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.