Surfing or Bodyboarding? Which to start with?

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So the time has come for you to learn to surf, at last! You have had it on your bucket list for a number of years, you love the ocean but may have never spent that much time in it since it is cold in the NW, you don’t have a group of friends yet who surf, and you have a little fear overall about learning to surf, which to start with surfing or bodyboarding?

Well depending on how you answer these questions and personal considerations, I hope to help guide you towards the entry level sport that not only will give you the most fun NOW, but also will aid you in developing a rich ocean knowledge and skill set for your future surfing, be it bodyboarding, riding a surfboard in waves, or both. So take a few minutes and ponder where you are at with these questions:

  1. How fit are you? 1 to 10 scale. Both bodyboarding and surfing waves requires a good fitness foundation in order to paddle or kick out, to sprint to catch waves, and then to ride them. Bodyboarding has a much easier learning curve than surfing and is physically less demanding, partly because you’re prone instead of required to “pop up” into your surf stance and balance standing on a board on a moving wave. With bodyboarding, your skills are in wave judgment, positioning on the wave and the power in your kicking with swim fins becomes the challenge to catch a wave. Surfing requires a strong sense of balance, a bit more courage to “pop up” than prone bodyboarding, upper body strength to paddle out, and a willingness to accept wipeouts repeatedly. With bodyboarding, you don’t have as many wipeouts, because even when a wave closes out, you can still hold on and ride the white water in. If you wipeout surfing, you eventually come up and then need to find your leash and pull in your board, then get on it to paddle back out and to try it again.
  • What is your ocean knowledge? When I started to surf, I started out bodyboarding instead of surfing because in the early 80’s when I was living on the North Shore of Oahu attending college, there were very few women surfing and I had no real ocean knowledge having been a Pacific NW girl all my life, so It made sense to start with bodyboarding.  Had I been raised on the North Shore and been an avid, young ocean girl, then I could have see myself starting with bodyboarding and then surfing soon after.

If you’ve had prior ocean knowledge and wave experiences from swimming, bodysurfing, kayaking, SUPing and sailing, then from these experiences you have developed helpful awareness that a “newbie” just won’t have. Even if you’ve tried bodyboarding and surfing on a few occasions or in random vacation lessons, these ocean experiences are beneficial to your picking up skills easier in both sports. 

  • How often over the key summer months in the Pacific NW do you plan to be at the beach, in the ocean, practicing catching and learning about waves? Here along the North Oregon Coast, there are about three critical months to apply yourself to surfing waves, on a bodyboard or a surfboard, they are mid June to mid September. If you plan to be at the beach 3-4 times a month over the summer window, getting about 9-12 hours total time practicing in the waves each month, then you have a good chance you will pick up and learn the skills well enough to not be limited to only these smaller swell periods on a surfboard. But if you’re more likely to be at the beach 2-4 times over the entire summer period, then it becomes much more difficult to progress especially in surfing with a surfboard. In this scenario, you would probably gain more ocean knowledge, build up your stamina, strength and confidence and have more fun in each session, first learning to bodyboard before pursuing surfing.

Surfing is much more difficult for the beginner to get to the point where you’re catching waves and noticing improvement overall in how you’re doing with it than bodyboarding is. Without the required time and practice dedicated to surfing, you will often find yourself on a plateau in your progression. You need to really dedicate time and prioritize it over the summer months here on the North Coast, if you want to be able to surf into the larger fall, winter and spring swell windows.

As I mentioned before, the learning curve for bodyboarding is much less steep, so you can excel in bodyboarding in the same size waves much faster and have the adrenaline high quicker with it, than with surfing. After my first full summer bodyboarding, I was riding bigger waves into the fall and throughout the year. Then when I took up surfing on a board, I leap frogged over most beginners surfing skills and felt confident right off the go on my new board, having already established ocean awareness, knowledge of the take off zone, surf etiquette in the lineup, comfort in bigger surf and having developed physical prowess. 

In sharing these insights, I hope to guide you into the right sport for you to start surfing with.  Know that I love both sports! I bodyboarded for about 5+ years before I bought my first surfboard, a 7’10” Allen Gibbons performance fun shape, and started committing myself to surfing here in the NW. The 5+ years of ocean and wave knowledge, confidence in bigger waves and riptides, traveling to world class breaks to bodyboard while my husband surfed all set me up with a deeper well to draw upon with the more challenging sport of surfing. Surfing is my first preference, but I have to say, I have started to rekindle my past early passion for bodyboarding. It provides me a different and unique perspective of wave riding. Both are a blast!

Note: NW Women’s Surf Camps is proud to announce our commitment to both surfing and bodyboarding in our 2019 summer program. This summer, we’ve added an all woman Bodyboarding Day Camp to the Coed Bodyboarding Clinics we will continue from last season.  Three of us bodyboarding coaches, all women, will be sharing our love and experiences in each bodyboarding event and clinic. The Day Camp is open to teen girls and adult women of all ages. The Coed Clinics are open to teens and adult, women and men, girls and boys.

We also have our popular surfing Day Camps, Surf Weekender Immersions, Coed Group Surf Lessons and Lil’ Kid’s Coed Group Surf Lessons offered starting Memorial Day Weekend. Custom surf and bodyboarding lessons can be arranged as well for your individual, family and group needs.  


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