March 17, 2017 4 min read

Where Did Body Surfing Start

To Quote the great Mike Stewart who is widely regarded as one of the great bodysurfers and watermen of all time with 9 Bodyboarding  World Championships to his name and most recently won the 2016 bodysurfing world championships Says this about bodysurfing. To me, it's (bodysurfing) the best interaction between man and nature that exists.A Brief history to the sport of bodysurfing


A Polynesian pastime 

Even though Bodysurfing can be credited for being the purest form of wave riding. Unfortunately, there is very little factual history on the origins of bodysurfing. However, it is quite safe to presume that Bodysurfing is one of the oldest of the man-inspired water sports, apart from perhaps swimming. Body surfing in-fact pre-dates stand up surfing by giving or take a hundred years or more which according to Ben Finney a University of Hawaii Anthropologist who says that Surfing may go as far back as 2000BC. It is safe to say that without bodysurfing being practiced, it is quite likely surfing would have taken a lot longer to get to where it is today.  Or who knows, it may not have even been created!

Bodysurfing is for the fishes

It doesn’t take much to see where the inspiration for bodysurfing comes from. If you ever happen to be lucky enough to witness Dolphins or seals playing in the waves then it is not hard to imagine early bodysurfers were inspired by watching these incredible sea creatures glide through the waves

Bodysurfing first bit of history

The very little history that exists for bodysurfing only starts earnestly after the first recorded board riding adventures in 1899 when a young Polynesian Tommy Tanna taught the Australian Fred Williams how to bodysurf on the sunny beaches of Sydney. Williams then took it on himself to teach his local community the joy of riding a wave on their belly.

Captain Cook loved his bodysurfing 

There is also some speculation that even before 1899 over 100 years before, a young explorer by the name of Captain Cook Without Google Maps explored his way across the Pacific ocean to the Polynesian islands. It’s believed that after watching the local Polynesians majestically glide through the breaking waves was inspired to do the same. It is thought that While he was in the Island chain, Cook seized the opportunity to try and catch the large waves in the area without a buoyancy aid or board Sliding the waves on his stomach. During that period only Kings were allowed to (board) surf; However, body surfing was permitted for the common people.

Bodysurfing starts to spread

They also believe that as it was so easy to do with no equipment needed and the trade routes started to open up so did the popularity of Bodysurfing and it quickly spread to other countries. The sport was later banned by missionaries (we have no idea why). It is speculated it was because bodysurfing makes you feel spiritual and the Missionaries did not like the competition.

Bodysurfing in California

Bodysurfing first gained mass popularity in California during the 1920’s when the Olympic swimmer Wally O’Conner would gather large crowds to watch him riding the many breaks of southern California on his stomach all the way to the beach; people were mesmerized. A young talented USC football player by the name of Marion Morrison was a well-known bodysurfer from the Newport Beach area that ruined his promising football career by tearing all the ligaments in his shoulder when he took a heavy wipeout at Balboa Pier.  Then In 1931, the first ever book was published that was a beginners guide to bodysurfing called The art of wave riding.

Bodysurfing is the purest form

The Purest form of wave riding has all but taken a back seat to its cousin stand up surfing. However, it is widely regarded by many professional surfers to be the starting point of their careers as many of them started at a very young age learning how to negotiate the surf riding waves on the stomach before the took on board riding.

Even so, the sport has gone through its lows and after the leash was invented surfers were no longer required to have to bodysurf skills to swim after their boards in heavy surf and so the art form was all but lost other than a few faithful practitioners around the world.

As the 2000’s rolled around interest started to stir as the waterman movement started to become popular so did learning all forms of wave riding coupled with the advent of social media and the popularization of huge wave breaks like the Wedge in Newport beach the bodysurfer has seen a huge uptake in the interest of the sport as they become more and more revered for their ability and gung-ho attitude to riding waves that excite and maze anyone who watches them.

Bodysurfing is at its most popular now  

Lucky for us nowadays the sport is as popular as all ever from Australia to South Africa, and all over the world, the sport is gaining some serious momentum and rapidly gaining cult status. Unlike back in the day with Captain Cook, now all you need is your I-phone, and there's even an app that tells you where the good surf is! Of course, everybody else has it, so it may not as un-crowded as Captain Cook session but hell it is all about having fun and enjoying the ocean no matter how you ride it.

If you have any thoughts or suggestions on this article or want us to add anything, please leave a comment below

steven watts
steven watts

Growing up in South Africa, Steve spent his youth dreaming of far off places. After spending eight years extensively traveling to many of the great surf destinations of the world getting dengue fever, having a near death experience from a falling coconut in mexico, Surviving a 15 foot drop on a handboard on a Nias bomb, jumping from every rock he could find without adequate health insurance. and comprehensively debunking the myth there are no waves in Thailand, even if they are small. He decided it was time for a a degree. Steve Graduated from Central Saint Martins School of Art and Design in London with a degree in product design. He missed his graduation to go surfing in Californian, found a kindred spirit with Venice and never left