Words by Simon Ramsey, former publisher of Bodyboarding magazine. | Lead photo: Jeremiah Klein
One could theorize that the roots of this conflict lie in the very birth or surfboard riding itself. You may have heard surfing referred to as ‘the sport of kings,’ as it was the royalty of the Pacific Islanders (specifically, the Hawaiians) who were first documented riding surfboards on waves for pleasure. Being a part of something that seems descended from the leisure time of royalty seems something worth being proud about, doesn’t it? Surfers seem to have earned the right to lay claim to the ocean’s fringes as theirs alone.
But it was Tom Morey, a surfer, who was seeking a way to bring that rush to the masses who invented the boogieboard. Before that, it was the Hawaiians again who rode waves in the prone position, on hand carved boards known as paipo boards.
Tom’s invention revolutionized things though, because it made the art of riding waves easy, fun and safe. And he made it cheap too — the barriers to becoming a surfer are many and varied, some of them simply economic. Let’s face it: it’s not easy to become a surfer. Boards and gear are expensive, it takes a lot of time at the beach to learn to ride a wave standing up, and you could get hurt in the process. You have to be a certain kind of person, many surfers claim. So it’s the sport of kings, something to be proud of, a sport for the privileged few — and many surfers want to keep it that way. Just like localism.
Above: Like cats and dogs, here’s a visual depiction of the surfer vs. bodyboarder feud.
But here’s the problem: here’s a sport/lifestyle that surfers are very passionate about, and here’s this guy coming along and completely demystifying it so that anyone — your grandma, some citybound kid who can’t afford board racks or a surfboard even — can experience the stoke of riding waves! What a travesty! All the time you’ve spent learning to stand up, to turn, and your kid brother gets his first tube laying down two weeks after he first rides a sponge! He didn’t even earn it!
But from Tom’s point of view, what he did was create a form of surfing for the everyperson, for the non-royalty. Look at it this way, and bodyboarding can be seen as the sport of the people. But not everyone’s cool with that. Some people understandably would like to keep the lineup for themselves. But hey, if you can join the crew, why can’t your grandma? Wait, she has to stand up to earn the right to a spot on the peak, even if she knows the rules, waits her turn, treats everyone with respect and all the rest of the ‘gentleman’s rules?’ That borders on blind prejudice, don’t you think? Switch the word ‘boogieboarder’ for your favorite racist slur and all of a sudden it takes on a new, more insidious perspective.
Snowboarding went through the same kind of thing with the skiers, but somehow — ’cause they stand up maybe — their sport became cool. Rollerbladers cop static from skateboarders all the time. Why? ‘Cause people like to stick with their tribes. Waveriding is, in theory, beyond all that. But as usual the real world is a different place.
To be honest no one knows when the rivalry between surfers and bodyboarders started, and it probably won’t go away. My guess is it started when the first wave of kids hit the beach en masse, turning placid line-ups into zoos and freaking out a bunch of surfers who’d gotten used to having the place all to themselves. Bodyboarding had no soul, they’d claim, the boards are mass marketed and popped out of molds to generate a million dick-dragging clones come to clog lineups everywhere. But a high-end bodyboard is more hand-shaped than a skate deck. Or all those computer-shaped sticks coming out of the bigger surfboard manufacturers these days. If you were looking for a practical reason to hate bodyboarders, you won’t find it there. They’re more environmentally friendly to make than surfboards, too.
It just looks bad, some people tell you. That’s why they don’t like it. Bodyboarding looks weird to the average stand-up guy ’cause, well, it looks weird. You’re laying down, for god’s sake. And dropknee, why the hell would anyone want to do that?
The truth is, bodyboarding’s fun as hell. You can get tubed on a one-foot day, and if you’re good, places like Pipe go from a death-or-glory, no-turn zone into a freakin’ skatepark. And maybe that’s the simple reason that a lot of surfers don’t like bodyboarders. They resent the intrusion into their place of worship. They make years of struggling to master the art of getting tubed without looking like Mr. Pooman or doing a roundhouse cutback without getting gorilla arms seem like a massive waste of their time, because some kid on a sponge is getting the pit of his life at Pipe and he never ever had to worry about blowing the drop and getting a fin in the jugular or a nose in the eye (unless it came from the surfer who dropped in on him, that is).
The truth is, bodyboarding’s fun as hell…places like Pipe go from a death-or-glory, no-turn zone into a freakin’ skatepark.
Bradshaw made fun of Mike Stewart for bellying around at Sunset back in the day. Mike’s named parts of the tube, earned respect from surfers everywhere for his near-ownership of deep Pipe in the ’90s. And Shane Dorian’s out there on a sponge when he tweaks his ankle too hard to stand up. And Hawaiian, Kainoa McGee rules Pipe with a select group of friends. He’s taking off on Second Reef sets, dropknee. Are his friends — guys like Sunny Garcia, Perry Dane — making fun of him?
[More recently, bodyboarder Andre Botha helped rescue Evan Geiselman during a heavy wipeout at Pipe — how’s that for cross-discipline camaraderie? See more here.]
That’s just a few of the reasons you’ll hear from surfers about why they don’t like bodyboarders. So that leaves…what?
Exactly the same reasons some surfers get mad at kooks, or groms or old guys, or valley kids or dudes with too many stickers on their boards, or not enough stickers, or three fins or one fin, a board over seven feet long, etcetera…
The aggro between surfers and bodyboarders won’t stop because it has no basis in reason or fact. It’s an emotional thing. Blind prejudice. It’s okay not to like it. You don’t have to like watching it or seeing groms showing up at your beach with sponges and not surfboards. But punching someone in the face or cutting them off because they do is never cool. Whatever you ride.
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