And, now, it is the hard-charging bodyboarder who is the noble god of the ocean…
I remember telling a joke sometime during the mid-90s that I thought was hilarious. It went:
“What’s the hardest part of learning to bodyboard?”
“Telling your parents you’re gay.”
Twenty years later, the world has gone through some changes. First off, well, that’s a terribly homophobic joke, and even in a sport as unforgivably homophobic as surfing I’d like to think we’ve come far enough to recognise that type of thoughtless hatefulness is unacceptable. I give myself a pass for saying that, and worse, because I was an idiot teenager who could think of nothing worse in the world than others believing I might want to touch a wiener. And I like to think that holding oneself responsible for past misjudgment is uncomfortable enough to justify some small amount of hypocritical self indulgence.
Ironically enough, I spent countless hours during those years with my sweaty palm wrapped firmly around a tumescent member, and almost none in the company of the fairer sex.
But, anyway, I think we all understand the point of the joke. Bodyboarding is for lame-os, it isn’t challenging in the slightest, and it only attracts the no-talent fools who are too scared, or lazy, to try and stand.
From an 80s-mid 90s perspective that was a reasonably fair estimation. Not to say there weren’t rippers in those days. In fact, bodyboarders during that era were regularly riding deadly waves that stand up surfers have only recently begun approaching. But the crux of the matter was that bodyboarding offered an affordable, low-risk entry into wave riding paired with a difficulty curve far shallower than that of traditional surfing. The average Joe could pick up a Mach 7/7 at Sports Chalet and be blissfully riding waves within minutes of hitting the water.
It’s an old man’s observation to make, but, back in the bad old days, the notion of a beginner board didn’t really exist. You were forced to flail your way upright on expert-level equipment, a frustrating and demanding endeavour. Understandably, a huge portion of people chose a more welcoming approach to the ocean, and made the decision to ride prone.
I remember a dozen occasions when I left the water quaking with fury and frustration after being repeatedly burned by some sunburned middle-aged dolt who’d spent his entire session ruining my waves. Blithely dropping in and riding straight to the beach, both hands white knuckling the nose of his sponge, limp, varicose legs flopping limply in the whitewater. It made my hormonal body burn with rage to even consider those existence of the dirty bastards.
Then a funny thing happened. Board builders started making surfboards which were easy to ride. Once a novelty, the type of mid-length longboard long touted by East Coast legend Peter Pan eventually grew to dominate the lineup and, years later, the SUP followed for those who found even that user-friendly design inaccessibly difficult. Our high-performance short-boards grew thicker and wider and flatter, with buoyancy, rather than responsiveness, coming to dominate marketing rhetoric.
Meanwhile, a few people kept riding bodyboards. Their industry collapsed, sponsorships dried up, and a once thriving sport dwindled into obscurity.
But it never died. While it certainly diminished in fame the lunatics with their little foam squares kept seeking out the shallowest, thickest hell waves the ocean had to offer. While hard board surfers were struggling to learn the smallest of airs, “spongers” were blasting huge rotating aerials over razor sharp reef. And all the terrible barneys, the type who gave bodyboarding a bad name? They went out and bought surfboards.
After decades of derision, after mocking them for dragging dicks, for riding on their knees, for not standing like the noble gods we fancy ourselves to be, it’s time we took a long, hard look in the mirror and considered what we’ve become.
The vast majority of surfers are low-talent, no-etiquette halfwits who spend more time endangering those around them than they do riding waves. And as much as I wish we could put them back on bodyboards, I just don’t think it will happen. Bodyboarding doesn’t have the money to sell itself as “cool” anymore, and, anyway, it just wouldn’t be fair.
They were fortunate enough to have their ranks purged. If any group can lay claim to being free of corporate conformity, of being nothing more or less than a group of like minded individuals dedicated to fun and freedom and self expression, it is them.
It may hurt to hear it, and I’ve little doubt that the vast majority of surfers will deny it with every fibre of their being, but the facts are clear as crystal:
We’re the kooks now.