More of an art than a sport, body surfing is pure communion with the ocean. You are literally gliding across the face of wave, using nothing more than your body. On your last beach vacation, you may have tried body surfing on your own. But chances are that you ended up swimming like mad toward shore, hoping that the oncoming wave would lift you up, only to find yourself sinking and performing some kind of underwater summersault.
Body surfing requires almost no preparation, except to know a few safety tips and basic techniques. The only equipment you need is swim fins. It is possible to catch waves very near the shore without fins, but then the rides wil be much shorter.
PICKING THE RIGHT WAVE TO BODY SURF
The first step in learning how to body surf is knowing how to pick the right beach and the right wave.
Body surfing can be enjoyed at almost any beach in the world that has breaking waves. Look for a gentle sloping beach that allows you to wade out into the water for some distance. You will want to body surf in waves that break at an angle from top to bottom, instead of crashing down all at once.
Beginners should stick 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. If you take a few steps into the water and suddenly find yourself in water that is over your head, it’s probably not a good beach for practicing body surfing. This kind of beach typically creates large, crashing waves that are close to shore and can break bones.
BODY SURFING TECHNIQUE
In waist- to chest-deep water, you can simply push off the ocean floor, start stroking toward shore, and angle down the face of the oncoming wave. Presto…you’re a body surfer! If you’re in deeper water, or if you are catching waves are breaking further outside, you will need swim fins to gain enough speed.
The trick to body surfing is to get your head and shoulders down below your hips and legs. When this happens, the hips and legs rise and your center of balace shifts downward. Gravity, aided by the force of the wave and your strokes and kicsk, starts the slide. Once the slide begins and you feel the exuberant rush, your head and shoulders will come up. Now the chest becomes a planning surface, and off you go with your body becoming a surfboard.
On larger, well-formed waves, more experienced body surfers cut diagonally across the face of a wave, trying to race the peeling curl.
If you see a wave coming and you don’t want to body surf it, drop the shoulder that faces the wave. This motion turns your body into the wave and pushes you out the back of the wave. This is NOT a forward roll movement. Push yourself back into the wave, stroking to make sure you come out the back.
There are a ton of different types and brands of bodysurfing fins out there. Here is a short list of some of the more popular and innovative bodysurfing fins to get you started on your search for a new set of fins.
Churchill fins have a patented design, which gives you power and acceleration for catching waves. These floating fins have some unique characteristics making them a great bodysurfing fin. The rubber foot pocket covering your foot is soft for complete comfort and includes a drain hole while the rubber found on the blade is stiff for more power when kicking.
Claim to produce the most efficient kick possible, by having a strong and rigid fin that has vertical sidewalls to direct the flow of water. They have bright color splotches on them making them easy to find floating in the water. They have padded neoprene foot pockets that are pretty comfortable, and are used by bodysurfers, bodyboarders, and lifeguards regularly. Viper Fins
The Custom-X Swim Fin was designed by bodyboarders for bodyboarders, and works great for bodysurfers as well. They have added length for more kick power and have smoothed edges in the foot pocket for comfort, and of course, they float as well.
Here is a different take on a bodysurfing fin. It’s a fin based more on the lower leg and foot, supposedly creating a more natural swimming feel as you use them. Shinfin
SOME FAMOUS BODY SURFING BEACHES:
There are countless places around the world that offer good bodysurfing waves. We can’t possibly list them all here, but here is a short list of some better known bodysurfing spots around the world.
Las Escolleras beach – Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo, Mexico
Las Escolleras Beach in Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo, Mexico is home of the annual Torneo Internacional de Bodysurf Las Escolleras, a well-known bodysurfing competition. The waves here can be world-class for bodysurfing, and get quite powerful.
The Wedge – Newport Beach, California
The Wedge is one of the most famous bodysurfing spots in the world, located in Newport Beach California. Wave faces here can reach upwards of 20 feet on big south swells and hurricane-generated swells during the spring, summer, and fall. Known as a proving ground for the world’s best, The Wedge is for the most experienced bodysurfers only.
Sandy Beach – Southeast Oahu, Hawaii
Sandy Beach is a bodysurfing and bodyboarding paradise. The waves here break close to shore over sand. They get very hollow over the shallow bottom, producing great barrels. The consistent easterly trades create windswell waves here year round. You may even have a chance to catch a wave with President Obama, as some bodysurfers did this past Fall.
Pipeline – North Shore Oahu, Hawaii
Every year the Pipeline Bodysurfing Classic competition runs at Banzai Pipeline. This is the biggest event of the year for bodysurfers. It is also the only time of year that bodysurfers get the wave to themselves. Probably not the best place for you to go out and try and bodysurf, but you may get the chance to see Mark Cunningham, a legendary bodysurfer, out there with the rest of the surfers being the only one without a board.
Waimea Bay – North Shore Oahu, Hawaii
The most popular bodysurfing spot on the North Shore, Waimea Bay can be very thick and powerful, breaking right on shore. When the waves pick up the lifeguards will not let you out with out swim fins because the currents can be dangerous. If you’re ready for the biggest barrels and biggest beatings of your life, Waimea is the spot.
Pounders – Northeast Oahu, Hawaii
With swell provided from the trade winds year round, Pounders always has good bodysurfing. Known on the island for being one of the best places to go for some small shore-pounding barrels.
Oceanside Pier – Oceanside, California
Home of the World Bodysurfing Championships, the beach breaks around the Oceanside Pier are great for bodysurfing most of the year.
Point Panic – South Shore Oahu, Hawaii
The only beach on the whole island where there are no boards permitted, exclusive to bodysurfers. It is an amazing right barrel with a good South Swell.
Narrabeen Beach – North Sydney, Australia
Home of some big Australian bodysurfing contests; Narrabeen Beach is a good place to go in Australia. There are consistent waves available most of the year.
Sumatra – Indonesia
As seen in many surf movies in recent years, the perfect waves of Indo are also good for bodysurfing when the conditions are right. A smaller day in Indo and you could be wave sliding on your body for a hundred yards or more.
Some final thoughts before you go out…
- Start out by bodysurfing with a friend or under the watch of a lifeguard.
- Don’t be afraid to swim or dive under waves that you don’t want to bodysurf.
- Observe the ocean rules of etiquette: stay out of the way if someone else is on a wave.
- Have fun!