2014 World Bodysurfing Championships



A dark bump beyond the Pier brings hoots and yews from the Pier spectators. Bodysurfers look to their friends on the Pier. Riders and coaches use hand signals to alert an approaching set. An attempt at stealth…every extra stroke an advantage when getting to the peak before a competitor. Hand up with digits raised show how many bumps are out the back. Competitors dive and swim hard for the outside. Pick the right one, find the sweet spot, take off and style for the judges.


Oceanside Pier with judges and spectators.

Chest to head high waves rolled into the Oceanside Pier on the weekend of August 16th and 17th, providing excellent surf for the 38th Annual World Bodysurfing Championships. The Oceanside Buoy read 3.3ft. at 17 seconds from the SSW. The waves even exceeded most forecasts. With the tide rising through the morning, consistent sets provided ample scoring opportunities. The Southside was mysteriously better than the Northside.  The biggest sets never seemed to connect through the Pier. The northwest wind blew out the Northside while the Pier blocked some wind to keep the Southside clean. Rotating heat locations on Saturday gave everyone a chance on the Southside.

Mark Cunningham
Mark Cunningham

An air of healthy competition hung over the Pier. Competitors swam hard, teams cheered and judges did their best. Everyone discussed heat strategy. Sit inside and catch a bunch of small waves or wait for the sets outside? Can the judges see the lefts on the Northside? Is that little right still working next to the Pier? With swell in the water, swimming strength became vital in the drifting Oceanside lineup. According to Dr. Hal Handley, “It is very often a swimming endurance contest. The strongest AND most talented win.”

350 bodysurfers in 12 divisions (8 men’s and 4 women’s) began the competition with the first heats beginning at 6:30am. Competitors represented the whole of the California coast, Hawaii, Oregon and the East Coast.  International representation included Australia, Brazil and France. The youngest included 12 year olds while the 65+ age groups are always lively and respected.

Saturday’s competition ended with fatigued arms, sunburns and smiles. The usual Saturday night debauchery at the Doctor’s house was replaced this year with a true celebration. A celebration of the Ocean, of bodysurfing and it’s legendary characters.  The California Surf Museum in Oceanside hosted the Grand Opening Reception of an exhibit titled, “Bodysurfing…Pure, Simple and Fun!” Over the past year, Bill “Froggy” Schlidge and Dr. Hal Handly have collected and collaborated a wonderful history of bodysurfing. Stories, artifacts, images and passion: it is all there. Lively fin discussions, wild wave tales and pure, simple stoke highlighted the evening.

Mark Cunningham, Hal Handley, Fred Simpson and Bill Schlidge
Mark Cunningham, Hal Handley, Fred Simpson and Bill Schlidge
2014 Men's Grand Championship
2014 Men’s Grand Championship

Sunday morning dawned with continuing swell and clean conditions.  All age group finals ran in consistent surf on the Southside. The crowd filled in on the beach and stood two deep on the Pier.  With all the finals featuring previous Grand Champions, multiple-time age group winners and legends, a very high level of bodysurfing was on display. Upside down, underwater takeoffs, smooth spinners and long barrel rides kept the judges busy and the crowd cheering.

Wolfpack                           Photo: Curtis Marker

Positivity surrounded the entire weekend. Many of the competitors have been competing here for 20+ years. Old friends talked story and new friends made introductions. The team competition adds an interesting dynamic. The Wolfpack is always up for a good time especially this year in their flesh-tone speedos that caused many spectator double-takes. The Del Mar Bodysurfing Club “Good Vibes” are exactly that. Chubascos was well represented from Huntington Beach and the young guns from the WOD Crew showed encouraging skill.

Grand Champions: Calla Allison and Brett Templeman Photo: Rod Hepburn
Grand Champions: Calla Allison and Brett Templeman       Photo: Rod Hepburn

When the salt spray finally settled, Calla Allison of Team Pine St. Carlsbad won her 5th Women’s Grand Championship and Brett Templeman of the South City Swells in Ventura took the Men’s Grand Championship. Both exhibited expert wave knowledge, stamina and style throughout the weekend. Congrats to them both! The highly coveted and hotly contested Team Trophy went to Pine St. They are the only name on the trophy, having won it each of the 5 years that it’s been awarded. Hal Handley and Bill Schlidge were awarded the Jack Thill Perpetual Bodysurfing Trophy for service to our beloved lifestyle. Obviously, well deserved!

