La Jolla Cove has grown from 10 feet to 16 feet in the last hour, and Mark Drewelow is sprinting to get outside. Between a pocket beach and two ugly rocky outcrops lies a very bad excuse for a “channel.” It’s really just a small gap that opens for a few moments between explosive swells, and then is swept by ugly sets that explode into the cliff. I’ve never seen anyone swim so fast.
“I’m just gonna go say hi to the guys outside,” he tells videographer JacuzziSurfer and I before jumping into the 56-degree water. He’s referring to five guys sitting way, way outside on guns. None of them have tried to surf a wave yet. It’s simply too sketchy.
Mark gets smaller and smaller until I can’t tell if I’m looking at Mark or a seagull bobbing in the ocean. Of course, Mark has no board – he’s a bodysurfer. The only thing you can see is his head in a black hood. Once in awhile, I catch a glimpse of pink, presumably his face. And I’ll be damned if Mark isn’t now sitting in the pack, a bowling ball in the water next to guys sitting high on 10-foot guns.
Mark is the real deal. And he’s part of a global conspiracy to change bodysurfing as we know it. If you catch a peek at footage of Mark from San Diego’s Jacuzzisurfer, you’ll easily recognize his style. Jacuzzisurfer is a videographer who’s been using drones to film bodysurfers, giving a unique perspective of our extraordinary sport. And for the athletes themselves, it offers the chance to evaluate their technique from 50 feet above.
In these videos, Mark Drewelow catches everything from big barreling waves at Black’s to pinner Seaside, effortlessly gliding inside of transparent, unbroken swells. I was sprung; I had to go to San Diego to see it for myself.
This all started last summer in Rio, which has been called the North Shore of bodysurfing. Copacabana and Ipanema create sick, sucking cylinders that 300 hardcore bodysurfers wantonly throw their bodies into, again and again, to a backdrop of g-strings, high-rises, and soaring granite domes. Mark was down there to compete in the 2016 Itacoa Legends comp. One day Mark found himself at Posto 5, the Pt. Panics of Rio, in a beefy swell. It looks like he’s surfing below AK-47s in Port-au-Prince. Life-or-death commitment on a wave so thick it makes my testicles shrink just to look at.
A few years before, a man known as JSC Mauricio found himself landlocked in Germany – a horrible place for a tan Rio beach boy. Driven nearly to desperation by his “oceanlessness,” JSC Mauricio became obsessed with a sport called “fin swimming.” The slinky, European uber athletes were posting record times swimming underwater, and the key is a snake-like, full-body underwater stroke that produces explosive snaps at the end of every kick. Mauricio studied the fin swimmers. He started to talk to engineers, physicists, mathematicians to understand the hydrodynamics involved. He extensively studied videos of their two-fin, tandem kick. In one video, a guy is swimming hard against the current in one of those stationary swimming pools (kind of like a treadmill for swimmers). The guy’s legs are so torqued each time he produces a snap that you can see his tibia bone bowing. Mauricio wondered: how could he take this revolutionary swimming technique and bring it to bodysurfing?
The answer is now going viral with new videos of Mark (Seasidesurfer) riding JSC Mauricio’s new Leblon Fins. Swimming into the wave early, Mark is surfing a part of the wave that has been hitherto unknown. He’s popping out of the water, completely breaching and airborne, and then re-entering the water for the next jump. He’s literally surfing waves just like a dolphin would. What’s really fascinating about Mark’s technique is that he’s tapping into the energy of the wave long before it breaks, gathering speed and momentum so that he can pop up on the wave long before any surfer can claim it.
Mark may have solved the Achille’s Heel of bodysurfing: our takeoffs always put us at a disadvantage with surfers on boards. We end up settling for the scraps. But what if you could get into the wave before the pack? This is why and how Mark’s bodysurfing is truly revolutionary. Every time there has been a quantum shift in outdoor sports like parabolic skis, surf leashes, and mountain bikes, there has been an accompanied improvement in technique and performance.
With Mark’s advanced equipment and advanced techniques that allow us to surf inside the wave – a place board surfers will never know – we may now be witnessing the birth of a new type of bodysurfing. And if we can beat board surfers to the takeoff, then an entire world of surfing lineups is now ours to tap.