We all remember a time when we were excited little folk on holiday at the coast, where the beaches were packed, the sun was blazing, the smell of salt occupied the air and us running towards the waves after a heavy dose of sunscreen, wearing our Mickey mouse cossie, with our trusty white polystyrene ‘boogie-board’ clenched under our arms. Wow, now those were cumbersome things that never lasted very long, even in the calmest of surf. Many children quickly returned to mommy with tears in their eyes, clutching the remains of a once proud boogie-board.
Boogie-boarding or body- boarding as it is better known, was first recorded the same time as surfing, when Captain James King, who served under Captain James Cook on his last voyage around the world in 1779, observed natives using wooden boards to hang ten at their local break-water.
To recall the words of James King: “But a diversion the most common is upon the Water, where there is a very great Sea, and surf breaking on the Shore. The Men sometimes 20 or 30 go without the Swell of the Surf, & lay themselves flat upon an oval piece of plank about their size and breadth, they keep their legs close on top of it, & their arms are used to guide the plank, they wait the time for the greatest Swell that sets on Shore, & altogether push forward with their Arms to keep on its top, it sends them in with a most astonishing Velocity, & the great art is to guide the plank so as always to keep it in a proper direction on the top of the Swell, & as it alters its direction. If the Swell drives him close to the rocks before he is overtaken by its break, he is much praised.”
Prior to 1971, boards were still made from wood, but incorporated a few layers of fibre glass and foam and were known as paipo boards; pronounced “pipe-oh.” 1971 saw the modernisation of the sport with the design of the “Morey ‘Boogie’ Board,” designed by surfer, engineer and musician, Tom Morey; his design is still in use today.
Tom Morey named his design ‘Boogie-board’ because of his love of music, but I guess the name quickly changed to ‘body-board’ as it provides a more professional image to a fast-growing sport both professionally and recreationally.
Today bodyboarding has taken off to become the world’s fastest-growing water sport. Bodyboarders are found almost everywhere that surfers are found and rivalry often raises its ugly head when these two disciplines share the same break-water.
Bodyboarding is remarkably similar to surfing, where one paddles out, waits for a decent size wave and rides that sucker until it can’t be ridden any more, or until it spits you out like a week-old piece of gum. The differences between these two disciplines are pretty obvious, the first of which is the body position of the rider. Unlike surfing where the surfer stands on his or her board, bodyboarding is done in a more prone position; lying down, to put it in plain English. Although this is the most distinguishing aspect of the sport, bodyboarders often opt to ride ‘Drop Knee,’ which as the name suggests, sees the rider placing one foot at the front of his board and placing the other knee on the tail.
The other distinctive difference is, of course, the
board. As mentioned earlier, the body board or boogie board has not changed much since its 1971 inception. There have obviously been some minor changes to material and hydrodynamic design in order to keep up with a fast-growing sport, but the basic shape and size still remains.
Today’s boards consist of a foam ‘core’ surrounded by a plastic bottom and softer foam top known as the ‘deck.’ Now when amateurs like us go out and buy a board, we usually just see one that looks cool and say, “Hey, that one will go with my board-shorts,” and disregard the construction and intended use for that board.
Now on the other hand, when pros or seasoned riders get a board, they inspect it thoroughly, paying attention to every aspect of the board including shape, weight and materials used. The foam core as mentioned can be made from a variety of foams such as dow/polyethylene, arcel or, more recently, polypropylene. Each type of foam gives the board a certain amount of flex, which determines the amount of control that the rider has over his board. For example, a dow/polyethylene core is most suited for cold water conditions as it will provide too much flex in warmer water.
The core can also consist of one or two carbon or graphite rods or stringers, which run from the front to the back of the board. These rods give added stiffness and recoil to the board, providing the rider with more speed through turns. This is achieved when the rider flexes and recoils his or her board in a turn releasing energy; too much or too little flex reduces the board’s speed, in turn affecting the performance of the board and rider.
Seeing as bodyboarders rarely stand when doing their thing, they’ve the added luxury of wearing flippers on their feet known as swim fins, which can be used for catching big swells and added directional control when on a wave. These flippers are specially designed for boarding and are nowhere near the size of diving fins. Another side to lying down on a board covered in salt water, and at times sand that is stuck to the wax, is the potential for a nasty rash or chaffing. For this reason body boarders wear either wetsuits or for those really hot days, a ‘rash vest’ or ‘rashie.’
Old school bodyboarding portrayed a more fluid and relaxed style of surfing where the standard tricks were ‘spinners’ (360˚ turns) on the face of the wave, ‘cut backs’ and the sport’s trademark, ‘the El Rollo,’ a barrel roll made off the lip of the wave and landing upright back on the wave.
Today, just like many other extreme sports, you see new and more risky tricks being performed in heavier and bigger waves, which focus mainly on aerial manoeuvres. Athletes are now combining tricks to add a fresh and more exciting aspect to the sport with Australia’s Michael “Eppo” Eppelstun’s ARS (Air Roll Spin), which combines the El Rollo with a 360˚ spinner, being one such example.
It’s easy to see why bodyboarding is such a fast-growing sport, both professionally and recreationally. It’s easy to learn and can be done on the smallest of waves - yes, even on a brittle, white polystyrene board of doom.”
Published By: Brian Merz & Matters