Origins of Surfer-Bodyboarder Beef Unearthed!

Bodyboarder v. Surfer

I’m sitting in my car at the Seaside Reef parking lot debating whether or not to paddle out.  It’s empty, but windy and messy and looks like a lot of work, but as I pulled up I saw one pretty nice wave that stayed open. I imagined myself there. 

I didn’t imagine all of the other stuff that would come with getting there.  From the sunscreen to the wetsuit to the paddling. 

I’m fearful the single temptress alone is not going to be enough to lure me in.   

Seaside can be a far paddle depending on the tide, and right now it’s one of those tides.  There are some little nuggets that get wormy and fun through the inside, but right now they’re a tad small and quick for someone my size trying to ride a wave with two feet planted on a board.  

Wormy = a small wave reminiscent of the tight tubes that earthworms chew through dirt.

These inside wigglers are much better suited for someone looking to slide in the prone position. 

Bodyboarders.  Boogers.  Spongers.  

Or more derogatorily known by surfers as d**k draggers. 

That’s rude.  There’s no doubt about that.  It’s not wrong, but it’s definitely rude.  

That would be like calling a massage therapist a foot fondler.   Or a burger cook a meat heater. Or a trumpet player a tube blower.

Technically, you’re not wrong, you’re just an a-hole.

The contempt with which most surfers have historically held bodyboarders feels unwarranted and unfounded and irrational, but it’s just something that’s always been around and I’m not exactly sure why.

I was recently sent a video of young puzzler and eclectic wave-rider, Harry Bryant.

In the video, Bryant more than touches on this beef ingrained in surfers and bodyboarders: 

“Bodyboarders and surfers…and longboarders and foilers and all these people hating each other.  It’s like, we’re all in the ocean together.  I don’t really give a f**k what you ride.  If it gets you in the water and puts a smile on your face and stops you from sitting in a room playing video games and smoking bongs, then it’s good to go.”    

Oh, if it was only as simple as Mr. Bryant says.  I don’t disagree with the sentiment, not in the slightest, but I don’t think it’ll ever happen. 

But Harry’s a dreamer.  He just might be the John Lennon of surfing and bodyboarding, sent to unite us as one through song, barrels, and rippy-dippy haircuts. 

Harry Bryant does both: surfs and boogies
photo: Josh Tabone

Big fan of giving peace a chance on weekends, but on days that don’t start with ‘s’ I’m strictly business; and business today means I’ve got to play detective, historian, and sexy sociologist as I strive to unravel this yarn that boogers and surfers are mortal enemies battling to death for the favor of that nipple-showing, trident-holding, beard-flowing God of the sea, Poseidon.  

We’ll start with one simple fact we know to be true today. 

In the world of ocean wave-riding, everyone gets pissed at someone eventually. 

The reason why is even simpler: it’s crowded out there, and filled with misbehaving.  

This doesn’t apply exclusively to any one group.  Everyone gets pissed, and everyone is misbehaving.  Surfers.  Bodyboarders.  Longboarders.  Foilers.  SUPers.  Bodysurfers.  

Even the gosh darn dolphins get fed up sometimes. 

This, however, doesn’t explain why the ancient beef between the two factions of those who stand and those who lay hatched in the first place. 

It hasn’t always been this crowded, yet it feels like surfers have always loathed bodyboarders.  

This feels like a point in one of those Angels and Demons movies (based on the books, I know) where Tom Hanks whispers the line aloud, then turns and stares dramatically into camera, before saying something to the effect, “Where’s your library?”

You’re sitting in mine: the internet.  Let’s dive 

We all know the history of surfing.  It’s been well-chartered and written about.    

History of Surfing
A Quick Recap: 

It started as an activity of leisure enjoyed by royal Polynesians, Hawaiians specifically. 

They took to riding waves standing on long wooden boards in their free time.  As they progressed in skill, surfing became part of the training regimen for Polynesian warriors.   

Surfing was popularized by 5-time Olympic swimmer and gold medalist, Duke Kahanamoku.  Duke toured the world putting on swimming exhibitions during the early 20th century.  As crowds amassed, he began to incorporate surfing into these exhibitions.  

It’s these dazzling displays that are credited with bringing surfing to mainland America and Australia. 

Duke went on to dominate any news regarding surfing during the 1920s as he continued to tour the world and become a national celebrity.

By the mid 1930s surfing had gained relative popularity but almost exclusively in California, Hawaii, and Australia. Writer and surf historian Matt Warshaw estimates that a total of 3,000 people were surfing during that time.

The 1940s, after the war especially, were marked by a transition from the early pioneers like Duke who transformed surfing into a lifestyle to a whole new generation. It also was a time of innovation with the invention of the neoprene wetsuit. It was first developed for underwater demolition teams during the war.

