This is a comprehensive guide on how to bodysurf, with tricks and tips on how to make your experience bodysurfing more enjoyable. This how to was written for someone with little, to no experience in bodysurfing or the ocean. If you consider yourself a seasoned bodysurfer, you might want to try one of our Slyde handboards to take your experience to the next level.
If you are planning to go into the ocean at any point you “need” to learn how to bodysurf, if nothing else for safety reasons. Bodysurfing is an essential part of the learning curve to becoming a great all-around water man or water woman.
Unfortunately, bodysurfing has taken a back seat to stand up or regular surfing. I say it is unfortunate because bodysurfing is the best way to learn how the ocean works. By learning and understand the dynamics of the wave you will become a better all-around water man or woman. Bodysurfing has you immersed in the water and you can feel the ebb and flow so much more acutely than any waterboard sport.
After teaching surfing for 5 years I came to the conclusion that 90% of the student that I taught would have been leaps ahead if they had simply spent a few hours learning how to bodysurf. Bodysurfing gives you that simple appreciation and understanding of the ocean you don’t get when learning with a board.
You have had a wave crash on top of your head more times than you've enjoyed riding one.
You have never really caught the wave and most times it just goes straight over you.
You caught the wave, but you only went about 3 feet.
Worst and most dangerously, you got sucked up and over with the wave. This is not a nice feeling!
Learning to Bodysurf takes a little practice but once you get it right you will have the time of your life, and you will never forget that first wave. It’s easy to get disheartened when the only experience you’ve had is getting dumped by a wave. By sticking to a few simple techniques and practice it won’t take you long to bodysurf like a seal.
Some would say bodysurfing, surfing and any sort of ocean water sport starts in the ocean, but it is the preparation before you enter
the ocean that will ultimately decide how successful you are at the bodysurfing. As with any physical activity it is really important that you properly stretch out before entering the ocean. Stretching reduces cramping read more about ways to reduce cramping here and also goes a long way to reducing injuries in the water. We have put together a great article that includes a great training and stretching program for bodysurfing
From your costume to your fins always make sure you have your equipment is in good order malfunctions can either be
embarrassing or dangerous. Honestly its not the highlight of your day walking back to shore in your birthday suit after loosing your trunks to the ocean, Don't laugh its happened to the best of us. Worse off is loosing a fin in big surf and having to swim back in heavy surf without the help of fins. Lifeguards don't appreciate saving stupidity. For further reading check out our article on choosing a great wetsuit and choosing the best fins for you.
Be prepared! Long before you get to the beach, it is important to be in good physical shape when you go into the ocean. Working out is not
only great to live great to live a long and active life and bodysurfing keeps you very fit, however You will be using those reserve energy supplies. We put together a great training and stretching program for bodysurfers here. Check it out its a great way to keep supple and in shape. Remember bodysurfing is all about the cardio, strength is not as important.
Practicing breathing and holding your breath techniques are very important parts of being out in the ocean and
are highly recommended before you decide to Slyde down the face of a 6-foot wave. Read more on this really important breath holding training and techniques also we recommend reading The finer points of how to hold your breath for longer underwater. The Article also has great breathing exercises to incorporate into your fitness routine that will have you breathing like a big wave surfer in not too much time at all.
Before you head out, take 5-10 minutes to inspect what is out in front of you. You would not cross a road without looking, so don’t go into the ocean without inspecting what you are about to walk into. Keep an eye out and be aware of the below dangers
Take note of possible rip currents and sideways water movement. The telltale signs for these are usually noticeable from shore as
rough churning water. These rips, as they are commonly referred to, have the ability to send you out to sea in the blink of an eye. If you are inexperienced in the ocean, we would advise not even going in unless there is a lifeguard on duty. Then, you should let them know you are inexperienced. They will advise you on where it is best for you to bodysurf / swim. This is also why we recommend using bodysurfing fins. Believe us when we say that getting into trouble in the water happens much quicker than you can imagine, and it is too late once you are in the water to think of precautions. To read more on Rip currents check out our full article on how to avoid and get out of rip currents.
For the more experienced watermen or women, set waves are a very complex and varied set of circumstances. For the less
experienced, simply put, set waves are the name given to a set of bigger waves rolling in. If you have ever watched the ocean and noticed a calm sea and then all of a sudden the waves start to get bigger and more consistant, you are looking at set waves. Set waves vary in size from day to day or even hour to hour. Once you start to notice them, you will notice they have a consistent time lapse depending on the beach and break type. Be aware that "set" waves are bigger than the in-between waves.
Watch the ocean for a little while to allow the sets to roll through and make a decision based on their size, not the in-between wave sizes! Sets can be sometimes double or even triple the size of the in-between waves. In addition, keep in mind that a six-foot wave doesn't sound too big but remember you are viewing it from lying position and it is a good rule to follow that what you see from the shore will be double even triple from in the water.
