You have been in search of the perfect wave and suddenly you find yourself riding it! You’ve got yourself in the perfect position and your readying yourself to attempt an “El Rollo” and there it is - a “Wipeout.” Frustration sets in and then you begin questioning yourself on, “How to Improve Bodyboarding”: your skills, your techniques and your knowledge?
Whether you are at the beginner, intermediate, or advanced level, as the old saying goes, “the devil is in the detail.” Everything you do matters when you are riding a wave; how your board and body interact with the wall of water you are riding, will produce a unique outcome every ride.
Key Factors in Improving
Bodyboarding is an extremely exhilarating and a physically demanding water sport that requires a unique skill set. To improve your bodyboarding skills it comes down to the following:
- Technique: Without mastering the basics it’s impossible to progress as a bodyboarder. Once you have the basics under control, to advance your skill set will require a focus on individual maneuver techniques and tips, advice and coaching, to methodically improving your boarding.
- Repetition: The key to improving your bodyboarding is to maximize what you get out of your practice sessions. By getting the most out of each experience, even beginners can learn much more than just the basics over a relatively short period of time.
- Physical Conditioning: Bodyboarding is a physically demanding sport. The first-time you bodyboard, you’ll realize the arm strength and endurance needed to paddle out to a wave.
Once you are out riding the waves, every muscle in your body will be called upon. Depending on the duration of your session, you may very well be pushed to the point of exhaustion. A regular fitness and exercise program should be part of your improvement plan.
- Equipment: You should consult with a surf shop or knowledgeable individual to determine the appropriate board for your skill level and body type (height & weight).
- Coaching & Advice: Seeking out experienced bodyboarders advice, tips, and suggestions will lessen your learning curve and minimize the amount of bad habits you might ultimately develop.
- Knowledgeable and Creativity: There are a ton of resources available to enhance your knowledge base that should be tapped to support your continuous improvement. Many bodyboarders will tell you that you have to be able to visualize yourself riding the wave and tap your creativity to successfully pull off a move. As with most skilled athletes you will need to enhance your ability to creatively visualize your individual moves and techniques.
Focusing on your technique should be done under conditions that optimize your ability to practice and master skills. Understanding why and how a wave breaks will better prepare you for successfully accomplishing the maneuvers you’re attempting to learn.
You should not try to acquire new tricks/maneuvers by taking on the big waves but instead opt for a small wave, which will provide an optimal training ground to work on your technique and mastery.
The following provides a solid basis of focus for your efforts towards improved techniques in your progression of bodyboarding skill acquisition:
Holding the Board
How you hold your bodyboard is a basic skill and prerequisite for becoming an intermediate or advanced boarder. Most often a claw grip is the recommended approach to holding your bodyboard.
Holding on to your board placing your hand on the front corner of the board, really engaging your rail with your elbow. Placing your fingers in a claw grip positions you in an upright position, and will increase your speed and stability.
Keep your body upright in a prone position and make sure your board is flat against the surface of the water. Utilizing the claw grip in this fashion will allow you to ride steeper waves more smoothly if you apply the necessary pressure.
Using the correct paddling technique will both save you energy and allow you to reach your starting point faster. There are three basic means for paddling on a bodyboard:
- Legs: Slide your body slightly back on your board, positioning your waist on the tail of your board, allowing your legs to kick unhindered. Relax your elbows, gripping the nose of your board with both hands. Submerge your swim fins and alternate your kicks using the full lever of your legs.
- Arms: To use your arms you need to position yourself so your weight is centered on the board, allowing your arms to move freely. Arch your back slightly and using a motion similar to freestyle swimming, cupping your hands and using an ‘S” shape motion for your strokes to propel the board. You will need to have waxed your board to avoid slipping or sliding off.
- Combine Legs and Arms: Using just your arms or your just your legs will conserve the energy of the body part not in use. Combining both your legs and arms provides the quickest means for getting to your starting point, while lessening the demand on a single body part. Your body should be in the kick position and you can use your chest to keep the nose of the board flat to the water.
A modification to this method is to take one arm and hold the nose of the board, while using the other arm to paddle. This is an efficient method, maintains your stability and saves arm energy.
Duck diving is a technique to get you and your board under the turbulence created by a breaking wave. This is the most efficient and quickest way of getting through whitewater wash of the surf and to your starting point.
As a wave approaches, you will need to paddle strongly towards the wave. Just before the wave is about to hit you, grab the rails at the corners of the nose on your board, extend your arms, pushing the nose of your board down. You should try to get as deep as possible to avoid the turbulence of the wave.
As you push down, use your knee, on the tail of the board to assist in pushing your board forward. As the wave passes over you, transfer your weight backwards, lifting the nose of your board to angle out the back of the wave. Duck diving will require practice to become proficient.
Managing your Speed and Control
- As stated in the previous section, place your hands on the top corners of your board and engage your elbows.
- Slide your body forward, maintaining the board flat against the water, which will increase your speed.
- Moving your body backwards creates turbulence, increasing your resistance and reducing your speed.
- Keeping your elbow on the deck of the board you can turn by shifting your weight from the center of the board to the corner.
Use your Eyes
Your body is going to follow where your head leads and where your eyes are focused. A common suggestion or tip is for the bodyboarder to “look through their moves” when attempting a spin, roll or carving the wave.
Lift your Legs
The more speed you can generate the easier the maneuvers you are attempting will become; to gain more speed, you need to minimize your drag. Lifting your legs out of the water to gain speed and then dipping them to manage your speed will create measurable improvement in your performance.