Big wave hunters like Greg Noll, Pat Curren, and Phil Edwards ruled the 1950s and early part of the 60s taming giants on their 11-foot, fifty pound elephant guns

In 1966 surfing’s popularity increased again with the release of Bruce Brown’s The Endless Summer.  Up to this point, however, most surfing was still being done on bigger longboards, and still primarily in California, Australia, and Hawaii.  

By 1967, revolutions in board design began to take shape, creating lighter, smaller, and faster crafts.  This period, ending around 1984, has been dubbed the Shortboard Revolution.  

Still, surfing remained a fringe, counterculture movement.  It certainly wasn’t considered a profession like it is today.  

Developments in the way waves were being ridden eventually gave way to more organized competition, which had previously been scattered.  

The Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) took over administration of competitive surfing in 1983.  The first champions were Tom Carroll and Kim Mearig of Australia.  Carroll would repeat as champion in ‘84, before the arrival of Santa Barbara’s Tom Curren.  

Curren, regarded as one the most stylish and graceful champions ever, would win 3 titles in the latter part of the decade (‘85, ‘86, and ‘90). 

In 1992, Kelly Slater entered the fold and won six titles before world-ending Y2K (‘92, ‘93, ‘94, ‘95, ‘96, ‘97, ‘98).  

*NOTE: Kelly was recently eliminated from the tour after failing to advance past the second annual mid-season cut.

Kelly would win five more titles, with his last coming in 2011.  Dominance unparalleled.  

In 2015, the WSL took over the ASP and established what we have today. 

In 2021, surfing made its debut at the summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan.  It was supposed to be 2020, but was postponed due to COVID.  

The King of Surfing, Duke Kahanamoku.

This recap is all very surface level and sparky, for it leaves out many past champions and cultural shifts in the way that surfing was consumed by the general public.  

It speaks nothing of the rise and fall of massive surf companies in the late 90’s and the 2000s.  Nor does it touch upon how the internet has introduced a whole new wave of dedicated free surfers like Dane Reynolds and Creed McTaggart. 

But even through these mere scraps, one can clearly decipher the rise in popularity of surfing, which also means a rise in crowds and those trying to learn to surf.

Surfers as a whole have never been particularly warm and welcoming to newcomers.  Surfing is a difficult world to infiltrate, but once you’re in, you’re in for life.  

Keanu did it, but he had a gun. 

Keanu Surfs

The reason it’s such a difficult world to infiltrate is because it’s always been shrouded in such secrecy.  No one is going to tell you what board to ride or where to sit. They definitely aren’t going to tell you what you’re doing wrong.

Why? So you can get better and take their waves? No thanks.

Nothing in surfing is considered more confidential than the location of secluded surf spots. 

But there’s been a shift in this paradigm of secrecy with the arrival of the internet and social media.  And Sam George.

Self-important and illustrious surf guru Sam George has taken to The Inertia to reveal every secret spot he’s ever been let in on. He’s adopted the catchy motto, “Death to Secret Spots.”

Excerpts from George’s article:

“While the basic route is outlined,” read the project’s official website, “no specific references are given in regards to surf spots. Everyone connected with the project respects keeping known and unknown surf spots a mystery.

“That sounds great,” I said, in discussion with Martin Daly, the eminently colorful and opinionated skipper of the Indies Trader. “You want us to reveal the place, promote the place to the benefit of Quiksilver’s brand, but not say where it is. I think you’d better know that my current motto here at the mag is, ‘Death To Secret Spots.’”

Okay, whatever Sam.

My quick view on this: secret spots are awesome in a world void of secrets.

With the internet, there are very few secrets left. Especially in surfing.

Anyone can hustle into Google and find out what board they should be riding or where they should be sitting or which tide is best for a certain break. It’s an open market.

I think this both thrills and upsets surfers around the world.  The access to footage and clips and cams and forecasts and gear is all wonderful, but it also comes at a price (except at Ho Stevie! where we sell top-of-the-line wetsuits for $199).  

This free-sharing of information inevitably sends more and more people flocking to the beaches during the warm months to achieve their life long goal of becoming a pro surfer in three days.

That’s not even the worst of it, either.

The real pits of despair are those with plenty of gold. They’re the ones who really know how to plunder a counterculture for its marketable bits and sell them off piece by piece.

They’re the ones who see one clip on Instagram of someone getting barreled in a far-off, impossible-to-get-to island and immediately hire an expert cartographer to sniff out the coordinates. They fly there on their private jet, charter a boat, and hire a Captain to take them through the Mentawais, where they pay big bucks to be shown all of the spots surfers have spent decades trying to keep secret. 

You’ve even got some of the more dense goldies buying the best equipment and jet skis they can find, then trying to take on waves like Nazaré.  

Even worse than that, you’ve got the Zuckerbergs of the world buying islands just so they can motor around on their electric surfboards in private.

Zuckerberg Motoring Around

This doesn’t happen without the internet, because before nobody, except those within surfing, were able to access any of it: the clips, the swells, the forecasts, the movies, the culture.

The same dangerous phenomenon has happened with Everest.  With access, comes crowds.  With crowds, comes greed.  With greed, comes anger. 

