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Bodyboarding: What You Need to Know to Get Started

I recently moved to the East Coast of Florida for the summer and decided to get into bodyboarding. It’s a lot easy to learn than surfing and doesn’t cost nearly as much to get started. As with any new sport I get into though (such as kayaking) I do a lot of research about what products I need to buy and which are the best. I’ll share my findings here all about bodyboarding and what you need to have an extremely fun time in any ocean. [frame align=”center”][/frame] Before I get started, let me make two things clear. First, bodyboarding is a lot different than surfing but it also costs way less to get into. Bodyboards, also called Boogie Boards, are a lot shorter than surfboards (usually about 3 1/2 ft long) and are made out of dense foam instead of fibreglass like surfboards. You lay down on them instead of standing up. Secondly, the sport has come a long way from when it originated in the 80’s and 90’s. There are professional quality bodyboards widely available, there is an International Bodyboard Association and huge contests around the world featuring the top pro riders.

Why bodyboarding instead of surfing?

In the long run, surfing is probably a lot more fun and you can progress your skills farther, but it’s also quite difficult for beginners to learn. Bodyboarding is a great way to get acclimated with the ocean and different sizes of waves and getting your swimming skills/endurance up before you start surfing. Bodyboarding gear is also A LOT cheaper to get started with than surfing (a decent surfboard is $500+). Another great advantage of bodyboarding is that it can be done on smaller waves and in shallow water. Surfing requires larger waves and deeper water so that your board doesn’t run aground. But with bodyboarding you can catch shorebreak waves and ride them all the way onto the beach if you want. This also makes the sport safer for beginners who don’t feel comfortable paddling far out to the bigger waves yet. Another advantage of bodyboarding is you don’t have to be in top physical shape like you need to be for surfing. People of any size can get into bodyboarding and have a great time. There are also a lot more tricks that can be done easily on a bodyboard. While surfers go nuts for 360s, many bodyboarders are doing 720s, backflips and rolls that are impossible to do on a surfboard.

What Gear Do You Need to Buy?

#1. A DECENT BODYBOARD

Buy a bodyboard OnlineWhile bodyboards are most commonly seen for sake at tourist shops and drugstores near most any beach, you can also find high-quality boards in surf shops, at your local sporting goods store and online. I first checked out the boards at the beachside tourist shops and they are cheap foam boards which cost about $10-20 – they are mostly for kids and you don’t want one of these. They will snap in half after a few days in decent size surf and will not give you the speed or control you want. So next I went to a few surf shops to find out what the pros ride. Of course, I am by no means a pro bodyboarder, but I wanted to find out what makes one board $10 and another $150+. Well it turns out that it’s mainly the materials used in the board’s core which determines the prices. The three most common core types are Extruded Polystyrene (EPS), which is soft, found in low-end boards and will not give you much performance, Polyethylene (PE), decent mid-range stiffness for the price and Polypropylene (PP) which is more expensive and geared towards advanced riders. Stiffer boards work better in bigger waves, clean surf and warmer waters and they tend be harder to control in choppy conditions so research what kinds of water you’ll be mostly surfing in before you buy a board. But for a beginner any of the 3 core types will work fine – just stay away from the cheap foam “drugstore” boards. The smooth bottom of the board (often called slick) comes in 2 general types: Surlyn or HDPE. Surlyn is the stuff golf balls are covered in – it’s slick and durable and has great speed and projection. HDPE (High Density Polyethylene) looks and feels very similar to Surlyn, but it’s not as flexible and is used on lower end boards.

Buy a Bodyboard OnlineBut all of this technical talk, which can be quite confusing to some people, really comes down to how often you are planning to go bodyboarding, where you live and how much money you have to spend. Just like snowboards or surfboards, you’ll also need to find the right size board for your height and weight. Check out the size chart HERE for reference.

Don’t spend too much! Most beginners, such as myself in Florida, will do just fine with a $50-80 board. Unless you live in Hawaii or Australia with huge waves, you don’t really need a $100+ board for your first summer. Check out a few surf shops and feel the difference in the materials of a couple mid-range boards and then go to somewhere like Wal-mart and check out the $20 boards – you’ll quickly make up your mind which you’ll want to buy. The simple act of catching a wave is easier on a board with the right flex. Check the flex by placing the tail on the floor and placing your palm on the deck give the board a flex. Turn the board around and do the same this time with your palm on the slick, if the board bends and springs back without too much effort then you’re onto a good board. Remember that all boards tend to become a little more flexible with time. However, I strongly recommend buying your board online as you’ll save $$$ big-time. Beachside surf shops almost always hike up prices because of the convenience – sort of like how much more popcorn costs at a movie theater. The main brands of Bodyboards are Morey, Body Glove, Boogieboard, Cartel and BZ but there are lots more. So figure out which board you want to buy, then go home and find it online and have it shipped to your house for free like I did.

While you are waiting for your new bodyboard to arrive, you still need a couple more things until you are ready to hit the waves.

#2. LEASH

Any good bodyboard will come with a coil leash which attaches to your wrist or forearm and prevents your board from getting lost when you wipe out in the surf. However, if you buy a cheap board that has a straight leash and not a coil – change it right away. A coil leash won’t get tangled, will keep your board closer to your body and is much safer. A good choice for a replacement leash is the Dakine Kainui Coiled Bicep Bodyboard Leash.

