Body Surfing 101: A beginners guide to the ancients ways of the body surfer
This is a comprehensive guide on How to Body surf and the Body surfing equipment needed. On a side note: this article is written for someone with little to no experience body surfing we figured if you are looking for articles on how to body surf you do not necessarily know how to or would like to know more. If you are seasoned bodysurfer, you might want to try one of our Hand boards to take your experience to the next level.
Bodysurfing is one of the oldest of the man inspired water sports apart from perhaps swimming. Body surfing in-fact Pre-dates Standup surfing by give or take a hundred years or more. Check out our History section for more information on the start of bodysurfing. It is safe to say that without body surfing being practiced it is quiet likely surfing would have taken some time longer to get to where it is today, or who knows possibly it may not have even been created.
Every surfer, from professional to the Sunday surfer should have spent a good part of their youth playing about in the shore break trying to catch wave after wave on their stomach.Bodysurfing is an essential part of the learning curve to becoming a good stand up surfer and all round water man/woman. Unfortunately Body surfing has taken a back seat to stand up or regular surfing. I say it is unfortunate because Bodysurfing is the best way to learn how the ocean works, to understand the dynamics of the wave and to become a better all round water man/woman. I have been teaching stand up surfing for over 5 years, 90% of the student that I have taught would have been leaps ahead simply had they spent a few hours in the ocean before they try to attempt standup surfing. It gives you that simple appreciation and understanding for the ocean.
Like surfing, However Body surfing is not as easy as you may think. To get the most out of your experience with body surfing you will need a few simple techniques and a bit of ocean knowledge before you start. If, like most inexperienced people you have tried to body surf when you were last on holiday, or when you were a kid, you may have found yourself kicking like a mad man/woman heading for the shore and the wave either.
- crashing on top of you
- not actually catching the wave and being left behind
- catching it and going about 3 feet
- Worst and most dangerously sucking you up and over the falls, Not a nice feeling!
Does this sound familiar?
It is after these kinds of experiences that you probably shy away from going body surfingagain and find yourself watching the locals from the beach, wondering how they make it look so easy. If you are planning to learn to surf, I cannot repeat enough how important it is that you get out in the waves and learn how to body surf and better your general water/ocean skills before you add a full-length surfboard to the equation.
If you are planning on full-length surfing, it is important to be comfortable with the board. Over the years, I have taught standup surfing many of my students tend to view the board as a life saving device because they are not comfortable in the ocean. I have seen firsthand the damage a board can do to someone without the general water skills needed to learn surfing. I have had everything from a student having a wave lip break directly on his back, breaking the board in two under him. Fortunately, he was unhurt and we had a bit of laugh about it. The same cannot be said for another student who held onto a board while being sucked over a small 2-foot wave and being pile driven into the sand headfirst. All these could have been prevented if they had previous experience with the ocean and practiced some safety techniques.
Now, obviously knowing body surfing is not a fail-safe to getting yourself hurt out there. However, it makes you far more competent and more importantly, more comfortable in the ocean. In addition, as I say to many of my students the easiest part of surfing is the standing up! The hard part is understanding the ocean, reading the waves, Where you should be positioned to catch the wave etc. The best way to learn this is to be in the ocean a lot by yourself without a board. In addition, the ocean is always changing and unpredictable but the more you are out there the more instinctual and knowledgeable you will become.
Body surfing across the globe
Body surfing is practiced across the world and known In Hawai'i as he'e umauma (sliding with the chest) while surfing with a board, Handboard, handplane is called he'e nalu (literally, wave sliding) you may be starting to see the correlation with the branding ofSLYDE! Sliding is what we do whether it is on a stomach, Handboard, Handplane, Surfboard, Surfing, Snowboarding it is about the Slyde.
In Australia, body surfing is also known as 'body bashing'. Body bashing is colloquial for the rough and tumble of the experience of being dumped by badly chosen waves.
Body "whomping" is a Localized southern California term for body surfing at a beach with an extreme beach break. Any failure to pull out of the wave can result in being thrown into less than 2 inches of water, potentially resulting in injury...like a broken collarbone or neck. They may be referred to differently and techniques vary slightly but they are the essentially the same sport
Some would say body surfing, surfing and any sort of ocean water sports starts in the ocean but it is the preparation before you enter the ocean that will ultimately decide how successful you are at the sport.
