I was lucky enough to be sent to the island of Oahu during my tour of ‘duty’ in the US Air Force at Hickam Air Force Base in Honolulu, Hawaii.

The most fun physically that I’ve ever had is a ‘sport’ or recreational hobby called, “bodyboarding”. A bodyboard is like a small surf board. It is typically about 36 – 44 inches long, 24 – 30 inches wide and a couple of inches thick.

Another name for bodyboarding
is “boogie boarding”.

I learned to bodyboard in rather large surf at an incredible spot on Oahu’s east side called, “Makapu’u”. The rides at this beach can go for over 200 meters when you catch the right wave far away from the shore. The waves are very consistent at this spot but usually it is best in the summer months as the Hawaiian islands benefit from regular southern swells in the summer time and northern swells in the winter months.

Video of some riders at Makapu’u, my favorite bodyboarding spot in Hawaii
(turn down your speakers, as the music they dubbed in is a little bizarre!)

Bodyboarding is such a rush, no matter how big the waves you are on. Bodyboarding is something that people of any age can take part in. I’ve seen women and men well into their 60’s and even 70’s bodyboarding in Hawaii. I’ve seen 2 year olds being helped to do it. EVERYONE is having fun when they bodyboard – it’s really an activity for everyone.

Though I eventually learned to ride huge waves towering 15 feet or more I really preferred the relative safety of the 3 to 6 foot surf. Most good swimmers can build up to that level of riding in a year or so. But you know the cool thing about bodyboarding? You would think that bigger is better in this case, but it’s not always true. I had just as much fun playing around in 2 1/2 to 3 foot surf as I did in the bigger surf most times. It was more forgiving and I could goof around a bit and have more fun. There are more people bodyboarding in that smaller surf and it’s easier to talk to people and even help them learn to bodyboard if they’re new to the activity.

If you’ve never tried it, I highly recommend it.

You might not even think it COULD

be that much fun looking at others doing it

– but the secret is…

it’s the most fun you can have at the beach!

The learning curve is shallow. You can be up and riding small surf in a matter of minutes or it might take as long as a day. It’s worth it! It took longer than that for you to learn how to ride a bike and this is many times more fun than riding a bike. Trust me! To ride well in small surf might take a couple weeks or months and it’s great fun to learn, nothing like falling off a bike or while learning to ice skate!

The best advice I can tell you for learning ‘how’ to bodyboard is to start in surf that is 2-3 foot. Go out into the water where it is waist to chest high without fins on your feet. When the wave comes try to time jumping into the wave just before it gets to you… Lay down on your chest and grab the front of the board and hold on. If you timed it right you will get a ride – any length ride is fun at first, though as you get better you’ll crave a longer ride. Buy some fins and a strong leash and head out a little further. Go progressively and don’t go out into big surf anytime soon unless you are 1. Fearless. and, 2. An awesome swimmer. Even 3 foot waves that are moving quickly can really hurt if they pound you into the sand or cause the board to hit you in the head!

The best spot to learn is any spot where there is a wave larger than 1 1/2 feet for adults and the wave must be coming in quickly or you don’t have a chance. The bigger the wave the more slowly it could be coming in to the shore for you to ride it. I’ve had fun bodyboarding with kids in 1-2 feet size waves.

Some bodyboarding beaches on Oahu, Hawaii:

“Walls” – Across from Kapiolani park near Diamondhead, but still in town at the northern part of Waikiki is a retainer wall built out into the ocean that is to stop the beach from eroding. The waves break just behind this wall. If you walk out on the pier you’ll see bodyboarders in front and on the left of you. A great place for consistent small surf, though sometimes the swells get big in Summer months. Be careful if you go near the wall as there is a lot of submerged coral to scrape yourself up on.

Bodyboarding video from “Walls” in Waikiki >

One more bodyboarding video from “Walls” >

“Bellows Air Force Station” – on the windward side (Northeast) is an old Air Force station that is mainly used for training maneuvers now. There is a public beach that is adjacent to the military base where the waves are very consistently small and fun. A bonus is you can cook out with your grill there under the many trees which create cool spots to relax for mom and dad! You can even camp overnight there if you have your gear! Don’t miss the Huli Huli chicken they roast at the main road entrance – get some with rice and drinks before you hit the beach unless you brought your barbeque grill with you.

Two kids bodyboarding at Bellows beach on Oahu, Hawaii >

Speaking of kids… your kids will love you for taking them and renting or buying some cheap boards they can play around with on vacation. If you’re looking for something to keep them busy for hours – get them a board and if you really want them to enjoy the experience for many hours, get them a good bodyboarding shirt to save their chest from being rubbed raw on the foam and vinyl surface. The board should have a leash that attaches to the wrist so no chasing down the beach is necessary when you lose your grip.

Technical tidbits:

A bodyboard’s parts consist of the nose, rails, stringer, leash, and tail. Oh, and top and bottom. You go on the top. The ocean goes underneath.

Bodyboards are made of all kinds of saltwater durable materials, the most basic ingredient though is a foam core. Foam that floats and that floats really well. The difference in price of the bodyboards – which ranges from $30 – over $300 USD for some professional boards is due to the durability of the materials. The cheap $30 boards and even up to about $100 should not be used in big surf. By “big surf” I mean surf that is over 3-4 feet Hawaiian scale (5-8 feet everyone else’s scale). I had a horrible experience with a bodyboard being destroyed in a big wave and though I didn’t die, I thought that was a very real possibility as I was exhausted from swimming against the current.

But, that’s another story entirely – I’ll post next time about my 2 near death experiences while bodyboarding in Hawaii’s big surf.

The best bodyboards in the world are made by just a couple of top companies: Morey and BZ.

Wave Rebel has a good selection of pro copy boards that are available in the $30 price range and are good enough for small surf. They have these available in Hawaii. Long’s Drugs is a small convenience store in Hawaii that has very cheap bodyboards for sale. I would recommend you skip buying these very cheap boards under $15 because they tend to get eaten by the salt and sun rather quickly and scratch up yours and your childrens’ chests. Plus, you’ll need to go out and buy a better board in the end anyway.

Another piece of essential equipment if you are planning to paddle out to the waves and catch them – and not just catching the ‘shore break’ is the fin. Well made fins with a design specific to bodyboarding is essential. I used ‘Churchill fins’ for years and I never wanted anything more than those. 20 years ago the price was about $40 – 60 USD. Today you can find them for as low as $30 USD. They are made of soft, pliable rubber that is stiff in the right places to transform the power of your kick into forward motion to help you catch the waves. Do not use diving fins or you might break or severely strain your ankles!

Some bodyboarding associations online from Wikipedia:

  • Movement Bodyboard Magazine – Australian Bodyboarding Magazine
  • Bodyboarder Magazine – United States Bodyboarding Magazine
  • Sixty40 Bodyboarding South Africa’s Online Bodyboarding Community
  • Bodyboarding WA – Large Western Australian based online bodyboarding community and information/news source, most active forums in the industry
  • Transparent Bodyboarding – West Australian website supporting bodyboarding media , bodyboarding community links

Hope you enjoyed this post about bodyboarding, a truly amazing experience… bodyboarding is one of the most fun things you can do in the water, or anywhere. If you try it you might become addicted to it like I am!