Keith Malloy bodysurfing by Chris Burkard
The Plight of the Torpedo People is a remarkable book by the photographer Chris Burkard and bodysurfing aficionado Keith Malloy. “Rarely have I had the opportunity to photograph something as pure as body surfing,” explains Burkard. “It’s the most stripped down form of wave riding.” | Photo: Chris Burkard

The Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Bodysurfing

You, a wave and a torrent of water fording your ass. "It's sexy!" says Keith Malloy…

Keith Malloy is the middle brother of the Central Californian family famous for their purist behaviour. Bar fights! Much board paddle! Big waves!

Last year Keith released a film documenting the pleasingly simplistic craft of bodysurfing called Come Hell or Highwater. There’s also a book that fits alongside the film called The Plight of the Torpedo People, featuring Keith, but made by the photographer Chris Burkard, who also shot the photo you see on this page. (Click here to buy! You should!)

Keith sat in a Eames aluminium group office chair in tan denim pants that were somewhat cowboy-ish, a black Patagonia t-shirt and with his head wrapped in a Farmer and the Cook hat, an organic cafe in Ojai, California, near where he lives, and delivered to me (and hence to you) the following primer on bodysurfing.

“It’s sexy!” says Keith. He ain’t lying…

1. It’s more dangerous than you think: Getting smashed is part of bodysurfing, pulling into barrels and getting flogged and washed up on the beach with sand in your hair. But it’s super easy to break your neck. There’s nothing to break your fall. So it’s easy to end up head-first in the sand or reef. The main injuries are shoulder dislocations. I’ve seen ’em all over the years. I saved a bodysurfer once who broke his neck in the shore break at Ventura wedge. He came up screaming. Luckily he wasn’t paralysed. There’s a couple of guys from the (Newport) Wedge crew who are paralysed right now. What do you do? Use your common sense. Don’t think you’re invincible, especially in hollow waves.

2. Learn to pull through the back. If you’ve been bodysurfing long enough you’ll do it without thinking. Mike Cunningham, Mike Stewart, Chris Kalima and I surfed Teahupoo for 10 days straight, six-foot plus, and there wasn’t one scratch on us. One guy didn’t have the experience and he got shredded. What’s the trick? All you gotta do is ride it out as long as can and at the last minute, drop down extra low, penetrate the water and twist back through. Lead with your hands.

3. Always the hands, sometimes the chest: In most biggesr waves, always have a hand out in front. The only time the chest gets a workout is when it’s a mushier section.

4. Bodysurfing etiquette ain’t that diff from the usual: If you’re bodysurfing with a pack of pals, you don’t take off on somebody and ruin their wave. That isn’t hard to remember. But what you might wanna realise is that bodysurfers are the lowest of the totem pole. A 10-year-old girl will drop in on you and not think twice about it.

5. The best waves? Makapu’u on Oahu’s East Side, Point Panic on the South Shore there, The Wedge in Newport, Boomer in San Diego with Teahupoo as the mythical Jaws-style pinnacle

6. The best bodysurfers in the world are Mike Stewart and Mark Cunningham: Mike is number one, Mark is the legend. It’s like Slater and Curren. Mike is the hot-dog master, Mark is the master. Cunningham has the best style and the best technique. Mike does half the shit on a bodyboard without the bodyboard. He does crazy things like getting sucked up the face, blown out into the flats, and keeps going.

7. Travel is easy. A pair of fins. A wetsuit or a pair of trunks. Maybe a hand plane for when it’s small. There ain’t a lot of excess.

8. Bodysurfing isn’t a pain in the hierarchy: The one thing that’s nice about bodysurfing is it’s not going to affect the lineup no matter how popular it gets. Stand-up paddle boarding ruins the lineup. But when you bodysurf you pick up the scraps and you still have a fucking better time than anybody out there. You get more waves because you don’t need a great wave to have a great time.

9. It’s physical and it’s sexy. It’s super neat not having anything between you, your body and the wave. You’re completely submerged in the ocean and the wave. There’s a classic line in the movie where a guy from Wyoming (cowboy country) talks about bodysurfing and how erotic it is, all that water rushing over your body.