Managing your Speed
Once you’ve caught that big wave and you’ve gained optimal speed, it can be a challenge to slow yourself back down for certain tricks that require less speed. A couple of techniques that can help you in accomplishing this are:
- Using swim fins and by spreading your legs with the fins angled in the water while riding a wave creates resistance and will slow you down ;
- Moving back on your board will create turbulence and thus more resistance, allowing you to slow down when you need to.
Although swim fins are not required to bodyboard they are a worthwhile investment if you are seeking to improve your skills and abilities. A good pair of swim fins do much more than simply help you to slow down. Fins will assist your effort to get directional flow, providing you better control over your board. You want to make sure to get a pair that fits well and are comfortable on your feet.
Mastering these basic techniques is essential if you wish to improve as a bodyboarder. Failing to do so will ensure that you have little or no success in bettering your skills and abilities. However, once you have developed these techniques your next steps will be to learn specific maneuvers like spins, rolls, carves, airs, barrels, etc.
The most efficient and effective means in an athlete’s training tool kit is repetition. If you study the world’s best athletes, they practice individual skills, workouts and routines over and over, focused on continual improvement, with the goal of perfection. Repetition both in performance and training sessions over time, athletes improve motor skills, gain an intuitive understanding of how their body functions and attain maximum productivity in tracking and assessing performance.
Specific to bodyboarding is to conduct your repetitions, practice and performance, under a variety of conditions. Riding different types of waves, under various conditions, focused on perfecting moves will improve overall skill acquisition and mastery. Limiting your bodyboarding to ideal weather conditions, limits both your opportunities and overall performance.
The physical demands of bodyboarding on your strength, conditioning, endurance, flexibility and overall health is considerable. A physical conditioning program needs to be incorporated into any serious efforts to improve your performance. A regular fitness and exercise program, focused on the physical demands of bodyboarding, should be incorporated.
Land-based training can work wonders to help supplement and improve your bodyboarding experiences. A recent article titled, “How to Practice Bodyboarding at Home” provides tips, suggestions, and ideas that can support you in improving your skills and abilities. The article outlines a variety of methods for training that will both enhance your performance but also provide sport specific methods to avoid some of the boredom and monotony sometimes associated with physical conditioning programs.
Beginners will typically start with an entry-level board. These boards will allow you to float and give you an enjoyable ride, however they shouldn’t be used for more extreme wave riding. You should consult with a surf shop or knowledgeable individual to determine the appropriate board for your skill level and body type (height & weight).
If your board does not come with one, you will want to purchase a leash to secure to either your wrist or bicep. The leash secures your board to your body, ensuring it stays in close proximity and makes it easier to retrieve, avoiding a long swim back to the beach.
If you will be bodyboarding in cooler waters, you will want to consider a wetsuit or rash guard. You may also want to wear a rashguard shirt/vest to protect your skin from irritations, add buoyancy and provide sun protection.
The last piece of equipment to consider, although not required, are swim fins, which increases your swimming and paddling speed and fin socks, to avoid skin irritation or discomfort.
Coaching and Advice
Any boarder serious about improving will not only be open to coaching but take the initiative to seek out the support and mentoring of experienced riders. Associating with knowledgeable and skilled bodyboarders can make more manageable your learning curve. For example, picking their brains about such things as wave selection or getting instant feedback on your technique or any observations they’ve made of your performance.
The opportunity to observe more skilled and knowledgeable individuals affords you up close observations on techniques and tricks that will support your continued improvement and will prove to be invaluable. Experienced eyes around you can tell you when you’re making mistakes and how you can improve. Instant feedback and being surrounded by serious bodyboarders will serve both to enhance your skill acquisition and your individual motivation.
Knowledge and Creativity
YouTube provides an excellent resource to study professional and highly skilled riders. You have access to a resource where you can study individual’s techniques and break down every part of their surfing: how they hold the board, where they are holding the board, body placement on the board, legs in trim, legs taking off, etc. Watching other surfers is an excellent method for improving your skills. You can observe what they do and pick up little tricks about what works and what doesn't. Online videos are a great resource for helping you learn to bodyboard.
A suggestion for improving your insights and knowledge about your own individual performance is to do some self analysis. A variety of technology is readily available for videotaping and/or photographing yourself while you’re bodyboarding. The video or photographs can be used after your boarding session to analyze and critique your skills and abilities.
You can have a friend videotape you boarding or invest in a GoPro for a close up view. The footage or images you gather can be used for comparative analysis of prior individual sessions, as well as how you stack up to experience or professional bodyboarders.
Improving your technique by watching professional bodyboarding videos that are readily available, should be an essential part of your growth and development. You can break them down, watching their positioning, their moves and how they ride the waves. The following videos are examples of what is available:
Iain Campbell - Hawaii 2017 Bodyboarding:
Hawaii Bodyboarding Pro Tour: Sandy Beach Challenge 2016
ACB 2018 - Final Day Highlights
If you are fortunate enough to have access to a professional or experienced bodyboarder you may be able to enlist their support in providing feedback on your videotape. Social media provides access to experienced bodyboarders and you may be able to connect seeking feedback and support.
Improving your bodyboarding technique starts with mastering the basic skills. Before you try spins and barrels, make sure you understand how to hold your board and how to position your body. These things will help you get more confident on the board and make learning maneuvers and tricks much easier.
Bodyboarding is an activity you can do and enjoy for your entire life. Taking time and making the effort to do it right on the front end will only serve to enhance the enjoyment and your skill level while you’re out there riding the waves. Hopefully these suggestions for improving your bodyboarding skills will help. Let us hear from you in the comments sections below how it’s going for you.
Megan Jones leads the editorial staff of Seaside Planet. They are a multidisciplinary team of outdoor adventurers, water sports lovers, and passionate beach goers. You can learn more about Meg and the rest of the editorial team here.