When it comes to wave height, if you are inexperienced and it looks intimidating from the shore that is probably because it is. Follow your gut on this. When you are out there, it is too late to decide if it is too big as the lip of the wave hits you on the head. If you are a beginner, we suggest sticking 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 it is your first time bodysurfing at a spot, it is always a good idea to ask the lifeguard on duty if there are any possible
submerged objects or like rocks or sharp objects or, if there are NO lifeguards on duty, do your due diligence on Surfline or Google the break and find out if there is anything you need to be aware of before bodysurfing there. Please always keep in mind the ocean is very dangerous and can kill you. Never underestimate it! In addition, if you do not have fins or a handboard, you are much more susceptible to currents and backwash than if you are on a surfboard because you are essentially swimming and do not have the board to keep you buoyant. Read our article on keeping fit for bodysurfing it could save your life
Always be aware of your position in the ocean while you are bodysurfing. A good tip is to choose a stationary object in front of you on land,such as a building, lifeguard tower, etc and do the same to the left or right of your position. By doing this, you will always know where you are and can act quickly if you see yourself moving in either direction. Being washed out is probably the most dangerous thing that can happen to you. It’s not fun and happens quicker than you can possible imagine. Be prepared and aware and you will dramatically reduce your risk in the water. Treat the ocean with respect and you should not have a problem! Read our article how to avoid and get out of rip currents and avoid rips altogether.
The Beauty to bodysurfing is there is not a lot you really need
Bodysurfing can be done on just about every beach and wave type. That's the fun part about bodysurfing: it’s accessible to everyone.
Assuming you are a beginner to bodysurfing, it is better to bodysurf on a sand beach break. Sand bottom is a lot less painful to head butt than a reef.
A typically good beach to bodysurf for a beginner would have a slight slope. This allows you to walk out slowly to where the waves are breaking. We would suggest that if you have to go deeper than your chest to get to the breaking wave, it might not be suitable for a beginner bodysurfer. We also suggest that you find a beach with a long breaking wave. By this we mean not waves that break straight onto shore. The further out tyhe break and roll in the longer you will be able to ride and the more time you get on the wave the quicker you will improve.watch this great video on the learning to handboard and bodysurf
Which is the best wave for you? After you have swam/walked out to where the waves are breaking, you will want to catch a wave back to shore.
Always face the direction the waves are coming from (the horizon). Be aware waves can sneak up on you. As it reaches the shallow water, a wave will pitch up quickly and can take you by surprise. Always be prepared for what is coming towards you. The first you will see of the wave approaching is a small mound of water moving towards you. They consistently break in the same area, so position yourself accordingly. You will want to be behind the shoulder, as shown in the image below. One of the many things about bodysurfing is that once you get the hang of it, you are able to take off on the wave a lot later than a surfer. This allows you to get in really deep and get slotted/barreled easier.
Once you see a wave coming towards you and you are in the correct position to catch it, turn around and start swimming/kicking towards the shore if you have fins, or if it is shallow enough, you can push off the sand (we prefer using fins).watch this great video on the learning to handboard and bodysurf
Once you have chosen your wave and are committed to catching it, go for it and do not back down. To put anything other than everything
into catching it. When the wave is about 10-15 feet away, turn around and start swimming towards the shore give yourself enough forward momentum. As the wave gets closer, you will start to feel the wave pulling you back toward the horizon. Hang on, you are about to take the ride of your life. Keep in mind, the wave hasn't broken yet and is still forming. The closer the wave gets, the more you will feel it sucking back as it begins to pick you up. The backward pull will start to turn to a thrusting forward push. Keep looking forward with occasional glances in the direction you want to go either left or right. You want to be aware of what is ahead of yo. Also, be aware of other boarders, swimmers and bodysurfers. Pull out if you see anything/anyone dropping in. Please read our article on bodysurfer and ocean etiquette If the coast is clear, you are set!
With the combination of the forward momentum of the wave and your kicking and swimming, you will start to feel the exhilarating rush of the wave pushing you forward, It truly is a great feeling. You are now bodysurfing. As the wave picks you up and thrusts you forward, extend your arm out in front of you. If you are going left, extend the left arm. If you’re going right, extend the right arm. Lean into the direction you are going and keep your head out of the water. It is a little difficult to get real lift out of the water. This is where having a handboard or handplane will come in handy to give you some extra speed and lift choose a handboard here choose a handboard here . Continuing on your Slyde descent, you may need to continue quick short kicks, depending on the size of the wave. This keeps your forward momentum going while you are still on the wave. Once your balance has shifted downward, you are in the Slyde. It will depend on your wave choice and personal skill level that determines the distance and speed with which you are going ride.watch this great video on the learning to handboard and bodysurf
When you get it right, (it may take a few tries), you can ride the wave for some distance on your stomach. If at any point you want to
terminate or "pull out", the most successful way without getting a nose full of water is to punch through the face of the wave with the shoulder facing the face of the wave and give a few strong kicks.
If all goes well, you should pop out the back of the wave unscathed. If not, you will have a couple seconds practicing holding your breath. The more you practice your breathing technique, the easier and smoother it will become. Once you have popped out the back the ride is over, you are stoked and you can begin the whole process again. Hours of free fun!watch this great video on the learning to handboard and bodysurf
Bodysurfing has been referred to many as more of an art form than a sport. I think it has it has an equal quantity of both. Bodysurfing is a pure communion with the ocean and it takes some finesse and art to be perfected, just like surfing. However, spend an hour out in the water and tell me it's not a sport. It is of a workout, and many big wave surfers like Mark Visser and Mark Healy use bodysurfing as an integral part of their preparation for their big wave surfing. I think it can be called both a sport and an art form.
Hopefully now you understand the importance of learning to bodysurf as a waterman or woman. Please remember there is no substitute for experience, so practice! Now that you have taken the appropriate precautions, it is time to have the fun. It may seem like a lot to remember when you are starting out, but most of the prep is common sense. So let's get out there get bodysurfing!