How to Body Surfing: No Surfboard, No Fin? Superb!

How to body surfing? As you may know, body surfing is the art of riding a wave unassisted by any floatation device. A separate sport with its own competitions and a roster of formidable champions, body surfing garners much of its appeal from relying on so little equipment compared to other forms of surfing.

It provides a unique challenge to first-timers and experienced surfers alike due to how significantly different it is from surfing and swimming, yet it combines many of the principles of both.

With no surfboard involved, all that most people need to learn how to body surf are their swimming outfits and knowledge of basic technique. Occasionally, some people might opt to wear fins and a cap and hand planes, but these are optional and usually serve competitive body surfers who want to drastically improve their speed.

For many casual body surfers—especially those surfing in shallower waters—no fins are needed. With the right moves in mind, you too can catch a ride on your first superb swells.

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Selecting a Location

How to Body Surfing: No Surfboard, No Fin? Superb! 1

One of the most important things to remember when trying body surfing for the first time is location.

The ideal bodysurfing beaches have a very gradual incline toward just beyond where the waves break. The gradient of the beach should be shallow, with no sudden drop-offs that can create massive waves that break too close to the shore.

If only a few paces lead to water that’s deeper than your head, it may not be an ideal location to body surf.

For beginners, body surfing is usually done in shallower waters where you can use the surfboard as a means of propelling yourself from the ocean floor. Sandy beaches are also ideal, as they’re less hard on your feet.

When starting out, you should choose a location some distance from the shore where the water should be chest-deep, with waves that allow your feet to touch the shore’s bottom upon launch.

The ideal conditions of this scenario involve waves that break cleanly, so watch out for the weather as well. Your selection of waves to body surf should include those that break away from the shore—this is true for both shallow and deep water waves.

Techniques and Practice

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Once you see an approaching wave that you want to ride, turn your back from the wave and launch yourself from the seabed. Swim away from it through a front crawl as fast as you can.

Use big scoops with your hands as you paddle and kick vigorously to propel yourself through the water quickly to reach the wave. You can alternately meet the wave through the backstroke or attempt to ride it from below the water, both advanced techniques that may take some time to perfect.

When the wave has caught up with you, it will start to lift you upward. Stop kicking and thrust your hands forward, and put your head down in line with your leading arm (this would often be your dominant arm).

Stiffen and streamline your body simultaneously—from the tips of your fingers to your toes; this will allow the wave to carry you. Shift all your weight toward your leading arm to create downward and forward momentum.

Use this time in the shallows to find and refine a technique that works for you. Take advantage of every new wave and just keep practicing.

The idea behind body surfing is that you should let the breaking wave itself propel your body forward. Leverage the energy from the wave to move forward and swim against only when it starts to pull you back.

By dipping your head and shoulders below hip level, your center of gravity shifts downwards, which slowly tips your head and shoulders upward until they clear the water’s surface. Be prepared to initially hold your breath while this happens.

As the wave loses momentum, you would need to get up and turn around. If you’re practicing in shallow water, you may find yourself washed ashore in a prone position at first.

As you get accustomed to body surfing, you would learn when to anticipate how far the wave can take you and get up at just the right point when the wave begins to slow down.

One of the key goals you should aim for as you develop your body surfing skills is clearing your head above the water line. When your head and upper torso are above the surface, you’re not only able to breathe but you’ll also see much further and clearer, improving your ability to avoid obstacles while surfing.

The Role of Form

As with all sports, form is critical to efficiently body surf. A good beginner’s form is flat, with the entire body kept as stiff as possible in a horizontal position. To accomplish this, both arms are kept parallel to one another, which lets you turn your entire body into a surfboard.

Stay in a horizontal position. You may need to hold your breath for part of this when starting out, as your head will not always clear the water.

Advanced form in body surfing requires that at least half your body is breaking the water’s surface as you move toward the shore. The body’s line of contact with the water should ideally form a diagonal from one armpit to the knee.

This method shifts weight to one side using only the leading arm, with the other tucked parallel to the body. This way, you keep your head clear of the water much faster while sliding diagonally across the water.

The diagonal position makes long rides possible; leaning to the side allows you to easily keep your body straight, maximizing the effectiveness of your ride across the length of the wave.

Although leading through one hand is usually done with a dominant hand, advanced body surfers can switch between hands to glide in the direction where the wave is breaking.

Good swimming form is crucial to catching the waves and progressing toward larger waves. Excellent swimming skills can also quickly get you out of a jam if things go wrong, reducing the likelihood of entering potentially dangerous situations. Take the opportunity to practice swimming in between surfing days and stay in good shape.

