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How to Body Surf

How to Body Surf? The Best Practices to Read & ‘Ride’ Waves

By Sophia the SeaMonster on Jan 08, 2023

If you have yet to be in stand-up surfing or have had just a few surfs already, then learning how to bodysurf can be overwhelming and exhausting. That’s not to say you can't ever do that; the only point is that the time and effort taken to learn and become good at it would increase drastically.

Assuming you’re an experienced board surfer - whether you want to level up your surfing regimen or the costs of surfboards are of concern, then bodysurfing will be even more fun than traditional board surfing.

In fact, it’ll be pretty easy for you as you’re already nailed down primary skills similar in both types of surfing. The icing on the cake is that the guide I’m going to provide here contains all the steps, tips, and tricks that a beginner bodysurfer needs to know before and during the real adventure. Let’s make you a successful first-timer in no time!

But first, as a refresher…

What is Body Surfing?

As the name suggests, bodysurfing is using your body to ride waves instead of doing so on a surfboard. This is an offshoot of traditional board surfing, often adapted by experienced surfers.

Body Surfing: Arranging the Success Toolkit!

In bodysurfing, your safety, learning speed, and success rate depend on how prepared you are beforehand. So, before you get into the fun part, make sure you’ve got the things below:

Bodysurfing Requirements

1. Strong Body and Mind Make for Good Bodysurfers

Ask stand-up surfers how drastically their fitness levels reduced the time needed to learn board surfing. The same goes for bodysurfing.

The fitter you are, the lower your chances of missing sound waves because you get exhausted early.

The only difference is in the types of exercises. Among the muscles that stand-up surfing involves are arms and shoulders, to paddle toward a wave, plus You indeed have to use your legs and hip movement to compress, decompress, and ride a wave. But what bodysurfing tests is your core muscles and the capacity of your breathing. If you're confident about these two aspects, cheers, my friend! If not, the internet is filled with tons of great core muscles and meditation breathing exercises. Remember that you don’t need to be a bodybuilder or a yoga geek. Instead, a moderate level of training can quickly get you there!

2. The Ability to Swim

Life without water and bodysurfing without knowing how to swim is impossible!

But still, cheers, my friend. – learning bodysurfing doesn’t demand you to be a pro swimmer; having a certain swimming ability has been the key for many beginner surfers, and so will it for you.

However, the better you’re at swimming, the faster and easier bodysurfing will become for you as a beginner.

Equipment

Though bodysurfing is all about using the body as a whole and not using any additional equipment, having some specialized tools at hand can make the learning process easier and increase the chances of catching a wave and riding it for longer. These are the following equipment to use:

Bodysurfing Fins

Surfing fins, swim fins, flippers, surfing footwear, whatever name people know them for, they're a must for getting the most out of your body surfing experience. Seeing your ideals going finless inspires, but they most likely have been there as a beginner.

Not only do flippers skyrocket speed, but they also improve maneuverability, minimize fatigue, and help increase your barrel count. The speed flippers help you cut through the water faster and recover the distance lost from breaking waves. Plus, they can provide enough swimming power to get out of a rip current, which can drag you out to sea. A lifesaver, isn’t it?

Right-fitting fins allow for optimal maneuverability. This means that the extra foot length that flippers provide enables you to ride a wave easily by making a sharp turn quickly!

Want to go airborne as well? A good pair of fins may give you the extra boost to leap out of the water like a dolphin!

Note:

With lots of swim fins available for different watersports, you must ensure the pair you’re buying is mainly designed for bodysurfing.

Bodysurfing Handplanes/handboards

These tiny boards are worn on the surfer’s leading hand. Like flippers, these boards also boost speed, enhance control and maneuverability, and allow for a longer barrel time. But there’s a lot more to using a hand plane than just speed:

  • Increased Lift - Pushing down onto the plane will force the water to flow fast through the concave on the underside and create a ‘lift.’ With that lift once created, The shape of the plane and rails will allow you to hold your position on the wave face and give you maximum control and speed.
  • Better Positioning - With the plane stuck on the wave face, you’re more likely to attain and retain your position for longer. You’re also less likely to be slipped down the wave face as you maintain your position.
  • Novelty - With all that better speed, control, and positioning provided, you’ll have more odds of playing different tricks in less time and for longer! Also, switching directions becomes more accessible and faster.
  • Catching Waves - With the leading hand closer to the wave, the chances of catching waves you love, even if they seem a bit farther, becomes easy. More with less!
  • Easy Usage - They’re very portable and Convenient for travel.

