How to Body Surf (with or without a handboard and swim fins)
The art of body surfing is the purest form of communication with the ocean waves. It’s also one of the most enjoyable activities you can do while you are at the beach.
When you body surf, you are basically hydroplaning or skimming across the face of a wave using your body. In more advanced wave conditions, swim fins and bodysurfing handboards are used. The experienced body surfer positions his body like he’s doing a one handed push up and the handboard and swim fins are the only elements gliding across the wave. The handboard can be used to speed up or slow down, to get tubbed (when you are riding the inside or hollow part of the wave) or even to cut in and exit the wave.
Preparing to Body Surf
Before you begin, it is good to prepare with warm up stretches as you would do for bodyboarding and or surfing. While you are warming up, keep an eye on the surf conditions to find the best break and to be aware of rips (more information below).
The only equipment you really need for free-style body surfing is swim fins. If you want more lift, speed and control you can use handboards as well.
Picking the Right Wave to Body Surf
The first step in learning how to body surf is learning to spot the ideal beach or reef break for body surfing.
You can free style body surf almost any wave in the world that has slower, breaking waves. For faster waves it is best to bodysurf with swim fins or flippers and a handboard.
Look for gentle sloping sand banks that allow you to swim out to the breaking waves. You will want to body surf in waves that pitch and break left and right, instead of breaking or closing out all at once.
Beginners should stick to smaller waves in the 1 to 3ft.range and avoid waves that crash too close to shore or shallow sand banks.
More experienced body surfers can ride in much bigger wave conditions whether it’s a beach break or reef break.
Body Surfing Technique
In chest-deep water you can simply push off the ocean floor and once you feel the force of the wave starting to carry you simply place your hand/s in front of the wave and skim across the wave either on your chest or side of your body.
Once you’ve mastered the basic technique you can progress to taking on bigger waves and performing tricks on the wave.
More experienced body surfers cut diagonally left or right across the face of a wave as it barrels over the body surfer.
In deeper ocean conditions where the waves are breaking further out and you are not a strong swimmer you will need swim fins to gain more speed to catch the waves. In this case a handboard can also assist in a stronger swimming stroke, it will also help you to return through the wave zone faster and more efficiently.
One great technique is the dolphin style, whereby the wave has just gone over and you push off the ocean sand bank and thrust together with both swim fins to pierce through the wall of the wave and then ride the wave left or right.