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Bodysurfing is the art and sport of riding a wave without the assistance of any buoyant device such as a surfboard or bodyboard. Bodysurfers typically equip themselves only with a pair of specialized swimfins that optimize propulsion and help the bodysurfer catch, ride and kick out of waves.
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To get on the wave, bodysurfers must time their launch, pick a direction, kick and stroke hard with feet and arms, then use their back and outstretched arm, to ride the wave both sideways and downward. Turns can be performed by digging the shoulder into the wave, causing the person to slide to the side of the wave and accelerate. Exiting the wave is key to safety, In shallow water the safest maneuver is roll sideways out of the wave letting the feet tumble forwards. In stronger waves a person must drop the head and execute a very rapid tumble forward to exit the wave, flipping the feet over as fast as possible. This must be done with no hesitation, to avoid injury. Advanced techniques include spins and barrel rolls.
Another variation is using the underwater takeoff and ride technique known as "Dolphin Pop", "Spermin" or "Porpoising". Unlike standard body surfing, which involves the surfer sliding with gravity down the face of the wave, porpoising/Spermin utilizes the same wave energy as a dolphin or seal uses when they ride 'inside' of the wave; within the wave's energy pulse other wise known by Spermers as the pocket of the wave. In order to achieve this technique, the exponent starts out a meter or two further out to sea than one would for a 'standard' body surf technique. As the wave passes, one dives into the 'back' of the wave and gives a quick kick (with fins) or single crawl-stroke, and then tucks the body into a 'dolphin shape' by tucking the chin to the chest, hunching the shoulders, bringing the hands into the inner thighs or even pockets, stiffening the whole body, and creating a concave 'air bubble' in the chest. By flexing forward or back from the hips, one can control the depth of the body within the wave - too deep and one crashes into the sand (which could be painful and even dangerous) - too high in the wave and one 'pops' out the top (which in Spermin is the main objective). Once 'grabbed' by the wave's energy, to minimize drag and turbulence; the body must be held rigid and still, without kicking or attempts to use the arms - or the hydrodynamic forces that make the technique possible will break down and the wave 'lost'. Done correctly, the wave energy then takes over and pulls the surfer along at an ever accelerating rate - allowing the exponent who has experience to either literally fly out through the face of the wave (and somersault back underneath the wave) or come up in front of the white water and ride to the beach.
Body Sliding/Rapid Smashing
There is another variation, widely unknown, that is not practiced in an open body of water but rather a river or other similar body of water with a high speed current. It is called Body Sliding or Rapid Smashing, in which the surfer rides bare in water no more than three feet deep, along rocks and other dangerous zones in the river, known as "Rapids." A slider approaches when they find an open area with no rapids that has a high speed easy-enter current. The diver drops in and is immediately swept away, rushing at high speed towards the rocks. The ultimate goal is to use your feet and hands backwards in a crab like motion to keep speed and work over the rocks without injury, but this is challenging and extremely hard. Most sliders will use what is called "Ragdoll Riding," in which the slider completely relaxes their body, and goes full speed into the rocks, getting bounced and smashed over them in a ragdoll fashion. The relaxed muscles of the slider reduce the pain of the impact. Regardless, the sport is painful and dangerous, hence widely unpracticed and unknown. It is, however, extremely fun and exhilarating. Races between two sliders can be done, when one start point is set and one end point is set. To have a complete track, there must be one high speed section, one rock section, and one slow speed smooth section called the "Cool Off Zone" where a slider can relax and recover from the shook up state acquired after being slammed and rocked over the rapids section of the course. Crashes between sliders are a danger during races, where the leading slider gets stuck against a rock, and the following competitor can do nothing to help their self, and therefore crashes into the leader, crushing them between their competition and the rocksl. This is extremely painful, and to prevent this, sliders can do a time trial race on the course, in which the victor is determined by the fastest time from the "Launch Point" to the "Cool Off Zone."