Be prepared! Long before you get to the beach, it is good to be Inz good physical shape when you go out in to the ocean. You will be using those Reserve energy supplies. We have some great articles on surf fitness also has some great ways to get keep fit. It is all about the cardio.
You are in the ocean! It is probably a good idea you can hold your breath for more than a couple seconds before you decide you are going to Slyde down the face of a 6-foot wave. We have a great section that shows you the finer points of how to hold your breath for longer and great breathing exercises to incorporate into your fitness routine that will have you breathing like a big wave surfer in not too much time at all.
Before you head in take 5-10 minutes to inspect what is out in front of you. You would not cross a road without looking so do not go into the ocean without inspecting what you are about to walk into keep an eye out for:
- Rip currents
- High surf
- Set waves
- Submerged objects
Take note of possible rip currents and sideways water movement. The tell tale signs for these are usually noticeable from shore as rough churning water. These rips, as they are commonly referred to have the ability to send you out to sea in the blink of an eye. If you are inexperienced in the ocean, we would advise not even going in unless there is a Lifeguard on duty and you let them know you are inexperienced. They will advice you on where it is best for you to body surf / swim. This is also, why we recommend using Body surfing fins. Believe us when we say getting into trouble in the water happens quicker than you can imagine and it is too late once you are in the water to think of precautions.
When it comes to wave height if you are inexperienced and it looks intimidating from the shore that is probably because it is! Follow your gut on this. Again, when you are out there it is too late to decide it is too big as the lip of the wave hits you on the noggin. If you are a beginner, we suggest sticking to waves in the 1- to 4-foot range and avoid waves that crash too close to shore, or beaches where there is a sharp drop-off in the depth of the water.
For the more experienced watermen / woman: Set waves are a very complex and varied set of circumstances and if you wish to read a more in-depth article about set waves, Sean Collins has written a very informative article here. For less experienced: simply put, set waves are the name given to the set of bigger waves rolling in. If you have ever watched the ocean and noticed a calm sea and then all of a sudden the waves start to get bigger and rougher, you are looking as set waves. Set waves vary in size from day to day even hour to hour. Once you start to notice them, you will notice they have a consistent time lapse depending on the beach, and break type. Be aware that "set" waves are bigger than the in-between waves, watch for little while to allow the sets to roll through and make a decision based on their size not the in-between waves! Sets can be sometimes double or even triple the size of the in-between waves. In addition, keep in mind that a six-foot wave doesn't sound too big but remember you are viewing it from lying position and it is a good rule to follow that what you see from the shore double it from in the water.
Rocks and Submerged Objects
If it is your first time body surfing a spot, it is always a good idea to ask the lifeguard on duty if there are any possible submerged objects or, if there are no lifeguards, do the Surfline or Google thing and know before you go! Please keep in mind the ocean is very dangerous and can kill you. Never underestimate it! In addition, if you do not have fins or a Handboard, you are much more susceptible to currents and backwash than if you are on a surfboard because you are essentially swimming and do not have the board to keep you buoyant.
Always be aware of your position in the ocean while you are body surfing. A good tip is to choose a stationary object in front of you on land, either a building, lifeguard tower, etc and do the same to the left or right of your position. By doing this you will always know where you are and you can act quickly if you see yourself moving in either direction. Being washed out is probably the most dangerous and is not fun and happens quicker than you can possible imagine. Be prepared and aware and you will dramatically reduce your risk in the water, treat the ocean with respect and you should not have a problem!
Body surfing techniques
So now, I have hopefully sold you on the importance of getting bodysurfing under your belt as a budding waterman/woman. Without further a due let's move on to the techniques that are going to make it easier to master the finer details of how to catch and ride that wave further when you are body surfing. Please remember there is no substitute for experience so practice! Now that you have taken the appropriate precautions, it is time to have the fun. It may seem like a lot to remember when you are starting out most of the prep is common sense. So let's get out there
Let me just add that body surfing is not rocket science and does not take much to do all you need is yourself and a pair of fins. Bodysurfing in all its forms across the world is literally gliding across the face of the wave toward the shore. It is possible to do without fins however; you will find yourself having more fun and a lot more successful using fins than not using swim fins, therefore we recommend using fins. We have a section on choosing the best fins soon to come. Also not using fins can really be done successfully only be done closer to the shore where you can push off the ocean floor or if you are a very powerful swimmer if you are attempting to do it further out. You can view our Body surfing video of Will Pleskow Handboarding without fins here. Will is a very experienced surfer and waterman and is also using a Slyde Handboard, which makes it look a lot easier than it looks.
