For many of us, surfing is simply a means to spending moments in the ocean; in nature. Like any relationship though, our connection with the natural environment can be easily stretched and worn thin - be it through time apart or, at the other end of the scale, over-familiarity. When you notice the distance that’s opened up, it’s time to address it and reconnect. And, there’s no purer connection with the waves than that provided by bodysurfing.
When it comes to riding waves, surfing puts an instrument (the surfboard) between the surfer and the wave. If a surfboard is a guitar then bodysurfing is the voice, but in this band the singer isn’t the frontman; despite bodysurfing being the gateway to riding waves for most early surfers and an essential skill before the invention of the leash, in the years since bodysurfers have been pushed to the side of the stage in the world’s line-ups.
The immersion of bodysurfing unifies the person with the power. It’s a different feeling to riding a surfboard and requires an alternate approach to sessions and positioning. Swimming into waves and becoming enveloped by their energy every now and then is a wonderful way to reconnect.
The team at wooden surfboard company Otter Surfboards know all about reconnecting; it’s a core aim of their make-your-own workshop courses. In their case, the connection that they’re hoping to refresh is primarily people with their hands and the act of making; taking time away from tapping keys and swiping screens to create something tangible that they can use and be proud of. The wave-riding craft that people make in their workshop then foster a connection to the ocean environment. It’s a sequence with positive outcomes at every step. And they practice what they preach, taking any opportunity available to them to get in the sea (their workshop is in the next village down the coast from Wheal Kitty, so we frequently share waves either side of the working day). When time is tight or the tide too high they’ll be swimming into waves with a pair of fins and a wooden handplane outstretched, being pushed along in the pocket or whomping in the shorebreak.
These wooden handplanes (about the size of a large notepad) are an optional extra for bodysurfing that, to return to our musical analogy, amplify the experience as a microphone amplifies a singer’s voice and allow one more directional control and the opportunity for greater speed and easier breathing by lifting the head and shoulders out of the wave face. Bodysurfing goes from being a straight-line to the beach in the dissipating energy of the whitewater or a brief but exhilarating whomp in the shorebreak, to long rides in the pocket of peeling waves.
In the quest to refresh ties with the ocean, resetting expectations and getting in anywhere, anyhow, are key. If you wait for the perfect day of waves and weather, and admittedly they have been remarkably prevalent through the tail end of this northern winter, you might be waiting for a long time. If though, you sniff out opportunities to immerse yourself in the sea and make the most of any waves going by swimming out and bodysurfing them, balancing the shorter rides with better views from under the breaking lip, it’ll be like you’ve never been away.
If you can also identify with the desire to spend a few hours using your hands to make something instead of tapping a device, then perhaps making your own bodysurfing handplane will provide some relief and prompt some time swimming in the sea. In early April, Otter Surfboards are putting their workshop on wheels to bring their make your own bodysurfing handplane sessions to Finisterre stores around the country. Check out the venues, dates and times of the Workshop on Wheels Tour below, and click through to book your space.
Finisterre St Agnes | Sunday 31st March
Finisterre Exeter | Wednesday 3rd April
Finisterre Bristol | Thursday 4th April
Finisterre London | Saturday 6th April (Morning workshop)
Finisterre London | Saturday 6th April (Afternoon workshop)
Finisterre Edinburgh | Monday 8th April