10. Bodysurfing smashes ego: It’s connected. It’s what surfing’s all about. You’re not putting on a show. Nobody is watching you. It takes you back to that state when you were a kid when it wasn’t not about your fucking ego. Whoever has the most fun wins. I love that aspect. I started bodysurfing while I was on the tour. It was driving me crazy trying to tear a wave apart from start to finish and surf under the contest criteria. I was living on the North Shore and I started going bodysurfing with Mark Cunningham and it was a breath of fresh air: riding waves without being tethered to equipment, the glide. It was like a vacation from surf contests.



It don't give you wiiiiings, they say? Clearly they have never seen Julian Wilson.

The internet was awash, yesterday, with stories of Red Bull settling two class-action lawsuits because it doesn’t actually “give you wiiiiiings” and also, its claims of bequeathing better concentration and improved athletic performance are unsupported. Clearly, no one is looking at Jordy Smith, Julian Wilson, Kolohe Andino, etc.

This is not to say, however, that Red Bull lost the suits. Their legal team released a statement denying any wrongdoing or liability. “Red Bull believes that its marketing and labeling have always been entirely truthful and accurate, it confirms that all future claims about the functional benefits of its products will be medically and/or scientifically supported.”

What made the stories appealing to so many was that anyone in the United States could get in on the financial windfall, nabbing a piece of the whopping………………… 13 million dollar settlement meaning all the claimants will get nothing but embarrassment and maybe 4 pennies.

Red Bull is worth 7.2 billion according to Forbes. The suit must have been filed by the worst lawyers ever. It was not immediately clear if the Association of Surfing Professionals’ legal team was involved. It was not immediately clear if all ASP staffers went out and celebrated with extra big Monster + vodkas.

If you are dumb and want 4 pennies, you can file an online claim form here.

P.S. You don’t get rich but I dare you to sue BeachGrit for misleading advertising.

Jordy Smith injured in Tahiti
"I’m not afraid of death," says Jordy Smith, "but it’s crosses your mind, like, 'Oh my god, there’s a gun and if he pulls the trigger I’m dead.' To be in a situation like that, you don’t think about the physical act of dying, you think about how you’re not going to live and you’re not going to see your family." | Photo: Brian Bielmann


Like years ago. But still…

Jordy Smith, the reigning Hurley Pro champion and world #9, will be 27 in a few months. And that’ll mark the 10-year anniversary of his stabbing in a Durban back street as he swung home from school.

Who even knew bad things could happen in that Mandela-era utopia! Wasn’t it a time of coffee-coloured rainbows and a society freed from the burden of white racism?

Maybe not…

“I’ve been robbed at gunpoint a couple of times,” he says. “And, this time, as I was walking home I got mugged and stabbed on my right side at the bottom of the kidney. They rattled my pockets, put a gun to my head and that was it. They just thought, this is a kid, that was it. It happened so fast. I was bleeding as I got up. I was crying at the same time, ran and went to the hospital and got stitched up.”

Didn’t they ask first before sticking the knife in?

“They don’t ask, hey. They stuck the knife in and took. It’s not like, ‘Hey can I have your money?’ It’s more so, ‘Get on the fucking floor, we’re robbing you.'”

I might faint!

“It has its fricken moments, f’sure,” says Jordy. “Another time was a bunch of young kids. I wasn’t going to put up a fight. I was 15. It was pretty gnarly.”

And what does it feel like to be stabbed?

“I didn’t feel it. It didn’t go too deep. Sliced more than deep. It was a burning pain. I got such an adrenalin hit and then I started running and as I was running I felt my side and I realised what had happened.”

Does the spectre of death scare Jordy?

“I’m not afraid of death but it’s crosses your mind, like, ‘Oh my god, there’s a gun and if he pulls the trigger I’m dead.’ To be in a situation like that, you don’t think about the physical act of dying, you think about how you’re not going to live and you’re not going to see your family.”



