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The origin myth.

Like most sports invented in the last 3 or so decades of the previous millennium, bodyboarding was created by a frustrated surfer, or so the story goes. Tom Morey had snapped his stick, and couldn't afford a new one. Longing to ride again, Tom set to work on a short plank of foam that was floating around in his garage. After coating it in a protective shell of newspaper and shellac, Tom hit the Hawaiian surf on July 7, 1971. He named his invention the "Boogie Board", after thinking that naming it the "Morey Eel" would scare the kids.

Tom had shamelessly stolen his idea from the Hawaiians. The sport of paipo boarding had existed for hundreds of years previously. In 1778, Lt. James King spotted the sport in Kealakekua Bay, Hawaii. He commented in his log at the time:

...a diversion most common is upon the Water, where there is a very great Sea, & 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 & breadth , they keep their legs close on top of it, & their Arms are us’d to guide the plank, they wait the time of 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 direct’n. If the Swell drives him close to the rocks before he is overtaken by its break, he is much prais’d.

However, Tom's "invention" promoted the sport beyond the Hawaiian shores. By 1977, Morey Bodyboards were producing around 80,000 boards a year from their factory in California. By 1978 bodyboarding was an established sport, with a world tour and official organisations.

We have the technology.

The biggest input of Tom Morey was his use of foam instead of wood. Whilst Tom originally crafted his board from EVA, by the 1980s other innovators began using polyethylene and polypropylene in their board design. Most modern bodyboards also have a hard, plastic bottom, known as a slick. This not only increases the speed and durability of a board, but help prevent twisting and warping. For an even stiffer board, a set of inanimate carbon rods is often inserted into the core of the board.

As with surfing, board shaping is an artform, with individual boards designed depending on the needs of the boarder, and the size of the waves to be encountered.

How to Bodyboard

What you'll need.

  • A bodyboard
  • Fins/flippers. Although not essential, it makes bodyboarding much easier as fins give you more power paddling out into the surf, and taking off.
  • Surf

What to do

  1. Paddle out to the area just before the waves are breaking. Choose an appropriate wave and paddle towards it. Once you are in a position to be able to catch it, turn around to face the shore and begin to kick hard as the wave begins to push you along.
  2. Once you feel the wave pushing you down it's face, stop paddling, and shift your weight towards the front of the board. If the wave is steep, pull up on the nose of the board to avoid wiping out
  3. Enjoy the ride!

Get off my wave, you filthy sponger!

Of course, surfers generally hate bodyboarders. The sport of bodyboarding is often derided by the surfing fraternity as too easy, and the sole reason that their favorite break is packed full of grommets. Also, ten-year-olds with far too much attitude seem attracted to the sport like moths to a flame.

The key advantage of bodyboarding is that it allows the boarder the freedom to ride much choppier waves than surfing. The surf that most surfers reject is often much better on a bodyboard. Kids also get into the sport because it's much cheaper to buy a decent bodyboard than a surfboard, and much easier to transport.

James King quote from Surfing, a History of the Ancient Hawaiian Sport, Ben Finney and James D. Houston, 1996, Pomegranate Books, San Francisco. Emphasis is mine.

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