Catch a wave with these body surfing basics

July 29, 2015

Ditching the board is anything but boring. If you want a fun and challenging aquatic activity, give body surfing a try. We'll go over everything you need to know.

Catch a wave with these body surfing basics

Understand the basics

Body surfers need to be strong swimmers, able to pass through rips and channels and make their way through a boiling surf to the best take-off point. They need to "read" the surf and be able to differentiate ridable waves from dumpers. Don't worry: we'll give you some pointers to make things easier.

Pick your placement

  • Body surfing harnesses the power of a breaking wave by combining swimming skills with an eye for a good wave. The skill of being able to catch a wave consistently only comes through practice.
  • Because the surf can be a dangerous place, a novice should start training in gentle surf in waist-deep water. Once you've mastered the basics, you may prefer to stay within your depth. That way you can use your feet to push off from the bottom when a wave approaches.
  • To find the most thrilling ride, you have to make your way to the surf zone, which can be difficult in heavy seas. Wade through the shallows, turning side-on and leading with an arm as you break through smaller waves. Don't fight against large waves; dive beneath them instead, and hug the bottom when they break.
  • Begin to swim when you reach deeper water, diving to pass beneath waves before they break. Beyond the breakers, tread water as you look for the right waves to surf.

Read the surf

Learning to read the surf could save your life.

  • Two distinct zones of large waves separated by a deep trough are signs of dangerous surf.
  • Similar, but slightly less hazardous conditions occur where sand bars take the brunt of the waves' force.
  • Caution is necessary where there is a pattern of alternating sand bars and deep rip channels.
  • Relatively safe beaches display a similar pattern, but have weaker rips and smaller waves.

Identify the perfect wave

  • Waves are generated far out at sea by wind action or storms, and travel landwards in groups (sets). When a wave arrives at the coast, the front part of the wave becomes steeper in response to the shallower water. When the water is too shallow to support the wave, it collapses and its energy is expended in pushing boiling surf up the beach.
  • The right wave for body surfers and inexperienced boardriders is a spilling wave; it's powerful but gently rolling, holds its peak longer than others, and breaks from the top with a foaming crest.
  • Conversely, plunging waves have a curling­ crest and are almost cylindrical as they collapse. They're dangerous and should be left to experienced boardriders. If caught in one, lie across the wave so that you roll sideways, not head over heels. If it's too late for this, curl up into a ball with your hands around the back of the head and try to somersault with the wave.

Body surfing is an exciting way to experience the thrill of surfing without requiring any special equipment. Learning how to body surf is fun in itself, but once you master the technique and how to read the waves, you'll never want to leave the water.

The material on this website is provided for entertainment, informational and educational purposes only and should never act as a substitute to the advice of an applicable professional. Use of this website is subject to our terms of use and privacy policy.
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