Wave Mechanics

Before you can body surf, you must have a good understanding of what to look for in a wave. The principles of waves are key to propelling yourself in the water.

While there are a few things about waves that you can only accurately gauge when you’re actually in the water, the core principles at work are easy to grasp before you even get to the water.

To start with, the size and power of the waves are heavily dependent on the surrounding topography. The narrower the channel in the beach and the deeper the water, the higher the crests and the deeper the troughs of the waves.

This can help you select the appropriate waves to start with; waves with low crests would give you less trouble selecting a wave to ride.

Body surfing also allows you to understand how waves behave on an entirely new level—especially since you’ll be facing much of the wave itself directly.

Over time, you would be able to better predict when and how the wave breaks, and adapt as you ride them by simply feeling how the wave behaves as it moves forward toward the shore.

This can help you better gauge how a wave behaves, which will serve you well both in body surfing and conventional surfing.

Observing the waves directly also helps you choose the speed of your ride. Waves that break cleanly from the top at an angle you find manageable are the ideal waves to ride.

For beginners, the ideal waves are no more than four feet (or just over a meter) in height; these yield the best speeds in shallow water despite being easy to manage.

If you’re looking for fast speeds, you’d need to go to deeper water and find waves with prominent peaks that break powerfully and smoothly. The same principles for waves apply; the best waves are those that break some distance from the shoreline.

Performance, Equipment, and Competition

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Learning how to body surfing is generally easier and cheaper than conventional surfing. Body surfing requires a bare minimum amount of equipment—one that you wouldn’t even need until you go deeper into the water—and is suited for a greater number of people of all ages.

Surfers who have otherwise injured themselves are not readily hindered from body surfing and can ride waves even after they cannot safely do so on a board. One thing that bodyboarders cannot do, however, does the range of tricks that conventional surfers do with a board.

You can usually get the hang of body surfing without needing anything more than your wetsuits, and proper form and good swimming skills can usually take the place of many of the equipment used by many bodysurfers who do much of their surfing in shallow water.

Deeper waters, however, require the use of well-fitting fins that give you plenty of propulsion and agility while treading deeper water.

The main advantages offered by having equipment is in active competition. Fins, caps, and hand planes allow the pros to glide through the water with greater speed, a critical element in competitive surfing.

Catching the Big Ones

Once you’re confident in body surfing in smaller waves, you can graduate toward larger ones. They are a lot more demanding in general. You will have to rely on your swimming skills and ability to adapt mid-surf to meet the challenge of body surfing large waves.

Preferably, you should attempt larger waves once you’ve mastered advanced body surfing techniques and have gained enough experience to anticipate how waves would behave. A refined technique would allow you to adjust your body to the direction of the waves.

Adaptability is the key to mastering large waves. Just like in conventional surfing, riding large waves involves adjusting the distribution of weight in your body in response to changes with the waves.

It will allow you to go with the flow of the water while still keeping your own course.  The ideal position when riding the wave is diagonal, which will allow you to end the ride as the wave loses momentum and breaks.

Small adjustments can make a big difference in how you ride a wave. Relaxing your muscles in key areas such as the legs, abdomen, or hips can help you slow down if you propelled yourself a bit too late, while creating tension in these regions can help the wave propel you forward.

Safety First

If you’re learning how to body surfing for the first time, it’s important to keep in mind a few points of basic safety. First off, if the waves are too rough, reschedule. Save the larger waves for more experienced body surfers and board surfers.

Always choose a beach with a lifeguard on duty and never attempt to body surf alone. Always have at least one buddy with you when body surfing. Choose a beach without on-shore obstacles and avoid surfing too close to the shoreline. Avoid areas where the beach’s gradient is too deep or if the beach leads to a large drop off. These often create large, crashing waves that are too dangerous to surf on.

Body surfing is a very physically demanding sport that requires a great deal of swimming proficiency to even attempt. Make sure that your swimming skills are up to task before trying out body surfing. Likewise, condition your body beforehand before learning how to surf.

In addition, a basic knowledge of how waves work is needed to acutely predict and time each ride; this shouldn’t be a problem for more seasoned surfers who are more aware of how waves behave.

Finally, always be aware of your surroundings. The ocean carries with it many hazards—rocks and debris, sudden changes in depths, and other surfers and swimmers.

Keep your eyes toward the sea and the shore. Turn away from the wave but never ignore the sea to avoid hazards from the ocean, while always pay attention to your incoming destination to avoid getting into harm’s way.

Your leading arm is the sole line of protection, so pay close attention to your sense of touch as you serve.

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Written by BeachAhoi

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