Brock Little at the 1990 Eddie Aikau wipeout
Brock goes while Bradshaw taps out for a look at what he mistakenly thinks is a bigger wave behind it. “The… biggest… mistake… of my competitive career was not catching that wave,” he says. | Photo: Buzzy Kerbox


Brock Little, Ken Bradshaw and the 25-footer that shaped both their destinies. And it still kills Kenny!

“Aaron Napoleon was just screaming at me, calling me every goddam name under the sun and just screaming ‘You go you fucking pussy, you go, go, go.’ There was no doubt in my mind I was going to make that wave.”

Reckon Brock Little ever gets sick of telling that story?

It’s the Hawaiian winter of 1990, Waimea Bay, the Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau.

Look at the image and ask yourself once again. Reckon Brock Little ever gets sick of telling that story?

Well, would you?

“The thing is at big Waimea, when those big ones come through, not many people want anything to do with ‘em,” recalls Brock, now 47. “That wave came through and everyone just bolted for the horizon, everyone except (Ken) Bradshaw and me. We were side by side and both paddling for it. I took off, he took off and…”

Stop the tape… right… there.

Two careers are seconds away from taking two very different turns. One will be righteously bathed in glory for eternity; the other left to ponder what if and temporarily wander the desert like Moses, searching for internal redemption.

“The… biggest… mistake… of my competitive career was not catching that wave,” says Ken Bradshaw, now 62, and nearly a quarter of a century after the event. “He took off and fell and got all the glory, I kicked out ’cause I knew there was a much bigger one behind it. But…it just didn’t turn out. Biggest… mistake of my career.”

But back to Little.

“I knew I was in a good spot to catch that wave, just turns out I wasn’t in a good spot to ride it,” he says. “Either way, I paddled my ass off, I clearly remember just wanting it so bad and it was letting me in.”

Little manages to get to his feet and assumes the same position he’d done countless times before. “And then I hit a bump, and all of a sudden I was just skimming down the face like a rock over shallow water. And the whole time I was just looking up, thinking to myself, ‘If that lip lands on me I’m dead’. But luckily it didn’t”

Little then has a few seconds to contemplate what’s in store as he watches the lip thrown over him. “I remember thinking I was either get my ass kicked real good or I was going to die. Either way I was at peace. I put myself in that position and I was happy with that. But, and I don’t know if I was hallucinating or what at this point, I then remember being sucked up and over and for a split-second I could see the whole of Waimea Bay and I just caught a breath and I think from that point, I knew I was going to be ok.”

Thousands lining the shore of Waimea Bay see the wipe-out, but it’s the resulting image of Little, teetering on the brink of disaster that will end up on walls worldwide for years to come. “I remember walking up the beach after it, and everyone was looking at me like they’d seen a ghost,” he says. “But you know, I’m so proud of that moment. I don’t look back at it and think, ‘What the fuck was I thinking?’ I’m proud of wanting that wave and I wanted it real bad.”

Not that his reputation ever needed it, but the moment and a glorious attempt at a tube ride moments later elevates Little to the top tier of manliness among the most manliness of line-ups the world has ever known.

“It’s the same with Healey, Dorian, Jamie, Twiggy and all those guys,” says Brock. “You either have it or you don’t. You either want it or you don’t. I mean, I was in pretty good shape at the time but I knew some of my peers were training harder or what not but you’d see them out on the big days and you could see that fear in their eyes.”

As for Bradshaw…

“I don’t think I ever have gotten over that moment. And I’ve never really spoken to Brock about it either.”

Girl swims with humpback whale in Tonga
"This shot was actually one of the days when I went the deepest I've been," says Brinkley. "We were sitting at about 25 metres just watching him. He was singing so so loud and didn't mind us being there at all." | Photo: Natalie Parra

Meet the cute surfer girl who swims with humpback whales

Brinkley Davies on free-diving with humpbacks (those songs!) and great whites (mystery!)…

You want to date this whale-diving, shark-loving vegan surfer-ess? Of course you do. Who isn’t captive to that strewn blond hair and those Paris fashion week black eyebrows! But, first. One thing. And it’s real important.

Don’t take her to Sea World.

