Sandy Pages: How to Body Surf

How to Body Surf by Nelson Dewey



In 1970 the second piece of literature focused on bodysurfing was published. In contrast to the first publication 39 years prior, How to Body Surf is an illustrated pamphlet by a prolific artist and novice bodysurfer. The pamphlet was not widely popular at the time and Dewey himself doesn’t have a copy of it, but the artwork and commentary are unique and creative among bodysurfing’s early culture. Nelson Dewey has a long career of producing surf art and our sub-culture finds a hidden gem in his early effort to re-introduce the world to bodysurfing.

The nineteen page pamphlet starts with beginner information like where to bodysurf and who can bodysurf. In the almost fifty years since publication, there are many bodysurfers who would disagree that “…a hollow, tubular type (wave)… isn’t a good wave…” for bodysurfing. There are a few such claims throughout this publication where the athletic progression of bodysurfing is clear, but the visualizations of bodysurfing for beginners stand the test of time.


As shown above, Dewey provides interesting and technically-sound illustrations. The top, demonstrating how to predict sets and the bottom showing the proper technique for diving under surf. It is a delightful experience to see an artist’s vision of the bodysurfing experience. I’ve often wished for the skill to communicate the technical aspects of our sport which become so cumbersome in word form.

I particularly enjoyed Dewey’s visual of the most common experience to all bodysurfers, the wipeout (above left). 

In the age of digital resource Nelson Dewey’s “How to Body Surf” holds up as a creative and light-hearted journey into the world of bodysurfers. Given the absolute rarity of this work, it could easily be very valuable to the right collector. It should be noted that no previous sale of this pamphlet could be found, so an exact price is anyone’s guess. Should you stumble across a copy, I think you would find joy in the sandy pages.




Special thanks to Nelson Dewey for providing additional information on his production of the pamphlet. You can check out more of his work here.

Sandy Pages: Soul Surfer Johnny

Soul Surfer Johnny
by Bill Missett

“He rolled over onto his back as he took off under the lip, and instead of going over the falls, he gracefully slid diagonally down the barreling face of a six-footer. It was instantly glorious…” Johnny had successfully bodysurfed his first wave at “Puerto Tranquilo” and he was thrilled.

“Soul Surfer Johnny” by Bill Missett is the tale of a troubled kid from the streets of Boston, relocated to Hermosa Beach with his mother. A high school senior named Ron befriends Johnny and shows him how to bodyboard. He is soon initiated into a prankster gang of local surfers called the Tyronys. One of the Tyronys named Smokesurf, shows Johnny the ways of bodysurfing and he is instantly hooked. Ron also introduces Johnny to meditation and his life starts to turn around for the better.

Johnny saves up enough money to join the Tyronys on their summer surf trip to the famed beachbreaks of “Puerto Tranquilo” Mexico. They spend a month in Mexico bodysurfing, partying and experiencing many unique characters including Señora Maria, the owner of their daily breakfast cafe, Marcos, one of multiple town drunks with a tragic past, Beach Girl, a catatonic girl whose husband drowned while surfing on their honeymoon 2 years before, Glue Boy, who ran through town everyday looking in dumpsters, numerous stray dogs and a hammerhead shark named Bruno that controlled the lineup at the Point.

Ron and Johnny begin joining a regular meditation group on the beach. There they are given books to help them achieve new levels of spiritual awakening. The Tyronys complete their successful mission to Mexico and prepare to return home to Southern California. The night before departing, Ron and Johnny’s cabana is broken into and most of their belongings are stolen. Without identification, they struggle to make their way back to the US-Mexico border and rejoice when they finally make it home.

Here, the book takes a sharp turn.  Johnny’s devout-Catholic mother finds the spirituality book and reads it. She recognized the positive changes to Johnny and she felt immediately connected to these new ideas.  She begins to question her faith and goes to question a local priest.  Her new mindfulness brought back a very dark memory from her past. She recognized the priest as the man who raped her 17 years before. That man is also Johnny’s father.

Soul Surfer Johnny is an interesting semi-autobiographical, coming of age, adventure story. Although, there are numerous timeline issues. At one point we’re in the “Gidget” era (1960’s) then we have Foo and Bradshaw (1990’s) showing up to charge giant Puerto Tranquilo. The waveriding is well-written and obviously from the pen of an experienced bodysurfer.