One of the most famous bodysurfing spots in the world is The Wedge, located in Newport Beach, California. Wave faces there can reach upwards of 30 ft and more on big southern hemisphere and hurricane-generated swells during the spring, summer, and fall. Known mainly for high performance bodysurfing and intense jaw dropping rides and wipeouts, these waves are created by swells hitting the jetty and "rebounding" into oncoming waves, creating the "wedge effect," which results in peaks that can "jack up" to incredible sizes and shapes. When it is "on," The Wedge is for experienced riders only. The Wedge is to bodysurfing what the Pipeline is to surfing: the best bodysurfers prove themselves at The Wedge, as do the best stand-up surfers at Pipeline.(Pipeline is also a fantastic bodysurfing wave, and the first contest at Pipeline was the Pipeline Bodysurfing Classic - see below)
Annually, the Pipeline Bodysurfing Classic competition runs at the world-famous Banzai Pipeline. This event is considered[by whom?] to be a world-class pro-am competition, and yet is also considered one of the truly unique underground surf contests around. Among the bodysurfing population at large, the event is considered the premier event internationally. It is one of the only times a professional bodysurfing competition will have access to the cream of the Pipeline's waves.
The World Bodysurfing Championships along with the Pipeline Bodysurfing Classic are the two biggest bodysurfing competitions in the world according to the Encyclopedia of Surfing. It started in 1977, and runs every August in Oceanside, California. Another long-time contest is the Manhattan Beach Bodysurfing Contest as a part of the International Surf Festival held in Manhattan Beach, California. This contest is sponsored by the oldest bodysurfing club in The United States, Gillis Beach Bodysurfing Association. Dating back to 1964, the GBBA formed on the beaches of Playa Del Rey in Los Angeles. Members of GBBA run the bodysurfing contest, but do not participate in the interest of promoting the sport. The contest is a part of the International Surf Festival held late July or the first of August annually. The surf festival is known for its volleyball, lifeguard competition and the bodysurfing contests.
Also in Mexico, between April and June in Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo, at Las Escolleras beach, takes place the tournament called Torneo Internacional de Bodysurf Las Escolleras, where the competitors challenge the powerful pipes in this famous waves of world-class, with the notoriety that this two-day event is not charged subscription to the competition, but it rewards the first four places of the category, with trophies and gifts from sponsors and make a big party with live music at the beach as the pure style of Sharing The Aloha Spirit.
In addition to the contests above there are numerous other contests in California and Hawaii. Many clubs and contests can be found in France, Brazil, Australia. Both France and Brazil have a series of contests to determine a national champion. In the UK, an annual Bodysurfing competition takes place at Trevaunance Cove, St. Agnes. This open contest is extremely competitive at all ages and requires competitors to enter without wetsuits, fins or any other aids.
In Hawai’i body surfing is called he’e umauma (sliding with the chest) while surfing with a board is called he’e nalu (literally, wave sliding). In Australia, body surfing is also known as 'body bashing'. Body bashing is colloquial for the rough and tumble of the experience of being dumped by ill chosen waves. In Brazil, bodysurfing is popular beach activity known as 'jacaré', which, literally translated into English, means alligator.
"Whomping" or "bodywhomping" is a variant that may or may not be done without fins. Generally practiced at hollow, closed-out beach breaks, instead of a smooth slide across the face of the wave, whomping entails going over the falls with maximum air. In contrast, using the sandbar is essential to a rider's (finless) advantage when bodywhomping.
- Crowd surfing (Body surfing)
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Bodysurfing.|
- "Secrets of a Kahuna Bodysurfer:A Spiritual Adventure Guide" by Lani E Lowel (1999/2006)
- The Art of Bodysurfing by Robert Gardner (1972)
- Bodysurf by Hugo Verlomme and Laurent Masurel (2002)
- The Art of Wave Riding by Ron Drummond (1931)
- The Encyclopedia of Surfing", 2005, Matt Warshaw, Harcourt Books, ISBN 0-15-100579-6