Body surfing has been referred to many as more than an art form than a sport. I think it has it has an equal quantity of both. Body surfing is a pure communion with the ocean and It takes some finesse and art to be perfected, just like surfing. However Spend an hour out in the water and tell me it's not a sport, it is one hell of a workout and many big wave surfers like Mark Visser and Mark Healy use body surfing as an integral part of their preparation for their big wave surfing. I think it can be called both a sport and an art form
Body Surfing Equipment What you need to body surf
- Fins / flippers (optional : We have a full section on best fins here)
- Handboard / handplane (optional)
Choosing the right beach
Bodysurfing can be done on just about every beach and wave type. That's the fun part about body surfing, it is accessible to everyone. Assuming you are a beginner to bodysurfing it is better to bodysurf on a sand beach break. Sand bottom is a lot less painful to head butt than a reef. A typically good beach to bodysurf for a beginner would have a slight slope. This allows you to walk out slowly to where the waves are breaking. We would suggest if you are going deeper than your chest to get to the breaking wave it might not be suitable.
Picking the Right Wave to Ride
After you have swam/walked out to where the waves are breaking, you will want to catch a wave back to shore. Always face the direction the waves are coming from (the horizon). Waves can sneak up on you! As they reach the shallow water, a wave will pitch up quickly and can take you by surprise, always be prepared for what coming toward you. The first you will see of the wave approaching you is a small mound of water moving toward you. They consistently break in the same area so position yourself accordingly. You will want to be behind the shoulder as shown in the image below. One of the many things about bodysurfing once you get the hang of it is you are able to take off on the wave a lot later than a surfer and allows you to get in really deep and get slotted/barrelled easier
Once you have seen a wave coming toward you and you are in the correct position to catch it turn around and start swimming/kicking toward the shore if you have fins, or if it is a shallow enough you can push off the sand ( we prefer using fins)
Catching the wave
Once you have chosen your wave and are committed to catching it, go for it and do not back down! To put anything other than everything into catching that wave will only cause injury. You have to be 100% committed to catching the wave.
When the wave is about 10-15 feet away, turn around and start swimming to give yourself enough forward momentum. As the wave gets closer you will start to feel the wave pulling you back toward the horizon, hang on, you are about to take the ride of your life. Bear in mind the wave still hasn't broken yet and is still forming. the closer the wave gets the more you will feel the sucking back and as it begins to pick you up, the backward pull will start to turn to a thrusting forward. Keep looking forward with occasional glances in the direction you want to go, left or right. You want to be aware of what you are in for,. Also, be aware of other boarders, swimmers and bodysurfers. Pull out if you see anything/anyone dropping in. if the coast is clear you are set.
With the combination of the forward momentum of the wave, your kicking and swimming, you will start to feel the exhilarating rush of the wave pushing you forward; it truly is a great feeling and you are now bodysurfing. As the wave picks you up and thrusts you forward extend your arm out in front of you. If you are going left, extend the left arm. Right, the right arm, lean into the direction you are going. Keep your head out the water. it is a little difficult to get real lift out of the water this is where having a handboard or handplane will come in helpful to give you extra speed and lift and you know where to get these. Continuing on your Slyde decent you may need to continue quick short kicks, depending on the size of the wave. This keeps your forward momentum going. Once your balance has shifted downward, you are in the Slyde. Once you are on the wave it depends on your wave choice and personal skill level that determines the distance and speed you are going ride.
When you get it right, it may take a few tries, you can ride the wave for some distance on your stomach. If at any point you want to terminate or "pull out" the most successful way without getting a nose full of water is to punch through the face of the wave with the shoulder facing the face of the wave give a few strong kicks and if all goes well you should pop out the back of the wave unscathed. If not you will have a couple seconds practicing holding your breath like in the previous article. The more you practice this technique the easier and smoother it will become. Once you have popped out the back the ride is over, you are stoked and you can begin the whole process again hours of free fun.
If you want to take your Bodysurfing to New Levels and start filming Read our article
That is pretty much it so get out there and have some fun if you a have any questions or comments or would like us to feature any other interesting articles please enter in our feedback or directly email us at email@example.com.