Body Surfing: Step-By-Step Journey to Your First Ride

Let’s guide you through the entire process, from start to finish, as quickly as you’re impatient!

1. Choosing the Right Beach

Well, there’s nothing like a right or wrong beach for bodysurfing - it can be done on just about every beach and wave type. Assuming you’re a beginner, below are some parameters to keep in mind beach-wise:

  • Sand Beach Break - Always better to choose a ‘sand’ beach break instead of a reef. Sand bottom is a lot less painful to the head and body.
  • Slope - Gently sloping beaches allow you to walk out slowly to where the wave breaks. The slower you walk, the more time you can take to better judge a wave and, in turn, catch it faster.
  • Wave Breaking Distance - A beach where waves break close to shore is your idea for successful bodysurfing. The farther out from the shore the waves break and roll in, and the shorter riding time you’ll get.

2. Pick the Right Wave

Right or wrong waves do exist. Judging a right wave increases your likelihood of catching and hanging on it successfully - and quickly!

Given that a beach where the surf conditions aren’t all that great and where waves break nearer to the shore, there would always be small, shallow, and mushy waves. And this is precisely the right stuff for a beginner bodysurfer.

3. Get Into the Ocean Now

Found the right wave? Checked. Identified its breaking point? Checked. Time to tie up your belts - of the fins and planes!

  • Walk into the ocean until you’re waist-deep and not more. Never bother if you even pass the breaking point of the wave. 
  • While facing the direction the waves are coming from (the horizon), always be prepared (both mentally and physically) for what is heading toward you. The waves pitching up quickly and sneaking up on you will almost always be sure to happen.
  • When you see a small mound of water moving towards you, position yourself accordingly.

Committed to catching one right now?

4. Catch Your Perfect Wave - Perfectly!

So, there are two ways to catch a wave:

  1. Wait for the oncoming wave to approach you
  2. Start swimming toward it and catch

I recommend not using the second method as it’s a bit more tiring than the first one. The energy you'll use for swimming toward the wave can be saved and utilized when catching and finally riding the wave. Also, the more you wait for the wave, the more you can take your time to better judge the wave and make better decisions.

So, assuming you’ve chosen the latter method, let's explore what to do when the wave finally approaches:

  • Stand facing the shore while noticing the oncoming wave. As the wave comes closer, it will start pulling you back toward the horizon.
  • When the wave is at arm’s distance, stretch your leading arm (with the hand plane strapped on) and dive straight into it. 
  • Make big scoops in the water as you paddle and kick your feet as much as possible to build speed.
  • As you’re in the wave, feeling the urge to resist and react is inevitable. But the key idea is to let go and focus on maintaining lift using your fins, planes, and core muscles.

5. It’s Time for the Ride!

Now that you’ve successfully got the lift, how to maintain that? You’ll often drop out of the wave because of a lack of concentration or not knowing what the wave is doing. You can easily kick back on the floor and get back to the wave. But that’s quite normal; many pro-bodysurfers face such drops many times.

Here’s the body position you need to assume and steps when you’re on the wave, lifting yourself on a good balance:

  • Keep your body parallel to the ocean floor. Keep looking forward while taking occasional glances in the direction you want to go.
  • As soon as the wave begins to lift you, stop kicking, and thrust the leading hand (combine the other hand for more power) in the direction you want to go.
  • Put your head down, so it aligns with your leading arm.
  • You must simultaneously stiffen and streamline your entire body - from the leading arm's fingers and palm right through to the tops of the feet and toes.
  • Create forward/downward momentum by pushing your weight onto the leading arm.
  • About half of your body should be out of the water to body surf a wave well.

The wave’s forward momentum, coupled with your kicking and swimming, will make you feel the exhilarating rush of the wave pushing you forward. That’s not a mere great feeling - you’re now bodysurfing!

Final Words

Passion, perseverance, and patience are the recipe for success with anything new. You’re the luckiest if you successfully ride your first one on the first attempt. However, false attempts are sure to happen. But keep catching waves and trying different things with your body until you're comfortable and ready to move on. We’re eager to see you waving us a hand soon!

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