Bodysurfing for the Rest of Us - How to Body Surf

Body surfing

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I love the ocean and I love going to the beach because bodysurfing is my all time favorite activity. All you need is an ocean and yourself! Bodysurfing is the perfect way to enjoy ocean waves, even for an old gal like me! You don't have to worry about expensive equipment. You won't drift out to sea, lulled into a stupor on a flotation device. You can't fall off of anything into the water because you are already in the water.

Since you are in the water, you are attuned to changes. If the water gets weird or a rip current develops, you can quickly move to shore before you get into trouble.

You may notice in the videos that these guys are bodysurfing some pretty big waves. They also pinwheel around in circles. Well, you don't have to deal with 8 foot waves to get a nice ride.


Body surfing allows you to fully engage with ocean and become one with the wave. When you catch a good one, you lose all sense of time - a good ride is eternal, yet lasts only moments.

Great Ocean Music For You To Listen To While You Read This - John Cipollina

Individual Sport

Bodysurfing is an individual sport where participants ride waves to shore without the aid of flotation devices like surf boards or body boards.

Serious and competitive bodysurfers wear flippers or swim fins made of rubber or plastic to enhance their movement through the water. Some wear hand paddles as well. As you can see in the videos, some bodysurfers catch the wave and roll onto their backs. Others spin or do barrel rolls (shown in video)

One popular bodysurfing spot is The Wedge in Newport, California where waves can reach 30 feet. That's a lot of wave and unsuitable for all but the best.

World class competitions include the Pipeline Bodysurfing Classic at the Bonzai Pipeline. The The World Bodysurfing Championshipwill be held, this year, at Oceanside Municipal Pier, California August 16 - 17, 2014.

But plenty of regular people practice bodysurfing in less challenging surf. Ocean City, Maryland, where I usually swim, averages 3 - 5 foot waves.

Bodysurfing

Bodysurfing - Girl in Ocean City, Maryland (phot0 by Dolores Monet)
Bodysurfing - Girl in Ocean City, Maryland (phot0 by Dolores Monet)

Ocean Waves Breaking on Shore

 Waves breaking on shore (photo by johntex06)
Waves breaking on shore (photo by johntex06)

Rip Current - Don't Fight It, Swim Parallel to The Shore

Rip current - if you find yourself being pulled out to sea by a rip current, swim parallel to the shore
Rip current - if you find yourself being pulled out to sea by a rip current, swim parallel to the shore

Bodysurfing - Before You Jump In

Before you bodysurf, study the ocean carefully. Check the tides. You certainly don't want to bodysurf during high tide or you'll be thrown up onto the sand and can seriously injure yourself.

Of course, don't forget the sunscreen. You can get yourself a serious burn at the beach. You continuously cool yourself in the water and might not realize how strong the sun actually is.

  • Make sure there is a nice long slant to the shore. A deep drop won't produce rideable waves.
  • Avoid bodysurfing in storm water. It's dangerous and foolish, even for the young folks. Those wild waves might look like a lot of fun but you can get into trouble quickly. Last time I did that, I got caught in a trough. Waves kept smashing down one after another. I couldn't gain shoreward momentum. The heavy surf kept forcing me under water so it was up and down in the same spot and wound up being pretty hairy.
  • Look out for rip tides. Rip tides are easily spotted from a high point on shore. An ocean-ward current develops rushing from the shore outward. You can see the brownish water of a rip tide where it's pulled lots of sand off the shore.
  • If you find yourself caught in a rip current, being pulled out to sea DON'T PANIC. Swim parallel with the shore. A rip current usually poops out beyond the breakers so you won't be carried out to sea.
  • While still on shore, study the movements of people in the water. Are they catching waves? Are the only people in the water 12 - 25 year old males? In that case, you might want to pass on the bodysurfing. (Young men in that age group will swim in anything)


Ocean Waves - Looks So Inviting!

Ocean Wave photo by jimsnedd on flickr.com
Ocean Wave photo by jimsnedd on flickr.com

Bodysurfing - In the Ocean

When you enter the water, be sure to swim near other people. If you do have a problem, that's when those young guys might come in handy.

Get a feel for the water and how it is moving. Is the current pulling in one direction? How powerful are the waves?

If you feel weirded out at any time - get out of the water.

Watch the waves. See where they break. You'll notice that the waves come in sets of 5 - 7, starting with a small wave and increasing in size, then smaller again with a lull between sets. Forget about wave #1 and 2. You will want to ride the larger, stronger waves. They pack more oomph and you'll get a better ride.

Older or inexperienced bodysurfers may want to skip the biggest wave and go for the one right after that. It'll still be strong but won't pack the same wallop.


If a huge wave starts to break, dive under it, heading out to sea. If a big wave breaks on you, it can knock you all over the place but underneath, it's a lot calmer.