#3. FINS/FLIPPERS

Churchill Makapuu FinsAlthough not mandatory for bodyboarding, wearing a pair of surf fins will greatly increase your speed, power and fun while riding waves and I highly recommend you by a pair. Bodyboard fins are much shorter than traditional swim/scuba fins and are made with hard plastic blades for maximum bursts of power to help you catch waves easier as well as navigate out past the breaks or back into the shore. Luckily, buying a pair of fins is much simpler than buying a board. Stick with the top brands and find a pair which are comfortable. A pro pair of fins will run $45-90 and I wouldn’t even consider buying anything cheaper or lower quality. Trust me when I say that the fins will be the best $50 you spend on gear all summer. I bought a pair of Churchill Makapuu’s (the original dolphin-inspired surf fins since 1936) online from Amazon.com for $50 and love them. They come in sizes Extra-Small (3 – 4.5), Small (5-6.5), Medium (7 – 8.5), Medium-Large (9 -10.5) and Large (11 -12.5).

Churchill Makapuu Fins

I also wear them when I’m bodysurfing without my board and its super fun. They are a bit difficult to walk in (in shallow water) but amazing to swim with. Surf fins are not meant to be used for long swims though, they are designed for quick kicks to gain bursts of speed to push you out in front of a wave. The Churchill’s I bought are the classic yellow/blue colors and are very comfortable to wear. The part where your foot goes into the fins is soft rubber but some bodyboarders I have talked to say that the rubber can chaff the top of your foot if worn for 4+ hours a day. If that happens then I recommend wearing a pair of Dakine Fin Socks which will run you about $10. But again, make sure you buy your fins in the right size. Depending on the water temperature and your body, your foot can swell or contract while surfing and this could cause your fins to become too tight or too loose. Try the fins on with and without fin socks in a store first to make sure they fit well.

Churchill Makapuu FinsThere are a few other top fin brands out there which look very similar and are made out of the same materials, such as BZ Black Tipz, Viper V5 Flex and Voit Duck Feet, but most all bodysurfers I talked to when researching this article swear by their Churchill Makapuu’s. And as always, once you figure out your fin size, buy your Churchill Makapuu’s online and save yourself some money. Also, getting a leash for your fins, which attaches onto your ankle, isn’t a bad idea if you are riding in big waves where there is a chance of them falling off and getting lost in the surf – especially if your fins don’t float (Churchill claims they float on the box but trust me – they don’t!). Investing $13 for a fin leash is a lot better than spending $50+ on new fins, right?

#4. (Optional) WETSUIT

Buy your Wetsuit online on Amazon.comIf your local water is cooler, such as on the Northern coasts of the US/Canada or in England, you will probably want to invest in a good wetsuit. Anywhere in Southern California, Florida or the Caribbean will be warm enough almost year-round to bodysurf without a wetsuit but places such as Tofino, Canada, where the best waves roll in during the winter and the water is an icy 45 F – wetsuits are mandatory! I have never bought or worn a wetsuit before so I am not going to write much about them but there are lots available for sale online from $60 to $200. Go try a few on in your local sports/surf store and then go home and order it online from Amazon.com.

 

 

#5. (Optional) RASH GUARD

Buy a Rash GuardA rash guard, also known as rash vest, rash tee or rashie, is a type of athletic shirt made of spandex and nylon or polyester. Depending on the material of the top of your bodyboard and how many hours a day you spend laying on it in the ocean, you might want to consider getting a rash tee to prevent your chest from getting scratched up and red. These shirts can be worn by themselves, or under a wetsuit. A rash guard is also good for light coverage in warm to extreme summer temperatures so you don’t get sunburnt while bodyboarding or surfing. There are many kinds of rash guards available online from all of the big surf brands like O’Neil, Oakley, Dakine and Hurley with prices from $15-70.

#6. (Optional) SHARK SHIELD

SU1000AIf you live in an area with frequent shark sightings and attacks, such as Australia or the East Coast of Florida, you might want to consider investing in a Shark Shield. A relatively new device which is gaining popularity, the Shark Shield is a small electronic device that attaches onto the back of your board or around your ankle and which has been scientifically proven to deter sharks. According to SharkShield.com “Predatory sharks have small gel filled sacs knows as Ampullae of Lorenzini on their snouts. They use these short range sensors when feeding or searching for food. Shark Shield is a three-dimensional electrical wave form which creates an unpleasant sensation impacting the shark’s ‘Ampullae of Lorenzini’. When the shark comes into proximity of the electrical wave form (a few meters in diameter) it experiences non-damaging but uncontrollable muscular spasms causing it to flee the area.” So basically it is like a Taser for sharks that is always deployed. Prices range from $500-1000 which may seem expensive but cheap compared to the cost of getting bit by a shark and losing a limb or your life. Users of the Shark Shield say it has improved their confidence while surfing alone or in new areas. There have been a lot of sharks sightings close to popular surf spots this year, so it’s a good idea to consider  buying a Shark Shield.

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You’re Ready!

So you’ve bought good gear, now you need to get out in the water and learn to paddle, catch waves, ride a trimline and have fun on your new bodyboard! I hope that this article has helped educate you on the gear you need to buy to get into bodyboarding.

Be sure to check out www.Swellinfo.com and www.SurfGuru.com for surf forecasts, webcams and weather info for beaches around the world.

Also, check out these Youtube videos to get stoked for your first wave session!

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