wave you want to ride approaching, turn your back to it and use your feet to push off the ocean bottom, launching yourself into a front crawl swim. Swim as fast as you can, making big scoops in the water as you paddle, and kicking your feet as much as possible in order to build speed.
As soon as the wave begins to lift you, stop kicking, thrust one or both arms in the direction you want to go take a deep breath. Put your head down in line with your leading arm (usually the one you write with), and simultaneously stiffen and streamline your entire body, from the leading arm's fingers and palm right through to the tops of the feet and toes. Push all of your weight onto the leading arm in order to create a forward/downward momentum.
In order to bodysurf a wave well, you're going to need about half of your body to be out of the water when you're moving. Imagine a line running across your body diagonally, from under one armpit to the knee of the opposite side. This is the bodyline in contact with the wave's surface.
Keep catching waves, trying different things with your body until you're comfortable and ready to move on.
Larger waves not only require stronger swimming, but greater adaptability mid-surf. In deeper water, you won't be able to launch yourself from the bottom like you've been doing in more moderate surf, so you're going to need a set of fins to help get you going. Make sure they fit properly and allow you maximum versatility whilst swimming.
For faster rides, look for peaky waves which break smoothly and powerfully. The same rules apply to seeking out large waves to bodysurf as small: never too close to shore and decent breaking angles on the wave itself.
When bodysurfing large waves, scope out your line the same way you would on a surfboard; that is, you want to be travelling diagonally across the wave face in a downward direction, aiming to end the ride as the wave comes to a natural end. To do this, you'll need to be more adaptable as you go.
Play with different tensions throughout your body, and see what result they have on your ride. Little adjustments make a big difference. Softening or slackening the muscles of the abdomen, hips, and legs can slow your ride; a strategic move to employ if, say, you need to be in the pocket of a wave but perhaps took off too early. Conversely, creating tension in these areas will give the wave greater ability to propel you along.
If this seems like a lot of information, rest assured. Bodysurfing is natural, simple, and easily learned. It's also fun. But you do need to keep a few things in mind.
Firstly, don't go alone. Certainly not when you're starting out, but it's always good practice in any ocean activity to bring a buddy, or at least choose a beach with a lifeguard on duty.
Make sure your swimming is up to the task. Stay in shape by practicing your swimming whenever you get the chance. Not only will this help you out of potentially sticky situations, but also give you the stamina to surf more waves for more of the day. Remember that you won't have anything to rest on if you get too tired. It's just you and the waves.
Keep your kit on. Make sure your suit/shorts/whatever will stay put as you cruise along in the rushing water. Enough said.
Stay Offshore, Away From Obstacles
And finally, most, most importantly, always keep at least one hand straight out in front of you at all times on a wave. Don't be tempted to paddle with both arms once you've committed to a ride.
An extended arm is your head and neck's only protection from any potential collisions along the way. You never know what could come up - a shallow spot, submerged debris, another person - so make sure it's your hand that meets any surprise articles, not your head.