Why should anyone want to learn to body surf? I mean really body surf. I mean its not a real sport like surfing is it? Isn’t body surfing just playing around in the surf because you can’t ride a board? True body surfing masters go into fits over such heresy! Such ignorance! Of course body surfing is a real sport. And it’s a real form of surfing. The experts might even say its the best form of surfing. What better way to convince the cynics than to get a master of the sport to tout its virtues.
Former masters swimming world champion and world record holder, Dix Ozier, talks to Timothy Edwards about his first aquatic love, body surfing. Dix has body surfed all around the world. He began his body surfing career in Southern California but has also practiced the fine art in big waves in Hawaii, in Australia, in Asia, in New Zealand and even in Antarctica. I suspect the Antarctica claim is a complete lie. Dix is well-known for exaggerating his achievements. That being said… he is pretty bloody good, so a few tips from this master are well worth reading. In this first episode, of a two part series, Dix explains the difference between what the average punter thinks body surfing is and what body surfing really is. He then goes on the describe what it takes to be a serious body surfer.
Tim: Dix… how would you describe yourself and your bond with the ocean?
Dix: Unlike the guy who collided with the ocean floor (Dix is referring to former champion Chicago Bulls centre Luc Longley who nearly ended his basketball season prematurely by incurring a serious shoulder injury when body surfing at Hermosa Beach in California some years back) I am the Michael Jordan of body surfing! I can just fly up and make that basket when the waves are flowing, you know. Man… that’s what I do!
Tim: Could you describe the fine art of body surfing?
Dix: I wouldn’t say that I am the world champion of this great sport as you once described me. I don’t do the competitive thing if that is even happening anymore. There are guys who are body surfing wannabes. They go out there, even in small breaks, and still manage to get flipped over… smash their necks… scrape their chins on the bottom. They are not really body surfers. Then there are the guys who lose their surfboards and try to catch a wave into the beach to retrieve their boards. They think that they are body surfers, too. But they are not. Everyone thinks that they can body surf. But what they do is not body surfing.
When I came out of the surf today and was walking up the beach someone came up to me and said “Hey watcha bin doin’? Have you been body boardin’?”
“No man,” I said. “I been body surfing!”
People think that you have been playing around in the shore break or something, but I went out today because the waves, out the back, were really nice. They were fun. Big, clean. It was fun to catch those big waves and ride the wave on the shoulder instead of some little close out thing where you ride a little foam ball thing into the shore. That’s what most “body surfers” … well they think they are body surfers… do. Just ride the close out foam ball into the beach. It’s a whole different experience if you take it to the next level – you know – like I like to do.
You are from Byron Bay, aren’t you? Well there used to be a little club over there in Byron and they used to call themselves the body surfing club. How’s that for a great name. I have to have a little chuckle at what they used to get up to. It’s different for me, Timmy boy. I gotta go out and ride me some waves! Serious waves!
“Everyone thinks that they can body surf!”
Tim: Tell me how you got started in body surfing?
Dix: I was probably ten or eleven years old. I got invited to go to the beach with this family – with this young friend of mine who was on my swimming team. We were just kids together. We went down to Southern California for a week or two. All we did the whole time was go in the surf. There were waves! So many waves! This kid had a couple of big brothers who were really good swimmers (the whole family were part of a swimming program that they got me into), and they went out body surfing. I watched them for a while then went “Oh, my god… that’s what I want to do!” So that’s what we ended up doing for the whole time we were there. After breakfast we would run straight to the beach, dive right in and body surf for the whole rest of the day. We would only take breaks when we were freezing.
Tim: Do you have any favourite body surfing experiences you could share?
Dix: Oh, my surfing days back in Hawaii, years ago, were just amazing. One day I had found this incredible little break in Kauai. I don’t think that there were any surfers there at all. The waves were big and there was a reef… but the tide was pretty high so I knew I could handle it. For hours after hour I surfed that break all by myself. Man, could the world get any better. The waves were incredible. The water was warm. There were no surfers hassling. There was a picturesque sandy beach. The sun was shining. I was with my beautiful girlfriend. After hours of bliss I swam ashore… totally stoked. Just as I was getting out, a surfer with a small surfboard entered the water. It was strange to see such a small board because, on my previous trips to Hawaii, you only ever saw huge long boards. Well this Kauai local said “hi” and gave me a friendly nod then paddled out and started ripping apart the very same waves that I had just been body surfing for hours. It was wonderful. I had never seen surfing like it.
