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bodyboarding


Type of surfing done on a soft, square-nosed, semiflexible board, usually in a prone position; invented in the early 1970s by Southern California surfboard designer Tom Morey. Bodyboarding is often described as the most popular form of surfing, as bodyboards outsell surfboards by a huge margin.

Although bellyboarding is the original form of boardsurfing, dating back hundreds if not thousands of years, it was all but dead by the late '60s; stand-up surfing was the runaway most popular way to ride, with kneeboarding a distant second. Morey gave new life to prone surfing in 1973 by marketing his two-year-old invention called the Morey Boogie, a 4' 6" by 23" bellyboard made mostly of closed-cell polyethylene packing foam. Easier, cheaper, and safer to ride than a surfboard, Boogie boards soon became popular, especially with kids and tourists: 80,000 units were shipped in 1977, just before Morey sold the Boogie to American toy giant Kransco. Sales figures more than quadrupled by the end of the decade, and bodyboards were soon available in thousands of coastal American drugstores and sporting goods stores, as well as surf shops. By the early '80s bodyboarding had its own identity, separate from stand-up surfing, with fast-evolving performance standards and homegrown heroes—most notably Jack Lindholm of Hawaii, inventor of the drop-knee stance and the first bodyboarder to ride Pipeline.

The first professional bodyboarding contest was the 1979 Morey/Gap Pro, held in Huntington Beach, California; six years later a bodyboarding division was added to the United States Surfing Championships, and in 1990 it became part of the World Amateur Surfing Championships. The Morey Boogie International Bodyboarding Championship, held at Pipeline and long considered the sport's unofficial world title, was founded in 1982, with Hawaiian sensation Mike Stewart winning the event 10 out of its first 15 years. (Stewart's reputation was so golden that his 1991  Surfer magazine profile was titled, "Is Mike Stewart the Best Surfer in the World?" The Pipeline contest itself was later renamed the Mike Stewart International Pipeline Pro.) Bodyboarding magazine, a spin-off of Surfing magazine, began publishing in 1985; more than 15 bodyboarding publications were founded worldwide in the next two decades. The Hawaii-based Global Organization of Bodyboarders was launched in 1995 to oversee and unify international professional competitions. In 2004, the organzation was renamed the International Bodyboard Association. As of 2014, the IBA Global Slam Series was the elite-level pro tour and the official world championship-granting circuit. 

Although millions of low-end bodyboards are still made from single-foam molds (using polystyrene, polyethylene, or EVA foam), today's high-performance bodyboards are laminates, usually made of EVA foam on the rails and deck, a polypropylene core, an internal carbon-fiber nose-to-tail stringer for added strength, and a slick hard-plastic bottom. Bodyboards are virtually indestructible. A high-quality bodyboard is generally about four feet long, two feet wide, two inches thick, and costs about $300. Dozens of companies worldwide manufacture performance-geared bodyboards; more than 100 others produce inexpensive single-foam models. About 750,000 bodyboards were sold annually in the United States in the mid-2000s, compared to an estimated 200,000 surfboards. Intermediate and advanced bodyboarders use swim fins to aid in catching waves; riders of all levels generally use a leash attached to the either the wrist, ankle or bicep.

The key to bodyboarding's popularity is that it's easy and immediately enjoyable for the beginner, but also an open-ended performance challenge to the expert. Small numbers of bodyboards are seen at most surf spots around the world; at a few dozen breaks generally regarded as too dangerous (or too shapeless) for board-surfing—Sandy Beach in Hawaii, the Wedge in California, Shark Island in Australia—bodyboards are the preferred wave-riding craft. Top bodyboarders can ride as deeply inside the tube as surfers; popular bodyboard maneuvers include 360-degree spinners, barrel rolls, and a wide variety of looping aerial moves. Some bodyboarders still use the drop-knee stance, placing one foot on the forward-area deck of the board; a smaller number rise all the way to their feet.

Stand-up surfers have traditionally viewed bodyboarding with ambivalence, or outright malice; the learning curve is too fast, the number of bodyboarders was, for a time,  too large, and their sense of cool is less developed. "They're just incredibly easy to hate," Australian surf journalist Nick Carroll wrote of bodyboarders in 1997. "Clinging on to their brightly-colored mass-produced plastic things like life-rafts in a storm, then riding the wave prone like a turtle, or half-raised on one knee like some brave competitor in the Special Olympics." ("Sponger," "booger," "lid-rider," and "speed-bump" are a few of the nicknames for bodyboarders.) A 1990 Tracks magazine article titled "Will the Next Generation of Surfers Please Stand Up" suggested that bodyboarding was compromising Australia's ability to produce world-class surfers. 

But bodyboarding has in fact been a stepping stone for many of the world's top surfers—eleven-time world champion Kelly Slater was a bodyboarder before he was a stand-up surfer—as well as providing a simple means for just about anyone to experience the power and thrill of riding a wave. Many of surfing’s best photographers also come from the bodyboarding ranks: Chris Burkard, Todd Glaser, and Scott Aichner, to name a few. Many of the world’s most fearsome surf breaks have been pioneered by bodyboarders—Shipsterns Bluff in Tasmania, Cyclops in West Australia, and Tahiti’s Teahupoo, for example. "To tell you the truth, boogie boarders found 'em all," Australian charger Justin Allpont told ESPN about bodyboarding’s influence in finding powerful, dangerous waves. “After hunting down all these spots, most of the time we'd find out that boogie boarders had already been there for awhile."

Bodyboarding’s popularity in the United States took a downward plunge in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. At least partially responsible was the surf industry’s exposure to the global recession; many surf companies stopped funneling money to bodyboarding, focusing instead on traditional standup surfing. In the early '90s, bodyboard sales plummeted by one-third. By the 2000s, an explosion of surf schools across the country directed newcomers to easy-to-ride soft-top surfboards, and away from bodyboards, further eroding bodyboarding’s market share. By the time Bodyboarding magazine folded in 2002, bodyboarding was practically invisible to the American surf media. 

In some areas, however, the sport's popularity remains strong: Australia and Latin America in particular, as well as the Canary Islands, Tahiti, parts of Europe, and Hawaii. Riptide, the oldest and longest-running bodyboard magazine, is published six times a year, out of Burleigh Heads, Australia. 

Influential bodyboarders in the post-Stewart era include six-time world champion Guiherme Tamega (Brazil), drop-knee ace Paul Roach (California), three-time world champion Jeff Hubbard (Hawaii), slab-charger Steve MacKenzie (Australia), three-time world champion Ben Player (Australia), and back-flip innovator Mike Eppelstun (Australia). Phyllis Dameron of Hawaii was the first internationally-known female bodyboarder, lauded for her fearless attack at Waimea Bay in the late '70s. Stephanie Petterson of Brazil became the first women's wordl champion, in 1990.