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.

-EJ

The First Mākaha Bodysurfing Classic

The following article was written by Hawaiian Kā’eo Awana. The photographs were captured by local photographer Philip Kitamura. Thanks to Sean Enoka and the boys for their collaboration.


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Mākaha beach bared 5-6’ waves (Hawaiian scale), or 10-12ʻ faces on the day of the Mākaha Bodysurfing Classic. The waves broke from the outside point and marched into the backwash infested shorebreak. The expressions on each competitor varied from pale intimidation to ragged anticipation to anywhere in between. During check-ins, two ski’s were launched from the north end of the bay. Jet skis are a typical supplement for Mākaha lifeguards, except these weren’t lifeguard skis. To much of everyone’s excitement, the Hawaiian Water Patrol was present to ensure everyone safety. Furthermore, they would be providing assistance during heats to get competitors zoomed back out the point after catching waves. This was a pivotal moment for bodysurfing in Hawaiʻi. An average Saturday morning at Mākaha has 50+ people at the lineup with every type of surf craft under the sun. Competitors were not only able to bodysurf Mākaha at 6’ with 5 other people, but also with jet-ski assist. How can you put a price tag on this experience? With the sun peaking above the Waiʻanae mountain range, the air was buzzing with excitement.

The best in the business - Hawaiian Water Patrol gearing up for the day
The best in the business – Hawaiian Water Patrol gearing up for the day

Paipo Division- Paipo boards are typically wooden boards that take on various shapes and sizes, and have no leash. The word paipo derives from the traditional name of papa paepoʻo, which loosely translates to “board to catch waves head first.” Traditional papa paepoʻo riding looks more like bodysurfing than bodyboarding.

Final Results:

  1. Duane Desoto
  2. Ben Severson
  3. Matt Solomon
  4. Sean Enoka
  5. Wareen Hoʻohuli
  6. Makani Christiansen

 

Mens Open Handboard – Handboard divisions required some type of handboard device. Handboard types ranged from daughter’s slippers to Kaha Nalu Bulaboards.

Handboard Final Results:

  1. Mark Cunningham
  2. Kaleo Garlasa
  3. Thoman VanMelum
  4. Kealiʻi Punley
  5. Don King
  6. Greg Hense

Women’s Open Handboard

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Women’s Open Handboard Results:

  1. Sonja Du Plessis
  2. Pua Nawi
  3. Nalu Puʻu
  4. Maria Remos
  5. Kyla Lozis
  6. Carla Lewis
  7. Makenzie Arita
  8. Kehau Kim

Tandem Bodysurfing – The tandem division required two partners to be riding a wave at the same time to be judged.

Don King and Mark Cunningham
Don King and Mark Cunningham

Tandem Final Results:

  1. Mark Cunningham & Don King
  2. Duane Desoto & Keanuenue Desoto
  3. Kanealiʻi Wilcox & Kāʻeo Awana
  4. Kanekoa Crabbe &  Kanealiʻi Barrack
  5. Makani Christenson & Hiram Pukahi
  6. Matt Solomon & Sonja Du Plessis
  7. Joel Badina & Kalani Lattanci
  8. Kai Santos & Henrique Postilli

Womens Open

Women’s Final Results:

  1. Jonja Du Plessis
  2. Kim Kehaulani
  3. Carla Lewis
  4. Makenzie Arita
  5. Chelsie Henry
  6. Chris Ann Severson

Mens 50 & over

  1. Mark Cunningham
  2. Don King
  3. Ben Severson
  4. Walter Rodby
  5. Jon Parrish
  6. Chris Gardner
  7. Mike Worper
  8. Pete Rea

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Mens 41-49

  1. Greg Hense
  2. Harley Holt
  3. Peter Westbrook
  4. Josh Marvit
  5. Brian Kanealiʻi
  6. Allen Buchanan
  7. Eric Wahilani
  8. Aaron Kim
  9. Pat Bryon

IMG_3079Men’s 31-40 Resutls:

  1. Matt Solomon
  2. Kanekoa Crabbe
  3. Sean Enoka
  4. Kehau Kukawi
  5. Lohiau Cofran
  6. Nick Youngleson

 

Mens 21-30

 

Results:

  1. Kanealiʻi Wilcox
  2. Joel Badina
  3. Kāʻeo Awana
  4. Kyle Mensching
  5. Malii Laigo
  6. Dylan Smith

 

Mens 20 & under

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Finalists
Kealiʻi Punley
Kealiʻi Punley

20 and under Restults:

  1. Kealiʻi Punley
  2. Taylor Char
  3. Nao
  4. Pono Garlasa
  5. Josh Abilla

People who do not bodysurf often ask what the prizes are for winning a bodysurfing contest in Hawaiʻi. They expect to hear of lavish prizes, brand sponsorships, and cash that are commonly associated with the surfing industry. Most are shocked to hear that a trophy, fins, and clothing gear are typical bodysurfing contest prizes. To Hawaiʻi bodysurfers, contests serve as platform to gather bodysurfers to share the stoke of waveriding together rather than glory, fame, and riches. At these contests bodysurfers are able to reacquaint themselves with their friends, families, and meet fellow torpedo people from around the world. This is the ultimate prize of the contest; everything else is an added bonus. Contests naturally reveal winners and losers, but that is lost in the aloha that bodysurfers share with each other in Hawaiʻi bodysurfing contests. The first annual Mākaha Bodysurfing Classic was a success and raised the bar for bodysurfing contests.

