The Human Surfboard – How To Body Surf
Body surfing has to be one of the purest sports around, with nothing between you and the powerful surge of the sea. It’s full of thrills and spills.
Learning how to do it is usually a matter of monkey-see, monkey-do, with a dash of trial and error mixed in. As you experiment and practice, keep these pointers in mind…
Catching The Right Wave
The ideal conditions for body surfing are waves, that are at least two feet high, and break softly at least thirty feet from a sandy, gently sloping shore.
Waves which are too big require a level of expertise that beginners won’t have, so you’ll need to get good at eyeballing waves, and gauging if they are the right size for you or not. This is really as common sense as can be, but it’s also true – you will need to learn to be a good judge of how the waves are looking, as they’re coming in on any particular day.
Here’s a quick video to get you started with body surfing. Notice that the waves are nothing too enormous. That’s what you want starting out – waves that aren’t too wild, but have enough force to get you surfing!
If you just watched that video, surfing expert Lloyd Cole here makes body surfing look and sound pretty easy, right? The great thing about body surfing, is that anyone who can swim can do it fairly easily. You just need to give it a try!
Despite some commenters on this video making it seem like he’s doing it “wrong”, Lloyd is, in fact, correctly teaching very basic principles of body surfing, such as paddling out, catching a wave, stretching out your body with your arms out front, and then kicking once, until you are riding it. Nothing wrong with his advice!
Body Surfing Technique
Ok, so you’re in the water and ready to give it a try.
Swim out to meet the wave, and immediately turn around to face the shore in a ready position. As the wave swells and begins to spill (at its highest and steepest, just before it breaks), inhale a big breath and begin to swim in the direction the wave is traveling. One good armstroke and one powerful kick should put your body parallel to the water’s surface, and moving along with the wave.
If your body’s in the right position – and only experience and practice will let you know if this is so – drop your head and torso, and bring your weight forward, arms extended overhead.
As you catch the wave and gain momentum, bring both arms down to your sides in a double armstroke for one final push. Then, quickly raise your head and shoulders; your body will ride the wave to shore, just like a human surfboard.
Here is a video demonstration of these kinds of tips in action. Don’t forget to enjoy this video’s soundtrack. Wow! 😉
As with surf boarding, some people actually body surf not for great thrills, but just for fun, without having to do anything too crazy or strenuous. It can be fun to ride a wave, even if its a small one – it doesn’t have to be some huge thrill ride, and not everyone is looking for that. It can even be relaxing, as well as exciting. This is why body surfing can be good for all ages!
Of course, being a strong swimmer can be very helpful when it comes to body surfing – we wouldn’t recommend body surfing for any non-swimmers, just because you can’t be too careful sometimes!
In the event that you have a nasty spill, or get water up your nose, just knowing how to swim is always a good thing, and having a wave turn you upside down is not fun. Learn to swim! Click here to read a great article we wrote on becoming a better swimmer, as it has some great tips there.
Do I Need Any Special Swim Gear To Body Surf?
The thing is, body surfing isn’t like other water sports. For instance, gear is optional, making it one of the more accessible beach activities.
You don’t need a board for body surfing – obviously, hence the name body surfing, although some people who enjoy body surfing also enjoy boogie boarding, a.k.a. body boarding, as they are very similar.
With boogie boards, a.k.a. body boards, it can be a very trick-oriented sport (a bit like skateboarding in this regard), or it can be as simple as cruising along on a wave with a board under your stomach.
If you do it the simple way, it’s fun and easy, and great for kids as well! Here’s a video that teaches how to boogie board, although it makes it look extremely technical. Don’t be discouraged. You can practice boogie boarding with any board simply by riding a wave – tricks are obviously optional.
In some ways, boogie boarding could be seen as even a bit safer than body surfing, because you have the assistance of a board. You’ve probably even some some body boarding / boogie boarding yourself with a rubber alligator at some point, but many people treat it as a sport, and take it quite seriously. Really, how safe any of these activities are, depends on how strong a swimmer you are, and how big the waves are. Remember: safety first!
Here are some great boogie boards deals you can check out, if that sounds like something you might like to try sometime.
Why Would I Use A Wet Suit For Body Surfing?
Getting back to body surfing, some people have asked why you might need a wet suit or any other gear of that sort, such as flippers, for body surfing.
The answer is, you don’t need a wet suit, or flippers, however, they do serve a purpose when it comes to body surfing (or any kind of surfing).
Here are a few common reasons you might like to have a wet suit when body surfing:
- Stay warm
- Easier to catch waves
- Stay out longer
- Offers more comfort
These are just a few reasons you might like to have a wet suit handy. Wet suits, or surf suits, as they are sometimes called, are not necessarily meant for anyone who goes in the water. For instance, you don’t see too many people at the beach wearing wet suits. However, if you surf regularly, having a wet suit can have its advantages.
If you are just out body surfing in shallower waters, and it’s a nice warm day, and you don’t plan to be out for very long, then having this type of gear is not really necessary. Some might even say that wearing a wet suit, to do a bit of splashing around in the waves, is overkill.
The same with having any kind of foot flippers or hand planes – these are purely optional, but can help make your experience more fun if you do a lot of body surfing or, in particular, boogie boarding.
Here are a few popular items that you might want to investigate, if you want to take body surfing a little more seriously and invest in some gear…
Body Surfing For Kids
Chances are if you’re reading this, you are probably an adult, and so you are probably going to have to teach your kids how this is done. For anyone wanting to learn body surfing, always remember to start out on modest-sized waves, and in a very controlled situation. Kids who are strong swimmers will make great body boarders, and it is a lot of fun, but of course, it should be taught under adult supervision.
Here’s another great video which simply breaks down the steps on how to body surf.
A Few More Body Surfing Tips
Avoid beaches with rocky or coral-rich bottoms, even if surfing in deep water. Don’t even consider sand-busters, which are beaches where waves break perilously, and thunderously close to shore. Keep your eyes peeled for any “danger” signs warning of strong currents, or even sharks.
Remember that timing is of the essence in this sport: You must be in exactly the right place at the right time. Watch the surf for a few minutes to get an idea of the rhythm and timing of the breaking waves; check out where most of them break. Wade or swim out to about waist deep (unless the waves are breaking farther away from shore). Wait for a “good one”; when you spot it, go get it!
If you sense you’re heading for a wipeout (an early and violent break in the wave that spells the end of your joy ride), drop one shoulder and roll out of the wave, or tuck yourself into a firm little ball to prevent injury during the inevitable tumble. Most waves simply slow down as they near the shore, and so will you. That’s the time to get up on your feet, take a deep breath, compare notes with your fellow surfers, and go back for another round.