Jack Thill Perpetual Bodysurfing Trophy: Bill Schlidge and Dr. Hal Handley Photo: Rod Hepburn
Jack Thill Perpetual Bodysurfing Trophy: Bill Schlidge and Dr. Hal Handley Photo: Rod Hepburn
Team Trophy winners: Pine St. from Carlsbad Photo: Rod Hepburn
Team Trophy winners: Pine St. from Carlsbad                      Photo: Rod Hepburn


Swim Briefs: The Banana Hammock Dilemma

The swim brief, holy grail of bodysurf gear or a trending fad within the bodysurfing world?

Jon Henricks member of he Speedo sponsored Australian 1956 swim team. Photo:  Ern McQuillan
Jon Henricks member of he Speedo sponsored Australian 1956 swim team. Photo: Ern McQuillan

The swim brief or “racing brief” is commonly referred to as a Speedo and there is good reason. Speedo is the brand that started the racing brief trend. In 1955 they began using nylon in their swimsuits and the following year the Australian company sponsored the Aussie Men’s Olympic Swim Team bringing home eight gold medals. This performance brought instant notoriety to the clothing company which was no stranger to pushing the boundaries in swimwear. The fame-claiming performance of “underwear styled” swimwear made the brand name stick even to this day.

However, in the current swim, bodysurf and water polo world there are dozens of swim brief manufacturers all vying for a share of the market. Anyone looking to glide quickly through water will eventually look to more streamlined suits. Some bodysurfers, including Men’s World Bodysurfing age group champion Chris Lafferty,  have even donned speedsuits in the ocean. These have been described as difficult to get into at best. The speedsuit also offers another challenge to the wearer. Edges and friction allow bodysurfers to change direction. When a person wears a speedsuit to nullify friction they are giving away some ability to maneuver. A more practical solution could be to wear as little clothing as is legal in most municipalities.

Enter the swim brief. The front V design is unmistakable. Most are made from nylon and spandex and secured at the front with a drawstring. The advantages are universally recognized. The first obvious benefit is the reduction in drag. Bodysurfers need speed. The swim brief cuts the drag of a typical wetsuit or boardshorts. Swim briefs are also much more stable than your typical boardshorts. So if you’re shy about jumping in the ocean in a swim brief, you’re more than likely going to be shy about walking home butt-naked because your trunks got snatched by that mutant fourth wave of the set. There are more heralded benefits from those bold young men who prefer to let it all hang out, but in the practical sense swim briefs are a clear winner.

Common Nomenclature
Common Nomenclature

While they may have the tactical advantage over trunks, swim briefs have not quite broken through to the casual bodysurf population. There are still embarrassed smiles and broken bravados whom refuse to squeeze into the beneficial Tarzan uniform. There are exceptions to this rule. On a typical summer day at Wedge you’ll find up to a dozen swim brief clad bodysurfers lounging and ripping. Their blinding white thighs in May eventually become slightly off-white flesh by October. From Europe to Brazil, beaches all over the world are populated with the casual swim brief wearer. Will fin brandishing Americans be the next to run with the motto “Sky’s out, thighs out” or will we stubbornly be dragged by our shorts through the surf?


The Science of Sand

It is everywhere. On the streets, your feet and in your sheets. In your car and your carpet.  Sand. One of the most useful resources on Earth and the foundation of our waveriding dreams. Concrete, glass and microprocessors, sandbars and beaches: sand is ever-present in our lives.  Where does it come from? Why is it different across the globe? How does it impact the formation of waves?

Dynamic Newport Beach
Indonesia. Black sand from volcanic rock, rounded by flowing water.
Indonesia. Black sand from volcanic rock, rounded by flowing water.

In geologic terms, “sand” refers to a certain size of particle in sediment: smaller than gravel and larger than silt. A sand particle measures between 1/16mm and 2mm in diameter. The main mineral components of beach sand include: quartz, feldspar and hornblende.  All three are silicate minerals. These minerals, with their different combinations of silicon and oxygen, make up 90% of the Earth’s crust.

