Bodysurfing’s Rosetta Stone

Every subculture develops its own nomenclature to describe their endeavors. Skiers and snowboarders use dozens of words to articulate different snow conditions. Skateboarders have a name for every kick and flip. Likewise, waveriders have hundreds of words to describe the Ocean and waves.


Bodysurfers have developed our own words to chronicle our Ocean passion. In the United States, womp or whomp has become synonymous with bodysurfing. “I’m gonna go for a womp.” However, the origin of the word comes from early surf days when people would go for a “bodywomp” in shallow shorebreak. Womp being the sound that the body makes when splattering on the sand.

Shacked, pitted, tubed...
Shacked, pitted, tubed…


Many words are used to describe a barreling wave: tube, pit, shack, cave, keg, green room, cavern etc. We use a multitude of words to discuss conditions: glassy, blown-out, closed-out, clean, bowling, heaving, funky, crispy, lined-up, peaky, offshore, victory-at-sea, thumping etc.


We’re members of a worldwide tribe. From all corners of the globe, everywhere waves break on shore, people ride the energy. Bodysurfing is an ancient endeavor, probably the first form of recreational waveriding. It stands to reason that many cultures developed their own words for riding waves and more specifically, bodysurfing waves.

Kaha nalu in Hawaii. Image: Keali'i Punley
Kaha nalu in Hawaii.        Image: Keali’i Punley

Kaha Nalu is the ancient Hawaiian word for bodysurfing. The spirit of Hawaiian bodysurfing is summarized by the Hawaiian State Bodysurfing Association’s motto:  Hōpūpū i ke kaha nalu meaning “to be extremely emotionally excited about bodysurfing.”

Viya on the Black Sea coast of Turkey. Image: Selman Kiran
Viya on the Black Sea coast of Turkey.                               Image: Selman Kiran


On the Black Sea coast of Turkey, for centuries people have been partaking in a past time they call Viya, meaning waves in a Greek dialect dating back before the Ottoman Empire. Fishermen challenge themselves by bodysurfing in wintertime storm surf along the jagged Turkish coast. It is still practiced today, passed down from father to son.

In Brazil, bodysurfing is known as jacaré which translates to alligator. It has been used since the 1940’s, when bodysurfing gained popularity at Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro. In the 1980’s, the term surfe de peito meaning chest surf became popular. In Peru, bodysurfing is known as “pechito” or little chest. Costa Rican’s refer to their swim fins as patas de ranas or frog legs.

Similar to a womp in the USA, Australians go for a bodybash and South Africans might run out for a quick goef. In Japan, bodysurfing is  ボディーサーフィン  and also known as sunori  素乗り or bare riding. Italians enjoy the Mediterranean Sea and sometimes bodysurf, called surf con il corpo.  Many countries use the word bodysurf but add their own accents including: Mexico, France, Spain and Portugal.


Whatever you call it, bodysurfing is the most supreme pleasure experienced by people across the globe. If you ever find yourself on a foreign coast with waves breaking, ask around, you might be surprised to find bodysurfers enjoying waves and talking story in their native tongue. 


Special thanks:
Rodrigo Bruno in Brazil, Keali’i Punley in Hawaii, Tunc Ucyildiz in Turkey, Ricardo Añorga in Peru, Masakazu Miura Fleming in Japan, Oliver and Axel in Italy and Belly Slater in Australia 


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Swell Lines Magazine

Bodysurfing yarns woven 'tween crest & trough