Bodysurf

Some people like to start swimming real fast to catch a wave. I prefer to dive into it. In either case, you want to spot a wave as it's cresting. Once you see white water at the top of the wave, it's too late for a good ride. You want that initial burst of wave energy.

  • Find a good spot where you expect the wave to break.
  • Look out for an open spot. You don't want to slam into some little kid.
  • Don't wait until the last moment. You've studied how the waves are breaking and know the size of the wave that you want. You watch until you see your wave.
  • Here it comes! It's practically got your name on it! That's the ocean saying 'hello.' As you see it coming toward you, get into position. Stand sideways to watch, ready to turn toward shore. Dive with it. Move with the water's momentum.
  • Dive into the spot maybe halfway up the wave. Stretch your arms out in front of you. Straighten your back and legs.
  • Keep your hands close together, it's more aerodynamic. Keep your body straight but not stiff. A limber, loose body moves with the water. If you point yourself at a very slight angle, you may get a longer ride.
  • As you get good and if the water is right, you can glance along the wave right through the tube. What a sight!
  • You might want to pull out before the water gets too shallow so you aren't dragged along the sand.


Ocean wave

(photo by Dolores Monet)
(photo by Dolores Monet)

Bodysurfing - Practice Makes Perfect

Okay, so you miss a few. Just watch the waves, learn the movement of the surf. Your mental state is a mixture of absolute calm and exhilaration. Think of nothing but the waves and the ocean - how beautiful it is, how powerful, yet serene. If you love the waves, they will love you back. You'll get a thrilling rid which, though short in duration, takes up your whole being. for a brief time, the wave is everything. Give yourself to the sea.

Ocean waves are the heartbeat of the world!

Bodysurfing - Never Swim Near Obstacles

Atlantic Ocean Wave (Whoops, got a bit too close)

(photo by Dolores Monet)
(photo by Dolores Monet)

Bodysurfing - Bottle Nosed Dolphins and Other Creatures

I'm not even going to think about sharks. Where I swim, in Ocean City, Maryland, it's mostly sand sharks, they won't hurt you. If there are reports of shark activity in your area, stay out of the water.

If a whole bunch of fish show up, get out of the water. Blue fish bite. Plus, bigger fish eat smaller fish.

Stinging jellyfish, sea nettles or whatever you like to call them. If there are a lot of stinging jelly fish and you're going to have a royal cow every time you see one or get stung, go get in the pool.

There are dangerous and poisonous jelly fish, particularly the Portuguese Man-o-War. You can see them floating like little glistening ships on the surface of the water. Their tentacles are about 20 feet long. Get the hell out of the water.

Bottle-nosed dolphins are very cool and I look forward to seeing them pass by each day. Despite what people say about dolphins saving people from drowning or lost at sea by pushing them toward shore - avoid them. You never hear about people pushed away from shore.

Bottle-nosed dolphins are intelligent, curious animals. They are also wild animals. they are very large, powerful, fast moving animals and are, in fact, predators.

If you see bottle-nosed dolphins (or any large sea life) approach the area, move into shallow water, better yet, up onto the beach where the slight elevation will give you a better view.

Once, backing toward shore while observing several bottle-nosed dolphins in the surf, I paused in knee deep water to see a large dolphin rise up into a vertical position inside a wave. He cast a quick glance around, then, in a stunning show of grace, flipped backward and head away from shore. Unable to avoid anthropomorphising the big fella, I could not help but thing that that cool appraisal and smirk judged us landlubbers wanting. Poor klutzes, he seemed to say.

Bodysurfing at the Wedge - Absolutely Beautiful

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Comments 4 comments

A J 5 years ago

I body surfed O. C. Maryland when I was 12 to 15, (79 now), and always caught waves that were just beginning to crest and roll, not the "hollowbacks" I see in the videos. Arch your back, head and shoulders are out in front, arms to your side and steer either by leaning left or right or using your hands. I always kept one knee bent up like a rudder. Wish I could still catch a nice one now! Enjoy


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 5 years ago from East Coast, United States Author

A J - the videos sure ain't from Ocean City. I never keep my arms to my sides but out in front to protect my head. I knew someone who went head first into the sand body surfing at high tide (like a fool) and messed up his back. It is a wonderful feeling though, and something that stays with you even when you can no longer endure surf. Thank you and God Bless!


marda 4 months ago

Hi Dolores! thanks for this informative body surfing tutorial! Where would you say the best body surfing beaches are in Maryland and Delaware? We've not been before and my mate is keen on body surfing when we are in the area. Thanks!


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 3 months ago from East Coast, United States Author

Ocean City Md. and Assateague Island are Maryland's only ocean beaches. Assateague is a quieter area when the crowds surge to OC.

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