Chris Kalima underwater takeoff World Bodysurfing Championships

Porpoise: The Underwater Takeoff

The way by which a bodysurfer enters into relations with each new wave can open up a range of options or significantly limit them. Once you have mastered your takeoff I would suggest mixing in the porpoise to experience bodysurfing differently. This maneuver is not only beautiful to observe, but a sensory delight.

The aptly named maneuver has been around a long time. Judge Robert Gardner wrote about the Underwater Take Off in his 1972 classic The Art of Body Surfing. He writes, “The underwater take off is another rather spectacular and popular technique-but a lot of good waves have been lost by people who don’t know how to do it properly.” This maxim holds true today.

I can remember first seeing some old timers doing it at a State Park beach. As the wave approached, their bobbing heads submerged and they would punch through the wave face as it began breaking. This was new to me and I was left in awe of their ability to put their bodies exactly where they needed to be without being able to see the wave breaking in front of them. This is the same thought, I suspect, many gawkers have when they catch a glimpse of the porpoising bodysurfer for the very first time.

The standard porpoise takeoff begins as the wave is approaching. Rider will swim to the spot and then turn to face the beach. Just prior to the wave’s approach, the rider submerges diagonally to the water’s surface drawing arms above the head and fins in a ready position. As if there were a wall to push off from, the rider then pushes/pulls at the precise moment the wave’s energy has reached them. To the uninitiated, it will be surprising just how easy it is to utilize the swell of energy beneath the wave’s surface. Once the rider’s body is moving in the right direction and at a speed congruent to the wave it is almost a feeling of the wave taking over. There is a sweet spot behind the surface of the breaking wave where the Ocean pulls the rider along. In the traditional porpoise take off the rider uses this energy to burst through the face and then continue their ride in whatever manner they wish.

There are, as always, variations on this maneuver. Some bodysurfers milk the underwater action until the last possible second before breaching as the wave is breaking. If you attend bodysurfing competitions, you’re like to see bodysurfers porpoising in the middle of a ride. Occasionally you’ll see a rider breach in a reversed position as they submerged.  It does take practice and skill to master these moves, as each requires utilizing the wave’s energy perfectly so as not to squander a good wave.

As you explore new riding techniques stay safe and have fun. Expect that you’ll mess up a few waves and with this technique especially, you’ll go over the falls once or twice before you get the timing right. It might be a good idea to try this first where you can push off the bottom to gain speed easier. Obviously this puts you closer to the ground when you come bursting out of the wave, so prepare accordingly.



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Swell Lines Magazine

Bodysurfing yarns woven 'tween crest & trough