Quartz is the most abundant beach sand mineral because it is resistant to chemical weathering and thus able to withstand the tumultuous journey from mountain to beach. Rock forms in a variety of ways inside and out of Earth. Sediments layer to form sedimentary rock. Liquid magma cools inside and lava hardens outside Earth to form igneous rock.  Forced upward by plate tectonics, rocks are exposed to wind and rain, freeze and thaw, plant roots and battering waves. Weathering slowly works boulders to cobbles to gravel to sand to silt and then to clay.

Encinitas, CA. Fine grains of quartz and other silicate minerals.
Encinitas, CA. Fine grains of quartz and other silicate minerals.
Orange County, CA. Coarse grains.
Orange County, CA. Coarse grains.

Erosion moves the sediments and deposition drops them off in a new location. In California, boulders cleave off granite mountains to the east. Rivers carry chunks of the mountain downstream, continuing to break it down along the way.  Rivermouths flow into the Ocean, depositing cobbles and sand on the beach. California beach sand is a mixture of these inland minerals and the erosion of the marine terrace (sea cliff). Wave action along the cliff bottom weathers large masses of the sedimentary rocks. The rocks fall to the beach and are gradually worked into sand. California beach sand also contains a living ecosystem and various other detritus.

North Shore of Oahu. Shell, volcanic rock and coral.
North Shore of Oahu. Shell, volcanic rock and coral.

Because there are many different rocks and minerals, there is a great variety of sand across the world’s beaches. Differing landforms and ecosystems create different sand. Hawaiian beach sand is a mixture of eroded volcanic rock, shell fragments and parrotfish waste. They eat coral that passes through their digestive tract and is then deposited as sand. Sand partially composed of the remains of living organisms is called biogenic sand. Many of the world’s tropical beaches contain fragments of coral and shell.

Tweed River used to provide sand to Snapper and Kirra. Image: Google Maps
Tweed River used to provide sand to Snapper and Kirra. Image: Google Maps

All Ocean waves break over some amount of sand. Point breaks often have rivermouths nearby to nourish the sandbars that wrap around their shores. Reef breaks become covered by sand during a long flat spell. The next swell removes sand from the reef to expose the proper wave-making bathymetry. Beaches change shape frequently as sand is moved by swells, storms and longshore currents.

Wind bedforms. Oceano Dunes, Pismo Beach.

Beachbreaks are synonymous with shifting sand. The formation of sandbars is a complex process. A bedform is created when a fluid flows over a moveable surface; in this case water waves over the sandy seafloor. It is the same process as wind blowing over a sand dune. Ripples form in the surface, sand falls out of suspension in the water and continues to build up the sandbar. Incoming swell shoals on the sandbar and a breaker forms. The water flowing back out to sea becomes a rip current that reshapes the sandbar. When conditions align, perfectly shaped waves can result.

Coarse sand=steep beach=shorebreak womp
Coarse sand=steep beach=shorebreak womp

The shape of the beach and the type of the waves that break there are often dependent on the size of the sand grains. Wide flat beaches are formed from smaller grained sand than steeper beaches. North Carolina coastal geologist, Gregory Rudolph, puts it this way, “If you fill a bucket full of mud and pour; it will essentially ooze out and your pile of mud will look like a pancake. Fill that same bucket with gravel and you’ll have a pile that is almost as high as the bucket itself.” Much to bodysurfer’s delight, steep beaches often create hollow, womping shorebreak waves. Swell energy comes out of deeper water to load up and plunge powerfully on the coarse sand. There is something special about washing up and back down a steep beach fully covered in soft sand.

Granitic gravel variety in Yosemite Valley. All will become sand.
Granitic gravel variety in Yosemite Valley. All will become sand.

Vital to beach communities and even controversial in some, sand is pervasive in our lives.  Embrace the sand in your ears. Cherish an afternoon spent basking on the beach. Appreciate the geology that forms our coastlines and shapes our waves. Eventually, every grain of sand on our beaches will return to the internal furnace of the Earth to become magma and then mountains again. What waves will break on that next generation of sandbars?


