Kiwis tend to be very much ‘one trick ponies’ – “I surf a short board, I windsurf a foil, I paddleboard,” but overseas, especially in places like Tahiti and Hawaii, being a waterman is a badge of honour. Guys like Laird Hamilton and Kai Lenny cover a range of disciplines that define them as the ultimate watermen. Personally, I know a range of surfers in Hawaii and Tahiti who regularly longboard as well as shortboard, who will bodysurf or bodyboard just as happily as shortboard. They will pick a discipline to fit the water and weather conditions. Strong onshore winds might be terrible for surfing, but they are awesome for windsurfing. A large dumping shore break might be bad for a longboard but super fun to bodysurf.

There are a lot of alternatives out there, so here are a few you might not have considered…


Bodysurfing is a serious sport in its own right. Internationally, there are high end competitions and superstars of the sport.

Tim Casinelli, director of the World Bodysurfing Championships competition, said, “Bodysurfing is as pure as you can get in a sport.”

“The real interaction between your body and the wave that’s synchronised with the lack of equipment can explain its huge appeal,” he continued.

You actually don’t need anything, just good technique, but a pair of fins will help. Some body surfers also use a hand plate which is a small board often made of wood that attaches to one hand. As you catch the wave, you can lift your body off the water by pressing down on the plate. Apart from body position, the plate also increases your speed at which you can travel through the water.

Bodyboarding, or is it boogie boarding?

Tom Morey is credited with inventing the first bodyboard, but there is a lot of conjecture about that claim. Historically in New Zealand, there was a lot of bad blood between surfers and bodyboarders (I’ve never been sure why), but there are some amazing bodyboarders who can tackle waves that a stand-up surfer can’t even look at. Body boarding, or boogie boarding, was hugely popular for a while in the 80s and 90s, but it has become more of a niche sport now.  

It is amazing what some of the world legends – the likes of Mike Stewart, Jeff and Dave Hubbard, and Pierre Louis Costes – can do on a bodyboard. All of these guys have dominated incredible waves, pushed limits, and created moves above the lip that have been mirrored by the world’s best stand-up surfers – bodyboarders were doing 360s and big airs long before stand up surfers. 

What’s the difference between a boogie board and a bodyboard? Nothing. It’s a bit like a hoover and a vacuum cleaner; they’re the same thing but one is just a product name.

Article by: Steve Dickinson