Outside magazine, June 1994
The Perfect Summer: Fear Not the Wave
It’s big, it’s mean–and you must ride it. The key to clobber-proof bodysurfing.
By Rob Story
Hw much longer you gonna let those greasy waves jam your frequency? How many times are you going to crouch thigh-deep in broken whitewater, flop in headfirst and dog-paddle weakly toward shore?
You can ride it, you know. Doesn’t matter if it is a several-ton chunk of liquid energy that came from damn near Guam just to give you a swirlie–with some smarts and a few basic skills you can catch it, tame it, own it. Not that it’s easy: Many bodysurfers tell stories about getting slammed so hard they suffered temporary paralysis. A few others have incurred permanent damage.
Which is all the more reason to practice doing it right.
Waves don’t move perpendicular to the beach, but at angles. They’re called rights or lefts, depending on the direction in which they’re breaking as viewed from the ocean, looking toward shore. The upshot: Aligning yourself with the wave gives you a longer and smoother ride.
Catch the wave
As a swell approaches shore, its energy is forced up and over, forming a breaking wave. The trick is to muster enough speed to join this parade before it tosses you off like a jellyfish. Just as it takes money to make money, it takes speed to make speed. And since most of us don’t have the swimming ability to overcome a wave’s upward force, swim fins are a must–try those from
Voit Duck Feet, Churchill, or Viper. Good form dictates that you streamline yourself and catch the wave using leg power only–though you can use your arms for additional thrust. If you’re more experienced, try to kick into the wave using the backstroke. This allows you to pick up speed while keeping an eye on the forming wave, and permits last-minute adjustments before spinning
around and dropping in.
Be the board
Imagine Superman flying at a downward angle of about 15 degrees: legs straight, back slightly arched, stomach flat, head up, right arm extended, left arm by his side. This is the basic posture for bodysurfing a wave; the idea is to offer a flat planing surface and a long edge to hold on to the wave face.
Using basic rudder principles, you’ll find that moving your arms or legs lets you turn, increase speed, or put on the brakes, but the overall goal is to keep your body in the upper part of the wave. Move too high and you’ll get caught by the lip and sucked over the falls. Too low and you’ll lose speed, allowing the wave to catch up and clobber you. Too vertical and you’ll fall out
of the wave, tumble to the trough, and get spun. The only rule: Always protect your head by keeping an arm out for the bottom.
When the wave is starting to close out, it’s time to release your streamlined posture and sink a bit. With the momentum gained from falling, turn to the side and use your leading arm to dig into the wave, in effect elbowing a hole to swim through. The timing is tricky, but basically you want to be kicking out just as the lip smacks into the ocean surface.
Pop to the surface and laugh the laugh of the conqueror as your beaten wave disintegrates on the shore. –ROB STORY