National Geographic- Parrotfish
Carteret County, NC- Shore Protection Office 


Surf Check! Bodysurfing a New Wave

IMG_9355“Surf Check!” My optimistic chant was being met by low, grumpy groans from the backseat. Hours ago the whole car would laugh and peer out the windows for breaking waves, but the novelty had definitely worn off and the teenagers sat in the back wondering when their cells would pick up service. A quick veer off-road into the lightly gravelled pull-off, punctuated by a braking skid left my brother and I strolling for the ledge. Most of the turnouts have some ledge whether they plunge into a steep rocky death-trap or meander down a long low-grade hill. This one was a boring, accessible hill fading into Lake Pacific.

I know there is swell in the water. I know this stretch of coast bends in all directions, not a line in sight. Shrug, sprint, repeat. The realization hit me that we may not find a break. Furthermore, if I keep jerking the chain of my incredibly tolerant family I may face a mutiny. The late morning is slipping into early afternoon. The van rounds a familiar bend. Our panorama is book-ended by rock formations holding a cove. From the distance I can spot heads bobbing in the water and I’m chanting. The backseat reminds me to keep my eyes on the road.

IMG_8502From the closest turnout the break is obstructed, but we’re in no mood for hesitation. I’m half dancing into my 3:2. My brother, Matt, is pointing at rocks and asking relevant questions. We drag the family down the the beach, get the thumbs up and plunge into the water. I finally get to dance with a new partner, a new wave. There’s a familiarity you grow with your home wave. Like the sweetspot your body grooves into a well-worn couch, at your home break your body just knows where to be. However, there is something heady and challenging and just plain exciting about bodysurfing a new break.

IMG_9031 My first swim out is like boxing, light on my feet, taking small jabs, feeling each other out. I’m eager. The first roller steams my way and I hitch a ride. She’s softer than I expected, but doesn’t fail to pay off at the end. The chill of northern water tingles the nervous system, sharpens the mind. I wade into a handful more. I’ve found the pocket and now we’re dancing. Matt and I trade high-fives and hoots. A couple of surfers ditch boards, strap on fins and tread near. Dirtbags in an Econoline could tell we were having too much fun. We were.

We’ve learned each other. The way she dumps to her right, sharp and sweet. The smooth middle section requiring no stall and no hands. Her sweeping, swinger sets that look bigger than they arrive. Lactic acid crept into the arches of our shoulders. I looked out to sea and turned to the the landscape. When I said goodbye she shined. Perma-smiles settled into our cheekbones and as we changed into dry clothes we basked in the glow of the cool northern air. Always looking to the horizon I’ll keep moving on to the countless coastal nooks waiting on a willing dance partner.

IMG_8517 IMG_8788









Ode to Going

IMG_6828Go…go now…feel the Ocean.
Go when it’s walled and closed out.
Go when it’s windy.
Go when the tide’s not right and the sun isn’t shining.
Soak it up.
Feel it in your muscles and bones and soul.
Feel the groundswell.
Pulsing groundswell.
Energy delivered from the mighty sea.
It is limited. Fleeting.
It comes and goes…but when again?
Minutes? Days? Weeks? Months?
Hoping soon…

Swim, swim harder.
Fatigue your shoulders, and back and legs and lungs.
Fatigue your brain with incredible sensory stimulation.
Swim, swim harder.
Ride 4 waves in a 6 wave set.
Float- hyperventilating.
Our bodies need oxygen.
A little deprivation is good for appreciation.
Catch your breath…or not.
Next set…do it again.
Chase the pit, fight the drift…exhaust yourself.

Go experience it now.
Swim. Take sets on the head. Swim hard.
Chase a heaving, maxed closeout.
Take off. Take off late. Go.
Force your eyes open. Watch. Enjoy the view.
Get pitched, Go over the falls.
Held down, deep, feel it.
Flips and twists. Twists and flips.
Underwater waterfalls.
Feel the pressure change as the Ocean surges past.
Immense fluid force. Power. Feel.
The Ride after the Ride.
Lungs scream, Pounding heart…total cardiac activation.
Swim. Burst through the surface gasping.
Cherish the foamy air.
Then Go back out again.