I even contemplated the headline, “How I Tried and Continue to Try and Make It In an Industry and With a Sport That No One Ever Heard Of (Or, If They Did, They Don’t Respect It) Oh, and While Living in One of the Worst Possible Geographical Locations for Said Sport and Industry.”
Now aside from the headline being obnoxiously too long and potentially very confusing, it did work well as an entire run-on sentence/opening paragraph.
My first experience with a bodyboard aka boogie board was when an old friend tried getting me into it. I was about 10 at the time. Thinking back and reflecting on the encounter, I remember being like, “Nah. I’m not into it.” I can even recall one of the parents giving me a snarky response back. It was something along the lines of, “What? Are you too cool for that?” I mean, I was 10. I don’t think that was the case. It’s just not who I was, or am. Funny that a 10 year old would get a snarky remark from a grown adult though. But, I do know that it was a combination of a couple things.
The first being that I was slightly intimidated by the ocean. When I was really young I was scared of the deep end. (In the pool). I can even remember way, way back when I went to swimming lessons. I can still smell that disgusting indoor odor to this day. Gross. It’s like a bath of pee mixed with chemicals. Steaming. And warm. Gross.
I wasn’t keen on the water. And I sure as heck wasn’t about to have the ocean toss me around like a rag doll. I’m all about being in control as much as possible. Crazy, but true. Getting rolled against my will, without being able to breathe. I ain’t havin’ it. No way. What made matters even worse was the fact that I was a little string bean of a person… I wish I had photos.
The second reason I was apprehensive of picking up the bodyboard was my fear of not being the best at something. My thought process works as follows: if you’re going to do something, do it right, practice, and be the best. If something, anything, doesn’t make that formula work, then don’t even go there. For example, basketball. I hate basketball. Well, not really. Droppin’ 3s is good times. But once you got dudes all bumpin’ into each other all sweaty and gross. Getting your eyes poked, all that nonsense. I’m good on basketball. All that bumping around would drive me to the point of just decking people in a rage of irritability. So let’s just say I stayed away from basketball.
Back to bodyboarding. I finally caved one day. I was sitting on the beach, sweating like a pig and watching two or three of my friends riding a couple. I decided to borrow one of the guys boards. I remember it was a Morey Mach 7-7. One of the originals or THE original boogie board. Didn’t know that at the time, but I went for it. And I didn’t even have fins on my feet yet. Didn’t discover those until later.
Fast forward a couple weeks and I got myself a bodyboard. My dad took me to one of the local shops. Neither of us knew what we were doing. And the surf shop people didn’t give a damn either. They wanted to sell surf boards. Not some extra piece of foam to be ridden by a “speed bump” getting in the way. It was a BZ. Wasn’t a pro model, it was just some stock piece of foam. It was white/grey with a blue marble bottom. And had an offset pinstripe on the top deck. Interestingly enough, 15-20 years later and I’m riding nearly an identical color palette, but of course, much better board technology and custom specifications. I rode that board all summer long. I was terrible. (I remember “nose diving” constantly. Basically riding the wave and the nose would go under and flip you head over heels.) But got on it when I could and kept at it.
The following summer or two my interest in the sport grew even more so. At that point I still didn’t even think about the whole stand up surfing vs. bodyboarding thing. I was just having my fun.
I begin riding my bike from the town over to check the waves. It was about 3 miles each way. Sometimes I would even do it multiple times in a day. We didn’t have all the sophisticated surf reporting, easy access to buoy readings, all that stuff. We could call the local surf shops for a report, or go check it ourselves. We didn’t even have cell phones yet. Right… weird.
I remember finding out about another local surf shop in the area. A couple of the guys had been bodyboarders. Surprisingly not surfers. Odd… But this is where I learned everything. Weather conditions, who’s who, etiquette, where you travel, the companies and the key players; at the age of 13, or so, I learned about the world of bodyboarding.
For the next couple summers I rode my bike to the shop, observed and absorbed information like a sponge. (No pun intended). Kept riding waves as much as possible.
Finally at around the age of 15 I began surfing in the fall. Most people think once summer is over, so is surfing. (funny, some people even think you can’t surf when it rains.) I learned about the different suits to have, and even learned how much more freaking powerful the surf could be on the fall vs. the summer. Man, I remember rollin’ up to the beach around Halloween and the waves were pumping. And I was scared as hell. But, I was hooked. Completely, and utterly hooked and addicted. Mother Nature took me.
Fast forward a few more years, plenty of bike rides to and from the beach in between baseball games and caddying on the private golf course to make money for a car and college, I kept honing my craft of the boogie. Barely anyone in my high school did this stuff. Barely anyone in the general area did this stuff. (To my point in the sub-headline, Jersey, or generally speaking, the East Coast doesn’t have the surf frequency as other places in the US, or the world. You can maybe surf a few times in the month, but those “good” or “great” days are even less frequent.) The wave we surfed day in and day out was practically empty everyday. It was a real-life “happy place.” (A lot different these days, but that’s a whole other story.)
I studied bodyboarding videos of all the international riders that made glorified home movies. Incredible riders, masters of the sea. Rewinding the execution of maneuvers and trying to visualize them in my own head. Damn, that was VHS. Just thinking back on it all, the level of focus and studying I did to try and be as best as I could. And that probably brings me to a main piece to why I never traded my boogie board for a surf board…
I remember one of my friends dads asking, “When are you guys going to move up to real surfing?” It was funny, because I remember a friend actually validating the statement with something along the lines of, “Well, it is harder. And it is what people do.” And that stands out to me for a couple reasons. First and foremost, that type of validation means you’re not truly connected with what you’re doing. If you want to chose to stand up that’s great. But it’s not a progression type thing. It’s a preference. And by no means is what I’m about to say discrediting traditional stand up surfers. While it may be harder in the entry level stages of stand up surfing vs. grabbing a bodyboarding; bodyboarders tend to have different – commonly overlooked – challenges later on in stages of progression. For example, different wave conditions are better or worse for different water crafts. A surfer may have an easier time riding one type of wave, but a harder time riding another. A bodyboarder can be very limited in smaller or weaker conditions. And the ability to execute high profile maneuvers is much more complex because of those limited conditions. (this also goes for traditional surfers) But, to elaborate further; on a 3 foot day, a surfer may be able to “pump” his way down the face while generating loads of speed and do a big air off a section. On the other hand, a bodyboarder is much more restricted. He absolutely needs to find the speed pockets of the wave, needs to be much more precise with the “lines” he draws. Ultimately, a bodyboarder needs strong wave-knowledge. It’s much harder for a bodyboarder to pull something off spectacular in less than optimal conditions. Things must be precise, where a surfer may have a bit more forgiveness or an easier time generating speed in junky conditions. Conversely, a surfer may have more difficulty in other conditions such as fast or “slabby” waves.
Either way, at the end of the day, each sport has it’s unique challenge(s). Bodyboarders, however, have been traditional bashed because of the whole “laying down” thing.
But hey, all that doesn’t really matter now does it? While I think bodyboarding doesn’t get the credit it deserves, it’s not my sport of choice to “be cool.” It’s because of the connection and love for it.
Note: The following passage is a new addition to this article as of July 3rd, 2016.
I picked up a soft top longboard. Eight foot and purchased a Costco. What’s up, kook?! To my surprise—I had a great time. Nothing will ever replace the rush I get on a bodyboard, but when the surf is small, working some standup swagger is a ton of fun.