Professional surfing has grown in popularity for as long as I can remember. It’s not unusual to hear pro surfers earning six figure salaries or even more. In some cases there have been pro surf competitions where first place earns you a cool million dollars. With that much money and attention, there is pressure, there are demands, and there comes a time where the essence of wave riding is pushed to the background.
Bodyboarding suffers none of the complexes of professional surfing.
True, backing of bodyboarding events is lackluster in comparison, but so is your average public perception. Bodyboarding, or boogie boarding is looked down upon when talking about wave riding and from the getgo, we bodyboarders are considered inferior wave riders.
I can say this quite confidently since I’m a bodyboarder and can disagree with a smile on my face, since we do rather prefer to let the riding do the talking.
For over 20 years I’ve been bodyboarding seriously with an added extra 9 years of surfing in super small breaks. It is one of my true passions and I often say that the ocean is the only place where things make sense and where I can find peace.
Still, as a bodyboarder, you’re pretty much questioned why you ride a bodyboard instead of going standup quite often. For me, the answer has several levels. First off, cost of bodyboard equipment is far more sensible than standup boards. A quality stand-up board can land you anywhere from $400-$700, depending on quality, shaper, and other factors. A top tier bodyboard and fins will cost you at the most around $300. Then there’s durability. If you care for your board, standup boards have far, far more shelf life than a bodyboard. That is a fact. But if your board goes and lands nose first, odds are you just snapped your board and lost several hundred dollars in the process. A bodyboard will take a ridiculous amount of punishment in comparison. The shelf life will not be as long because we have a foam deck and because by nature, we will launch and land several maneuvers that put strain on the board.
Then there’s the whole matter of versatility. In this category, bodyboarding is king over pretty much any other wave riding vehicle. You can ride on your belly, in the dropknee stance (one knee up, one knee down), or even standup. I’m not saying this because I’m sold out on bodyboarding, it’s just a fact and you can see plenty of video that will show you this. And that’s just basic stances, when it comes to moves, again, bodyboarding trumps standup surfing. Airs, rolls, air roll spins, backflips, invert airs, air forward spins, air reverse spins and a whole other combination of acrobatics show that if you put your mind to it, there’s no limit to what you can pull off on a bodyboard.
So in stances and moves, we have it covered, though like an infomercial I feel the need to say: “but wait, there’s more.”
Wave types. You can ride most any type of wave condition on a bodyboard and plenty that aren’t suitable for standup surfing. Physics play a role in this. Bodyboarders can take off later and deeper because by being in a prone position, we are more in control. And when I mean late drops, I’m talking about “free falling several feet to land inside the barrel and coming out” late. By also having durable punishment loving boards, we can ride nasty shore breaks that pretty much break on dry sand without having to worry whether we will break a board. We just go for it.
Another aspect I love about my sport is the learning curve. It is so easy to pick up that most anyone can learn to bodyboard. That brings its challenges because there may be people who shouldn’t be out in the water in certain conditions, but hey, we’ve all been grommets at some time and the name of the game is safety. Still, you can see kids picking it up rather easily, sure, but the extent to which you can hone your skills is amazing and what you can do on a bodyboard shows just how high and far the learning curve can reach. It’s not the same to surf 1 ft ripples than it is to line up a huge section and just go for it.
Respect for women. Although women’s professional surfing has come a long way, I still feel most people look down on women standup surfers as inferior to men. In bodyboarding, Isabela Sousa, Natasha Sagardia, Alexandra Rinder, Neymara Carvalho and a host of other women chargers are elite riders that go beyond gender and put guys to shame in waves of consequence. They don't ride good for a girl, it's that they rip.
Community work. Maybe professional surfers do activities and just don’t cover them in the news, but the effort I see in professional bodyboarders to work and connect with communities and talk to young children is something I respect, admire, and support. Every single time they come to Puerto Rico, they talk to schools and I’ve lost count of how many kids are kept off the streets of Brazil by taking up a bodyboard. It is a community centered sport and by all means, check out what professional bodyboarding associations do in Brazil, South Africa, Australia, and Puerto Rico just to get an idea of their commitment.
Money is not the driver. By being underfunded, that’s actually been a godsend in a certain way. Bodyboarding is run by bodyboarders, not corporations. Professional bodyboarders often have to do other jobs to make ends meet but when they hit the water, there’s no holding back whatsoever. Everyone is pushing each other to go bigger, take off deeper and earn that victory.
Another thing I have to say of pro bodyboarders is that they truly are much kinder and open to fans. Mike Stewart is a legend in all wave riding disciplines. By this, I mean that everyone in every sport in the water respects the man and in Pipeline, if he takes off, no one drops in on him. I met the man. He’s won as many bodyboarding titles as you can count and in bodysurfing, honestly he’s not human. Yet when I met him, the stoke he showed, the genuine kindness and down to earthness he exhibited set quite the example. The same with several other elite riders. The Hubbard brothers were super kind, Damian King, Dave Winchester, Guilherme Tamega, and I can keep naming people you don’t know about, but who are legends of the sport. I’ve met so many and they’ve all been so kind and welcoming. I tried the same with standup surfers and was often disappointed by egos.
And that’s the thing, bodyboarders are proud by nature, but humble by context. I’ve been riding a bodyboard for the majority of my existence and it’s brought me a life’s worth of happiness and experiences that have shaped me into the human I am today. I am forever grateful and I invite you t pick up a board and fins and give it a try. Who knows? It may be the best thing that ever happened to you. I know it was for me.
Peace, love, and maki rolls.