This might be hard to believe but, unlike you and me, when 21-year-old Brinkley thinks of Sea World she doesn’t imagine smiling dolphins hamming it up for the kids or seals doing the craziest things with their flippers (and those salty kisses!) or Orcas and their super-cool tummy slides. Instead, she sees wretched animals torn from complex social units and condemned to the most miserable and lonely lives.

“It’s so heartbreaking to see the way they behave in the parks when you’ve seen them in the wild,” she says. “If all the parks closed tomorrow I’d be jumping for joy. My life goal would be complete.”

Buzz kill!

Anyway, I met Brinkley, who was named after the eighties super-model Christie Brinkley in case y’wondering, last July for a Stab magazine shoot that I entitled On Closer Inspection. And how close we inspected! Click here to see! 

A few weeks ago she was strolling through Bondi, way out of her hometown of Moana in South Australia, but I recognised those eyebrows from a mile away, and we started talking about how she’d just come back from diving with humpback whales in Tonga. And before that, working on whale shark boat in Exmouth, Western Australia.

Brinkley spoke about the deep growls from the humpbacks that would reverberate through your body, literally shake you from the inside out, and how awesome, but awesome in its literal sense, it is to swim 100 feet down without a tank and just six pounds of weights and interact with animals some scientists believe are more intelligent than humans.

Every day Brink and her Hawaiian pal Natalie Parra, who’s on the same level of free diving as Brinkley, like four-minute static-breath hold good, would dive 80, 100 feet and just watch and listen. The pair got to know the different individuals. There were mums and their calves, sometimes with a male escort who’d be hanging around partly to protect but mostly to fuck; and singing whales that’d remain vertical underwater, heads down, tails up, singing their large hearts out.

There were close calls, of course. You can’t dive with leviathans and expect to it to be risk free. One lazy slap of a tail or a pec fin and you ain’t coming up. And Brink recalls watching one mom humpback suddenly flap its tail as its calf dived down from above. Brink doesn’t know if it was protecting its kid or it was excited to see it. Either way, it just missed.

And Brinkley laughs about the more comical aspects of free-diving such as when gravity disappears at 40-feet and you just… sink. Her pal Natalie has a GoPro clip of a whale and, there, Brinkley sails through the frame, downward.

Brinkley is five weeks away from finishing her Bachelor of Science in marine biology, a degree you can ramp up to honours with another year on campus or even a PHD if you wanna stick around uni for the rest of your youth, but Brink is going to hit the road. Or at least the ocean. She knows you don’t learn about whales and sharks by sitting in a classroom. Field studies. Yeah, that’s where it’s at.

Like at Exmouth while working on a whale shark boat. Operators are pretty quick to tell tourists there aren’t great whites or indeed any of the more dangerous makes but Brinkley saw ’em all, tigers, whites, bulls sharks, bronzes and reef sharks.

And you wanna know something? The tigers didn’t want to be bothered (they’re too busily lazily scavenging scraps), whites are aloof, bronze whalers are skittery as all hell, reef sharks are like yapping dogs and the smaller they are the more aggressive they appear to be, and bull sharks are placid unless aroused by blood or some kinda dying fish activity.

What’s next for the kid? She wants to swim with orcas, pods of pilot whales (hundreds at a time), she’s going to work on a great white dive boat in South Australia that doesn’t bait or chum to attract sharks, and therefore you see the animals in a normalised environment and not in the throes of attack, might move to Byron to dive with sharks off Julian Rocks, or maybe even Hawaii with her pal Natalie.

Makes those gals strutting around the bars in their dagger heels and with the cantilevered cans and fish pouts look kinda vapid, don’t it.

Brinkley made this clip below just for BeachGrit. The vocals are from the bull (guy humpback) and right at the end you’ll see a female charge the bull. Long story short. Bulls hang around ostensibly to protect the calf but their motive is mostly to fuck, as I  mentioned earlier. And so he’ll hang at the bottom and get the kid to swim down to him so the mom follows and then… maybe… he’ll get some. But at the end the gal, furious, charges the horny bull for luring the kid away. Sista! 


Swimming with Whales, Tonga from Brinkley Davies on Vimeo.