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Anthony Leone of North Carolina was looking for good waves Saturday north of the Ocean Beach Pier — but not for surfing. For bodyboarding.
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“Surf today has been pumping,” he said. “It was banging the bottom of the pier…. It’s very surprising to be able to get waves in. And today isn’t even supposed to be the best day.”
As president of the Association of Professional Bodyboarders North America, he’s hoping the turnout of 100-plus professional and amateur bodyboarders at the two-day National Bodyboarding Festival catches the eye of major sponsors.
Leone hopes to revive a sport that grew out of the Boogie Board craze of the 1970s, which hit the doldrums in the Great Recession.
When the world economy hit a bad patch, the bodyboarding industry “kind of fell apart a little bit,” he said. “It’s been so hard to get a lot of people back into the sport. Right now there’s not even a younger generation, and a lot of our sport is being propelled by older riders.”
But with two new groups as festival sponsors — APB North America and Bodyboarding US — Leone’s team aims to make a splash after the wipeout of the United States Bodyboard Association.
“The previous organizer who ran a U.S tour just kind of moved on in his life and had a child, and nobody kind of filled in the blanks to … take over,” said Dave Hubbard, 37, an 8-time world champion in dropknee bodyboarding, referring to USBA founder Jason Bitzer.
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“And now we’ve got a great group of guys who are passionate seeing events happen in the country and also in North America,” said Hubbard, a favorite to win modest prize money on Sunday. (Heats begin at 7 a.m.)
Bodyboarding US said in a statement: “We want to raise awareness and increase the visibility of bodyboarding within the young American audience. But we also aim to encourage the creation of bodyboarding clubs, associations, and schools, local and regional contest, a national tour and bring more American athletes on the APB World Tour.”
Leone said the Ocean Beach event is the first all-bodyboarding professional event in North America in 15 years.
He hopes his “grass-roots, proof-of-concept” event can attract the eye of a sponsor that would help build a tour.
“We’re thinking of five stops throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico and Puerto Rico through 2020,” he said. “Possibly stops in New Jersey and Outer Banks of North Carolina.”
Saturday’s four-person heats also began at 7 a.m. — contested while recreational OB surfers sharing the same waves. They include both genders, and junior and masters divisions, with two 61-year-old men competing, including Tony Prince, a bodyboarding legend and sports photographer.
Vicki Reale, an Australian, has been bodyboarding since age 16 — almost 30 years. She met her Maryland native husband, Jay, through the sport and launching a bodyboarding business in San Clemente — also home of board inventor Tom Morey.
Reale, 46, became a U.S. citizen a couple weeks ago and continues to be competitive.
“I just love it for exercise and to get a tan and to meet people and be out in nature and the ocean,” she said. “Bodyboarding has given me love of life. Competitive bodyboarding is superfun.”
In 1998, says an online profile, the mother of two became the first Australian Women’s Pro champion. She’s been to five continents on promotional trips in her world tour days.
“She was the first female bodyboarder ever on the cover of Australia’s Riptide Magazine,”
he bio says. “She also appeared on ‘Baywatch’ and in a Pepsi commercial that aired in Australia and New Zealand.”
Riding the rectangular foam board is a good vehicle for bigger waves, she says.
Other advantages are “you can get deeper and go bigger on bigger waves because you’re lying on a piece of foam and holding on for your life,” Reale said.
Now she feels she’s better with age.
“I’ve got more experience and I know the waves better,” she said. “I can read them better…. So it’s good to be back on the competitive scene even at age 46. So hopefully I can take some of these younger girls down.”
Hubbard, who competed in the last 20-minute men’s heat Saturday, said he was able to complete some maneuvers.
“The last ride was pretty nice,” he said. “I think I got an excellent score.”
The Hawaii resident like the sport for its “not so many rules.”
“I can lay down, I can get up dropknee, I can stand up on my bodyboard, and my board is relatively safe,” he said. “If it bumps me in the head. I’m not going to get injured.”
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