In memory of Bill Missett (1939-2016)
Bill was born in New York, grew up in Virginia, did a stint in the Navy then began a long career as a newspaperman. In 1968, he settled in Oceanside, CA and began publishing the Oceanside Blade-Tribune with his brother Tom. The Blade-Tribune became known for its unrelenting drive to make Oceanside a better place.  Bill helped organize the inaugural World Bodysurfing Championships at the Oceanside Pier.  He then moved to Puerto Escondido to bodysurf, write and explore spirituality. 

The Art of Wave Riding by Ron Drummond

Sandy Pages: The Art of Wave Riding

Ron “Canoe” Drummond was an author and surf pioneer whose massive 6’6 frame was eclipsed only by his passion for the Ocean. Drummond self-published The Art of Wave Riding at 24 years young. The year was 1931. The book was one of the first ever books written about riding waves and definitely the first written about bodysurfing. Drummond published a mere 200 copies of the 26-page artistic work. When you read Drummond’s work you may notice he fails to mention swimming fins, but that is because Owen Churchill wouldn’t submit his patent for another 9 years. By Drummond’s own admission, most wave riders of the time were athletically inclined and paid the price of time for their knowledge. He wanted to “increase a thousand fold the pleasure derived from surf bathing,” by providing hints at the best way to ride waves with your body.

Drummond bodysurfing waves in the art of wave riding

If you can get your hands on a copy, one of the first observations that will blow you away is the fact that there are actual photographs from Drummond’s time of himself and others bodysurfing. The primitive photographic technology coupled with the difficulty modern-day photographers have with capturing bodysurfing is enough to merit a long look from all bodysurfing enthusiasts.


Drummond does his best to offer information to the casual surf bather and the seasoned surf swimmer alike. He describes two means of riding waves. The first is the position involving both hands out in front of your body with your head down in the water. The second and more advanced was to keep your hands at your side in what we call theProneposition. This matches all of the documentation we have of bodysurfers in Ron’s day riding prone to the beach. Drummond artfully guides the reader through bodysurfing small and large surf using the swimming terminology of the day and soulful delivery. He goes on to detail all the little tips he’s collected like stiffening one’s body, no hesitation, and taking a deep breath both for comfort and added buoyancy.

The Art of Wave Riding also catalogues the progressive tricks of Drummond’s day such as riding on your back, spinning and a front flip. It is striking to see the slow progression of our sport. The expert riders of 85 years ago were working on the same maneuvers as our comrades today. In perfect irony, Ronald B. Drummond’s mission was “that publishing this information now, all those interested in the sport can make faster strides while learning the fundamentals of wave riding and so have more time to help develop the intricate phases of this superb sport which in my opinion is still in the initial stages of development.”

This book is the one of the rarest books in the surfing genre and therefore very expensive. In recent years they have sold within the range of $1200-$4200. To find one you’ll have to scour auction sites or get lucky in other used book marketplaces. Ron passed away in 1996, but he left bodysurfers with the most exquisite link to their heritage within the 26 pages of Ocean joy, The Art of Wave Riding.



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Sandy Pages: The Progressive Art of Bodysurfing

There are a handful of fervent bodysurfers who took the time to document, educate and rave about this one-of-a-kind activity. Here is a brief review of one such pursuit.

IMG_2410The Progressive Art of Bodysurfing: A Style Manual

By Paul A. Kosten, PH.D.

Pak’s Press LLC, 2011



Paul Kosten is a New Jersey resident and Senior Lifeguard at Poverty Beach. He has been riding waves his whole life and has written a bodysurfing style manual. The 82 page effort brims with stoke and attempts to blend a lifeguard’s point of view with that of a waverider. The book is an East Coast perspective on bodysurfing which is expressed through unique terminology and accounts of East Coast figures pushing the progression of maneuvers.

Paul begins the book by establishing a purpose. “The goal of this book is to teach you how to neutralize and use wave force to elevate bodysurfing to an art form.” It is a lofty goal and Paul dedicates part of the book educating beginners and part of the book documenting a “style” manual as he calls it. I will address each part separately.