 

Buffalo: by Dr. Hal Handley

Sometime in the early 1960’s, TV’s Jim McKay’s narrative on ABC’s Wide World of Sports highlighted the pageantry and excitement of many unusual and lesser-known sports.  His voice rose, crested and fell with stories portraying athletes pushing their limits for the “thrill of victory or the agony of defeat”.

Buffalo at Makaha Photo: Encyclopedia of Surfing- Don James
Buffalo at Makaha. Photo: Encyclopedia of Surfing- Don James

From 1962 to 1965, Wide World of Sports aired the annual Makaha International Surfing Championships.  During one show, the long time patriarch of the Makaha Beach environs, Richard “Buffalo” Keaulana was featured bodysurfing along the sandy shore with the incredible grace and the ease of a marine mammal at play with the waves.  Perhaps the image of his joy, play and practice of an ancient Polynesian sport crystallized somewhere in my brain.  The interview of Buffalo covered his (still) legendary stature as a waterman and I, just a 13-year-old Junior Lifeguard, was hooked.  Buffalo stored his swim fins in his refrigerator to prevent their corrosion.  Why THAT hooked me? I have no idea, an indelible image seared in my young brain.  For many years thereafter, I treasured my fins and fought with my mother’s macaroni and cheese casserole for the prime cold storage location.

At that point, a seed of passion grew in my life.  A passion born of being knocked down wave after wave, each time jumping up and running back into the shorebreak for one more.  A passion maintained by deep pockets of sand in every ear, nose, eye and shorts carried with me nearly everywhere I went.  Before I ever entered high school, I had dismissed my father’s passion for baseball and found my own in the water.
I wanted to ride like Buffalo across the waves.  I was only subliminally aware of his exceptional talent.  “California big-wave pioneer Greg Noll once watched Keaulana bodysurf six-foot waves at Yokohama, near Makaha. ‘He looked so natural,’ Noll later recalled, ‘streaking across the waves like a seal. I actually expected him to turn and swim out to sea when he was done” [1].  So by the time I was 16, I was determined to study and bodysurf the most famous bodysurfing wave I knew: The Wedge.

By 1969, I was comfortable at Wedge.  Two large swells late that summer pushed Wedge passed the 9th pole! After innumerable attempts, poundings and some success in large surf that summer, my high school friend, Bob Gove and I endeavored to visit the legendary islands and waves of Hawaii in December of 1969.

We arrived just after one of the largest swells in surf history. Fresh fables circled the island: Greg Noll at 30ft. Makaha and journalist/bodysurfer Bruce Jenkins riding a wave through his wall and across Kam Highway- on his mattress. Five days into our trip, we witnessed Makaha rise from 2-4 feet to 15-18 feet within about 6 hours.

Here we camped, concealed in the bushes. One day, a jacket I kept for evening warmth was stolen, but when word reached the local Kahuna, the jacket was returned the following day with a verbal apology.  Buffalo had heard of the transgression and corrected it without even having met us.  Aloha.

Somewhat intimidated and anxious to explore the North Shore, we began “camping” in the yards of unoccupied beachfront homes. After two nights, we were rousted from our sleepy hideouts by radio reports of another impending monster swell.  Evacuation orders were again issued for the second time that month.  We found shelter in a chance and perfectly timed encounter with one of my Newport bodysurfing friends staying at a ramshackle mountainside bungalow.

We awoke from our high perch around 2:00am to the deep rumble of big surf.  As the sun rose, we saw mountains of water, waves the size of high-rise buildings, towering and tumbling to the shore.  My only estimation of size came by counting a full, one thousand one, one thousand two…five seconds from the pitch of the lip to its impact.  No waves since have matched that view. Those last few days on the North Shore molded confidence into a cautious understanding of bigger surf.

As we prepared for home on our last evening, we were invited by surfer Mike Purpus and friends for a beach cookout of fresh parrot fish stuffed with corned beef hash.  Bob and I had lived on shave ice, almond cookies and the odd can of Spaghetti-O’s, so this was our departure luau. We settled around a small fire when a burly local swam to shore with his days catch.

Buffalo Photo: Encyclopedia of Surfing, Greg Noll video
Buffalo. Photo: Encyclopedia of Surfing, Greg Noll video

The diver was clearly a local waterman and touted “beachboy” from Waikiki.  He welcomed us to share in his catch and we talked story around the fire.  When I learned that this man was the Hawaiian surfing legend, Buffalo Keaulana, my adventure was complete.  To Buffalo, we were two forgettable grommets among many.  Upon us, he bestowed a spirit of aloha which instilled a lifelong memory whose spirit remains the same even while time erases the details.  I have not spoken with Buffalo since that day, but I do owe him a debt of gratitude.  His aloha launched me into many years of joy and sporting passion.
– Hal Handley, Jr..  PhD

[1] Encyclopedia of Surfing.   Richard “Buffalo” Keaulana.