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 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.