Chapters 2, 3 and 4 (Reading the Surf, Entering the Surf and Catching Waves) are mostly directed at the beginner bodysurfers. Here we see Paul’s lifeguard side as he describes drifts, rips, currents, types of waves and two ways to catch them. He provides several graphics to aid in description of water hazards a bodysurfer is to be familiar with. The descriptions of hazards and waves are well written and the information could be very useful to a blossoming water-person.

Chapters 5, 6 and 7 (Riding Waves, Exiting Waves and Parting Comments) begin to address the “style” Paul alludes to in the early chapters. Here we find one of the book’s weaknesses. Paul’s Ocean photos are of smaller waves with mixed clarity. Some of the photographs are able to get the point across, but offer little inspiration. This is in great contrast to the black and white drawings by Damien Cwik. Damien’s artwork is a notable highlight in the otherwise underwhelming visual experience.


The content provided in these chapters is basic. It chronicles a reasonable transition from jumping off the sandy bottom to extending one arm out and riding waves. Paul draws on the important dynamics of flotation and their effects on bodysurfing. As he goes on to describe what he calls “Higher-Order” riding of waves, Paul uses technical language to guide the reader through the cut-back, roll-over(spin) and bottom-turn. These, fairly common maneuvers, are described aptly before Paul introduces bobsledding, which is essentially holding one foot while riding in the standard lay-out position. The culmination of skill, in Paul’s opinion, lies one’s ability to string maneuvers together in “frenzied insanity.” One could argue the rider would demonstrate more skill by linking maneuvers with deliberate control, but despite the terminology, Paul writes a strong description and notes the importance of utilizing the wave’s energy above all else.

Throughout the book Paul has also intertwined his own personal experiences with great detail. I find myself most connected with Paul’s writing as he describes bodysurfing on 9/11 and his first experiences with the weightlessness of bodysurfing. The Progressive Art of Bodysurfing: A Style Manual is a unique piece, which despite some visual shortcomings in the time of prolific water photography, offers the reader a stoke-full East Coast perspective on bodysurfing.



Sandy Pages: The Art of Body Surfing

There are a handful of fervent bodysurfers who took the time to document, educate and rave about this one-of-a-kind activity. Here is a brief review of one such pursuit.

The Art of Bodysurfing by Robert Gardner.The Art of Body Surfing: Robert Gardner
Chilton Book Company, 1972.







The Judge, as many prefer to call him, starts his book by detailing a scene we’ve all witnessed, the masses bodysurfing. Despite being less than “proficient,” people seem to love floundering in the surf. Much of the book is dedicated to the education of these masses. Gardner reviews the basics of bodysurfing in chapters 3, 4 and 5. He describes the process by which beginners can first “feel” what it is like to bodysurf and then progressively work their way into cutting and riding bigger waves. The Judge writes with authority and does not hesitate to remind beginners to get out of the way of the rest of us. It is the Judges authoritative voice which pulls the reader in. I found myself laughing aloud often at his matter-of-fact commentary on more than one occasion.

In his early chapters, Judge Gardner gives his interpretation of primitive bodysurfing. He refers to the imaginary bodysurfing pioneer, Crazy Og, who sparked the spirit of his onlooking tribe when he rode his first wave into shore. Crazy Og is referred to throughout the book in both reverence and as a reminder to not give up. Gardner progresses to briefly chronicle the “post swim-fin” era of bodysurfing, recognizing the tremendous advancement swimmers were able to make with the aid of the swim fin.

Fred Simpson in the Art of Body Surfing

As Gardner moves into the modern art of body surfing, his passion for riding waves, especially big waves, is most evident. He name-drops those he considers to be the top riders of the day including Buffalo Keaulana, Micky Munoz, Fred Simpson among many others. The Judge also provides a list of body surfing beaches on both coasts with anecdotal commentary. 

Like most of the book, his information on riders, technique, spots and history is very brief. In 83 pages, Judge Gardner can transport present day bodysurfers back to a simpler time. The irony is, in many ways, bodysurfing itself hasn’t evolutionarily transformed. The equipment and basics remain true and much of the techniques are still relevant.  In Judge Gardner’s second to last chapter he concludes “… just you wait, you board surfers. Body surfing is about to take off. Just remember that you are on the water; we are in it.” Although his vision of a future Ocean filled with competent bodysurfers has not yet come to fruition, his elegant and heartfelt contribution to the culture of bodysurfing is one I recommend any serious bodysurfer pick up.