And the anger is chiefly felt by those who have spent their whole lives learning whatever skill we’re talking about – climbing, fishing, skiing, surfing, etcetera.

I’m flustered just thinking about it.

A similar, but I imagine muted in comparison, feeling must have been felt by surfers back in 1971 with the invention of the first bodyboard, the Morey Boogie.  

It was invented by a surfer named Tom Morey.  Morey was a trip of a dude and an avid jazz musician.  He named his invention the “Boogie” board because of his love of jazz and that boogie woogie feeling.  

Morey studied mathematics in college and later worked with composite materials, which influenced his later surf-related inventions. 

Yes, plural. 

The Boogie board wasn’t the only one, nor was it the first. 

There’s a long list of inventions starting in 1954.  The most intriguing is a resin-impregnated corrugated cardboard surfboard – or the “paper surfboard”.  

There was even a TV commercial featuring Morey riding the paper board.  

Tom Morey credits the inspiration for the Boogie board to a Baháʼí Faith unity feast he stumbled upon at a beach in Kauai some time during 1970.  

One prayer in particular seemed to tickle Morey’s inventive thumb: 

“Confer upon me thoughts which may change this world into a rose garden.”

It seems that Tom was simply a man who wanted to share his love of the ocean with the world.  He wanted to grant the world access to wave-riding that didn’t require years of intense dedication and practice.  

He wanted someone from Iowa to be able to pull up to a beach in California and immediately start catching waves.  Thus, the Boogie board was invented.  

It served this purpose well.  Almost too well, many would argue at the time, but the sentiment behind the invention remains tender and pure.  

He was a man of the people like our guy Harry Bryant.  Tom Morey just wanted to share what he’d already found.  

After inventing the Boogie board, Morey went on to engineer the essence of today’s soft top board manufacturing technology.  

A true man of the people!  

“Let them surf!  Let them know the feeling!” he would yell on the floor of his factory, I imagine.  

They’re knowing the feeling, Tom. Don’t you worry.

It’s an equitable thought, but most surfers were not as thrilled as Morey.  In fact, it’s the exact nature of how and for whom the Boogie board was invented that this inherent disdain for those who bodyboard slowly developed in the general conscience of surfers around the world.  

Simon Ramsey, the once publisher of Bodyboard Magazine, put it succinctly:

“Here’s the problem: here’s a sport/lifestyle that surfers are very passionate about, and here’s this guy coming along and completely demystifying it so that anyone — your grandma, some city bound kid who can’t afford board racks or a surfboard even — can experience the stoke of riding waves! What a travesty! All the time you’ve spent learning to stand up, to turn, and your kid brother gets his first tube laying down two weeks after he first rides a sponge! He didn’t even earn it!”

“We were the first wave-riders,” surfers would say.  “You are no more than a madman’s gimmick.”

Thinking back on the history of surfing and the proud traditions from which the sport came, you can understand the superiority complex that might fester within a surfer’s head.  

It’s the sport of kings! Something to be enjoyed only by the privileged few.

Well, it looks like they got the privileged few bit right.

Bodyboarders aren’t stealing your waves. Bodyboarders aren’t blowing up your spots. Bodyboarders didn’t invent the internet.

Surfers’ biggest fear is that there aren’t going to be enough waves to go around, and they’ve come to irrationally attribute this fear with spongers…and foilers and SUPers and all the others who use the ocean as their playground.

Bodyboarders are not the problem. They never have been. Their origin story is actually very beautiful.

The problem, and there’s no fixing it now, is that nothing in surfing is truly a secret anymore. It’s no longer this mystical, transcendent, shadowy world of demi-water gods paddling around, standing up in the hollows of waves.

Now it’s all over the internet. Everything. For everyone.

That’s the beef. That’s always been the beef, but it’s like remembering the “good ol’ times”. You don’t they’re the good old times until they’re gone.

You didn’t realize there wasn’t a beef, until the real beef showed up on your doorstep with a laptop sporting a “Logan” yellow jersey.

Tom Morey shreds at surfing
Tom Morey, inventor of the Boogie board, shreds at surfing.

If I’ve learned anything while sitting here in this parking lot, debating whether or not to paddle out, it’s that there are very few things sacred left in the world of the internet…says man writing to you via the internet.

If you don’t mind, could you print this out and read it in the flesh when you have a chance?

It is true, though. About the sacred things left in this world. Surfing used to be one of them. It still might be.

But with infinite knowledge at our fingertips there’s very little mystery left. If you search for it, you can find it…usually in minutes.

Hell, you don’t even have to get to the beach to check the waves.

When I was a kid, we would ride our bikes to the beach everyday, boards under arm, and we’d surf – no matter what.

There’s no one out right now. It’s windy and the waves are messy, but I’m going to paddle out.

Might slide a few on my belly, too. Who knows?

Can we consider this beef squashed?

Father, surfer, poet.


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