Surfing takes practice and, for many of us, a physical skill set we just don’t have anymore. On the other hand, bodyboarding is fun, easy and offers beachgoers a chance to cool off, soak up some sun, and experience the special thrill found only in the power and magic of a breaking wave.
Bodyboarding is an ancient form of surfing believed to have originated with Indigenous Polynesians who rode “Alaia” boards either on their belly, knees, or sometimes on their feet. Alaia boards were generally made from the wood of Acacia koa trees and eventually evolved into what is known as a “Paipo,” a more modern form typically made from wood or fiberglass. From there, engineer-inventor Tom Morey, considered the father of bodyboarding, created the “boogie board,” which he designed to bring a fast, lightweight, and inexpensive option to the masses.
Riding a boogie board requires no special skill other than a basic level of fitness and the ability to swim. It is also a wonderful way to introduce young children to the ocean where they can learn the movement of the sea and how to handle themselves in the waves. For adults, riding waves is not only a blast but is also a great workout for the core and upper body.
Before we get into equipment and technique it’s important to keep safety in mind before you go riding. Sunscreen is at the top of the list. Bodyboarding is so much fun that you may find yourself in the water for extended periods and forget all about that big burning ball in the sky. Invest in a quality sunscreen that is waterproof and be generous when applying and reapplying. Additionally, ride in a guarded area and check the water conditions before you go in. Rip currents are always dangerous, but shore breaks are also a hazard for riders. If the shoreline is sloped and waves are breaking too close, you could find yourself crashing face-first into the sand. Also, pay attention to other people in the water. You may see a great wave coming but if there are people in your potential path, just skip it, move over, and catch the next one.
There are all kinds of boards available in different price ranges. Some are fiberglass, like surfboards, and many more are made from varied types of foam but here is a tip: our beaches rarely see the enormous powerful waves common in Hawaii and on the Pacific coast. In Florida, riding a foam core board will make even small waves feel faster and more exciting. The most important consideration when looking for the right board is size. They usually range from 32 to 48 inches so the best way to select the proper size is to hold the board in front of you, just under your chin, and make sure it extends to your knees. Avoid styrofoam boards as they tend to break too easily- and look for something with a slick bottom. Another important feature you will want is a wrist leash. You and everyone else around you will be safer if your board does not escape you in a wave. Optional equipment includes short swim fins. These can help with speed and steering and are often used by advanced boarders in big surf.
If you’re just beginning or teaching a child to ride, it is best to start out at low tide in the shallow white water near shore to get used to the feel of the board and the movement of the water. Once you are comfortable then you can head for the bigger waves. You will catch the best ride on a wave just as it’s about to crest. You should be able to feel the pull in the wall of the wave before it breaks. The biggest mistake beginners make is expecting that the board will do all the work and all they need to do is hang on for the ride. This usually results in a loss of balance and a good tumble off the board. To ride well and stay balanced you must grip both rails tightly and keep tension between your upper body and the board. This will give you more control, resulting in a better, safer ride. Once you have mastered the basics, you will be off and running with the waves!