As with any sport that involves the power of the ocean waves, good knowledge of sea safety is essential. Also, you will need good knowledge of the rips and tides, and where you can surf safely. It’s a good idea to sign up for a short course — spending a few hours in the water with an instructor should give you a good idea of the basics and the safety essentials. Most surf schools will offer bodyboarding lessons.
Who can bodyboard?
Bodyboarding isn’t restricted by age, but boarders must have a good swimming ability, strength and fitness. Paddling around on your board is fairly easy, but if you lose it you need to be confident that you can swim unaided to safety. To help to pick up swimming speed, bodyboarders often wear a pair of swim fins. These short fins are also good for safety. If you become separated from your board, these fins will help you swim more easily to dry land.
If it’s your first time out on the water, the best thing to do is play around in the white water (the shallow area where foaming water is formed by broken waves). The white water waves will have enough power to get you going and get you used to the concept of catching a wave. In most white water areas you will be able to stand up on the seafloor which will save you energy and allow you to lift your bodyboard above the waves until you learn how to swim out.
Triple check the waters
Always check the surf before entering the water. Look out for rip currents (rips) — if you’re in doubt, speak to the lifeguard. Don’t get in the water if you are not sure whether you can handle the conditions. It’s better to be on the beach wishing you were in the water, than in the water out of your depth wishing you were on the beach.
Paddling out through the white water to the breaking waves (breakers) is perhaps the trickiest and certainly the most exhausting aspect of bodyboarding. The key here is to get your bodyweight in the right position. The first thing you need to learn is how to paddle out without using too much energy.
To really get the hang of the movement of the waves and what they’re doing, sit on the beach and watch them for 10 minutes. You can do a few warm up stretches while doing this. Get an idea of the rhythm of the waves - if anything, it will make your life a whole lot easier when paddling out.
Paddling out to bodyboard
You can use both your arms and your legs to paddle out. Alternating between arms and legs will help you preserve energy for the business of catching waves. You can paddle with both at the same time for short bursts of speed, but it’s best to reserve this for when you need to move fast to catch a wave.
To leg paddle, your hips should be over the tail of the board with your hands holding the front of the board to keep it flat in the water. To prevent the board from dipping forward into the water, arch your back slightly so that your upper chest isn’t resting on the board. Kick with the whole leg and make sure you are kicking under the water, not on the surface.
For arm paddling, which requires good balance on the board; move up on the board so that your nose is a few inches from the top. Then bring your legs out of the water to minimise drag. Again, arch your back slightly to keep board flat in the water, with the nose slightly out of it. Stretch your arm out and cup your hands to catch the water.
This movement is best described as an exaggerated front crawl. To use leg and arm power together, your body should be in the kick position, slightly back on the board. Use your chest to keep the nose of the board down, instead of arching your back.
The next aspect of paddling out is duck diving. This will help you avoid being caught or dunked by an approaching set of waves. During a duck dive you need to aim to get both you and your board underneath the turbulence of a breaking wave. Mastering this technique will really help you to get out to the back of the waves more quickly and with less effort.
Grab each end of the front of your board with your hands in a tight grip as the white water approaches. About a metre from the white water, push the nose of the board underneath the surface. To get a bit of depth, use one knee to help guide the board underneath the turbulence by pushing down with it.
Once underneath the water, push forward in a scooping motion. Once the wave has passed over you, pull the nose of the board towards the surface, again using your knee to guide it. Don’t worry if you don’t get the hang of this technique straightaway — it demands a lot of practice.
Your first wave in bodyboarding
The fun really begins when you catch your first wave. This will take quite a while to master. The trick is to pick the right wave and get yourself in the right position in the water for take off. When you find yourself in a position to be able to catch it, turn around to face the shore and begin to paddle as hard as you can to pick up speed. As you start to feel the wave propelling you, stop paddling and apply your weight to the front of the board, with the lip of the board slightly raised. You should be able to use your weight and arms to steer the board.
As a beginner, it’s best to master riding the wave in a straight line to shore. The thrill of riding in these first few waves is full on and will get you used to the feel of the wave, board and the speed.
Turning when bodyboarding
Before you can call yourself a true bodyboarder you will need to learn how to turn in the waves, mastering the techniques of ‘bottom turn’, ‘trimming’ and ‘cutback’. As your balance and control improves, you will be able steer the body board down the wave as it breaks, using pressure to one side or the other of the bodyboard to keep it in the face of the wave. Team up with other bodyboarders and get some tips.
Bodyboarding key tips for beginners
- Don’t bodyboard alone.
- Don’t go out with a full stomach or after drinking alcohol.
- Check the surf properly before heading out to the water.
- Keep an eye on other people in the water, particularly surfers; a hit from a surfboard can be extremely painful and dangerous.
- If you get into difficulty, don’t panic. Wave an arm overhead and shout for assistance.
- Don’t bodyboard near rocks.
- Don’t try to bodyboard in waters beyond your skill level.
- Check the conditions with lifeguards and particularly watch out for rips.
- Don’t go out into the water when the lifeguard’s red flag is up.
- As a beginner you should stick to beaches where there are lifeguards.