The history of bodyboarding
The history of bodyboarding is closely intertwined with that of surfing. It is, like surfing, a water sport in which the surfer rides a bodyboard made of hydrodynamic foam on the crest, the face and the curl of a wave which is carrying said surfer towards the shore. The bodyboard usually has a short, rectangular shape.
The practice itself originates from an ancient technique of riding waves on one’s belly. The Polynesians rode “Alaia” boards on their bellies, knees or (rarely) feet. Made from the wood of Acacia koa, Alaia boards varied in shape and length. Their distinctiveness stemmed from the absence of ventral fins, in comparison with modern stand-up surfboards. Captain Cook noted seeing villagers riding such boards in 1778, when he came to Hawaii, stating that he had seen them riding on their bellies or knees.
The modern bodyboard was invented by Tom Morey on July 9, 1971, soon after he arrived in Honolulu. He wanted to create a board that would have the advantage of being “ultimately fast.” The result of his desires was a six-foot-long board with a fiberglass bottom and a soft polyethylene deck, but the nose broke upon impact with a small wave. Not one to be easily discouraged, he set out to improvise with another piece of polyethylene foam, this time using a hot iron and an electric knife.
A few days later, the sport of bodyboarding was born. If Morey invented the modern bodyboard, Mike Stewart came up with the standard maneuvers to be used in prone bodyboarding: each time the bodyboarder decides to go left, he or she needs to utilize their left hand and place it on the upper left corner of the nose. The right arm has to be positioned halfway down the rail of the right part of the board. The same applies whenever the bodyboarder wants to go right.
Another style of bodyboarding is the drop knee technique, when the surfer places his preferred fin forward on the front of the deck, having his opposite knee resting on the bottom end of the board, with his fin dragging in the water.
When it comes to bodyboarding vs surfing, there are a series of different aspects to keep in mind. Besides the obvious fact that bodyboarding is usually practiced in a prone position and surfboarding in a standing position, from an advantage point of view, in bodyboarding waves look bigger when one’s lying down.
Secondly, bodyboards fit in a car’s trunk; thirdly, the sensation of speed is bigger and better, because the surfer’s eyes are much closer to the water’s surface and the swim fins provide an extra boost. By the way, bodyboarding with fins is the typical manner of practicing this sport, because these fins provide the surfer with additional propulsion and can give him a certain degree of control while riding a breaking wave.
As to the bodyboarding clothing, it is generally recommended to wear clothes that are not too tight and to opt for t-shirts and short pants, that can grant the surfer perfect freedom of movement and control. Of course, should one have the money or be a bodyboarding or surfboarding fanatic, wetsuits are an even better option.
Since the conception of the modern bodyboard by Tom Morey in 1971, bodyboarding has experienced rapid growth episodes, both as an industry and as an extreme sport. Although originating in America, from the 2000s and 2010s the industry of manufacturing and selling bodyboards has quickly spread, shifting from a primarily American to a global industry phenomenon.
The sport itself has also experienced a veritable transformation as a worldwide industry, with important centers in Australia, Peru, Chile, Japan, the Canary Islands, South Africa and so forth. It is a good idea to add that bodyboarding is riskier than surfing, with bodyboarders typically executing a wide array of aerial maneuvers on various types of waves, some more dangerous than others.
Some bodyboarders are thought to be pioneers of some of the most difficult and heaviest surf locations ranging from Teahupo’o in the French Polynesia, to Shark Island, Cyclops, and Ours and Luna Park in Australia. Additionally, bodyboarders place a strong emphasis on aerial maneuvers executed on heavier and more sizeable sections of waves.
There are also female bodyboarders who’ve set a name for themselves. For instance, Phylis Dameron was the first person, man or woman, to ride the big Waimea Bay on a bodyboard, in the late 1970s. The most important women’s event was the 1990 first official World Championship of Women’s Bodyboarding, which was won by Stephanie Petterson.
Should you be inclined to give bodyboarding a try, there are a lot of bodyboarding basics you can learn on the Internet. Or, if you’re lucky enough to live next to a beach, you might catch some pointers and tips by seeing the pros live, in action. Don’t forget that Morey’s first boogie board was made out of polyethylene packing foam, so while we do not condone the practice, you could at least give this DIY project a try. Who knows what you might come up with?
Keep in mind that modern boogie boards are equipped with plenty of safety features that you’d find taxing to include in your homemade bodyboard. Sometimes, it’s better to be safe than sorry, and we all know it.