Spend any time on a beach watching surf, and the two most popular crafts you’ll see zipping along the face of the waves will be bodyboards and surfboards.
Bodyboards (sometimes known as boogie boards), are short, stub-nosed and made of soft foam. They’re usually ridden lying down (prone), but can also be ridden on foot and knee (known as dropknee).
They come with a range of subtle features, including stringers (reinforced spines running through the core of the board), channels on the bottom, deck contours and varying densities of foam, affecting their flexibility and performance. They generally come in sizes from 39” to 45” long – a correctly sized board should come up to about your belly button when stood in front of you.
Bodyboarding also allows you to wear swimfins on your feet – this gives you greater paddling power and will help you get through the breaking waves ‘out back’ … where you want to be.
Surfboards come in a much greater variety of lengths and styles, have stabilising fins on the bottom, and are covered in a hard glass fibre. Like bodyboards they’re shaped with different templates, but include styles such as the fish, shortboard, gun, mini-mal, and longboard.
Shortboards generally range from 5’8” to 6’6” long, and are usually ridden by accomplished surfers looking for quick, sharp turns and increased performance. Guns are longer, pointier boards built for speed, and are usually ridden in large surf.
Mini-mals and longboards are thicker and wider for increased flotation, and feature rounded noses, ideal for smaller surf conditions. Mini-mals are often used for learners as they are less skittish, meaning people can learn to balance on them more easily.
Which type of craft you’d like to ride comes down to your own personal preference – there’s no right or wrong answer.
Things to ask yourself are: How quickly do you want to learn and progress? What types of waves would you like to ride? Are you desperate to stand up? Having a good idea of your goals before you take a lesson will naturally help steer you to the type of board you’ll need, and don’t forget – you can do both! They’re not mutually exclusive.
If you’re not desperate to stand up, would like to get riding waves sooner (or don’t have good patience/and or balance), then bodyboarding could be for you. The sport has long suffered from the misconception that it is but a stepping stone for aspiring surfers, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.
For decades, professional bodyboarding has pushed the boundaries of what is possible in wave riding, and indeed some dangerous reef spots can only be ridden by bodyboarders as they’re not suitable for stand-up riders.
Bodyboarding is quick to pick up, but can take a long to master. Being that you ride waves while prone, one instant benefit is you fall off much less. Naturally this maximises your time riding on waves, not tumbling under them!
As you’re closer to the wave face you also get an increased sensation of speed, and – once you’ve got the hang of it and seen some decent progress – you will find it easier to achieve the holy grail of wave riding … getting in the tube! Experienced bodyboarders also enjoy a greater variety of aerial manoeuvres than surfers, including spins, rolls, flips and sometimes a combination of all three.
If, however, you don’t mind putting the hours in, are patient, have good balance and have an upright goal, surfing is the way for you.
It’s certainly a special feeling, gliding along the face of an unbroken wave on your feet, and learning to turn and carve as you go. Surfing maybe trickier to pick up, but the rewards are arguably that much greater, as there are more pieces of the puzzle you need to put in place.
Whether you opt for bodyboarding or surfing, you’re guaranteed adrenaline, a strong cardio workout and an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment.
Taking the time to understand the ocean, by reading its moods and patterns, and observing different types of waves and currents, will all give you a valuable foundation to getting the most out of either craft, as well as staying safe.
Sea and wave conditions play a huge part in which type of riding you might want to experience. Generally, a defined swell and an offshore wind are the ideal conditions for riding waves, as the breeze gently smooths out the ripples and creates clean peeling waves, which usually offer longer rides. For a great surf report check out the forecasting site MagicSeaweed.
Surfing is best in these conditions. While that’s the case for bodyboarding too, a lot of fun can still be had for bodyboarders when the winds switch, and it starts to blow onshore.
These winds create choppier conditions, normally reducing the length of waves, but also increasing their unpredictability. This suits the riders lying down, who can use this to their advantage – what seems a wave destined to close out and spell the end of a ride for a stand-up rider can be a launch pad for a bodyboarder, who can take to the skies.
Open-ocean beaches are usually a great spot to learn either sport, and generally provide reliable swell with enough room to learn safely away from any crowds. As you become more accomplished, experienced surfers enjoy the longer rides of rocky point breaks, and bodyboarders generally seek out wedgier waves, which give fun air sections.
You really can’t lose, whichever way you go. In fairness we’d advise trying both – see what works best for you, and be honest with which one gave you the most fun … after all that’s the whole point of getting suited up in the first place!
Ready to hit the water? Call us on 01637 877722 today to book your place on an upcoming course or two. If you would like to try surfing lessons or have a go at bodyboarding, be sure to check out our site, and don’t forget we’re always on hand and willing to answer any questions.