When I walked up the beach, I asked someone there on the sand who the dude in the surf was. He just said “Oh that’s Titus. He’s a local.”
I later found out that the “local” Titus was pretty much the king of surfing in Kauai and was not only famous for surfing monstrous waves but also famous for monstering unwelcome foreign interlopers who barge in on his beloved Kauai surfing breaks. A few months later Titus Kinimaka was almost killed at Waimea Bay practicing in thirty-foot waves for the “Eddie Aikau Big Wave Contest” that he had been invited to participate in. Despite his hard man reputation, I felt privileged to have shared some beautiful waves with one of the world’s greatest all-round water men.
Tim: What are some of the keys to learning to really body surf?
Dix: Some of the key things may be really basic but they are not that easy. Some people buy high priced crap (body surfing “equipment”) then go out into the surf and expect to be able to ride those beautiful forms that the ocean is trying to give them. Instead they just end up flailing and thrashing about and not doing anything.
Nah. To body surf properly you gonna need to consider getting really fit. You’re gonna need to learn how to read the rips. You also need to learn how to swim really strongly and confidently. You’ve gotta train yourself to be able to hold your breath when you dive under the waves that break in front of you. Waves can be big! You’ve gotta learn to dolphin kick… or learn to move like a sea creature!
Tim: Okay. More details.
Dix: Firstly, you gotta know how to get out the back. It takes real fitness to firstly, go under the waves and then (when you get out the back) you need to be able to read the ocean. Then you need to wait until the right wave comes along that you can catch and ride artistically! You need to be able to swim to just the right place so that when you take off you will be right on the shoulder. You need to anticipate the right position. If you are struggling, through lack of fitness, you will miss the spot and end up bumping down the face in a close out and end up riding the foam instead of the shoulder. You want to ride the face of the wave, just like a board rider does. That’s the art of it. That is where I want to be.
Tim: How important is kicking?
“Give a mighty dolphin kick!”
Dix: You see a lot of guys stroking madly with their arms to try to catch a wave. You really don’t need to do any of that! You need to fit your body into the wave. You get yourself into a position when the wave is coming (well, this is the way I do it – no one taught me this – it’s just something I learned by feeling it) – and you tuck your head way low so that your legs will rise up and conform to the rising swell that is approaching you and once you feel yourself fitting into it – when you feel the wave starting to take you – then you give a mighty dolphin kick (with the help of your flippers, of course) and this gives you the chance to snap your body into position on the wave. The dolphin kick gets you quickly mobile. Moving! You’ve got momentum. You have kinda matched the speed of the wave. Once you have done that you are on the wave and you can start playing with it.
Suddenly you are flying down-hill and the water is coming up behind you. You can’t let the wave take you too high. That’s why a powerful dolphin kick at the start is so important. You have to help gravity by making sure your body keeps flying downhill. If you let the wave drag you up too high, it can spit you out and suddenly you are in free fall!
This next part is so cool. If you keep your lower body (from the waist down) tucked into the wave, it enables you upper body to extend out from the wave… hanging in space – like you are hanging over the edge of a precipice while the rest of your body remains held in the in there by this immovable force. If the wave is going fast you need to keep tucked into the wave to keep your speed up. If the wave is going kinda slow you can push your body out a little further which allows gravity to drop you down the face a little bit. From this point on its all about feeling… reading the wave and knowing what you want to do with it. You can just move with it… or you can go up and down a little bit… go slower or faster.
When the point comes that the wave is taking you over – when you are deep inside the barrel and you know that there is no coming out no matter how fast you go – and you know that if you stay on the wave any longer you are just going to get pressed down by all the falling water then that is the moment you can bail out. Then you need to duck underneath the wave so that when you pop back to the surface you are facing back out to sea. Hang in there too long and you end up getting tumbled like a washing machine and hitting the sandy or rocky bottom and coming out all bloody like some people do.
“Hang in there too long and you end up getting tumbled!”
In summary, if I am going to catch a wave, I am going to get into a position where it is about to break and I will dive with my upper body right down and, reaching out with one arm, ducking my head under the water. My upper body is so low that my hips come up. Immediately I extend back into a prone position where my upper body now extends over the precipice. Half of my body is in the water and half of my body is in the air. I am in control! I’ve got gravity! I’ve got power! I’ve got both those forces working for me – the lifting of the wave and the falling of gravity – with me balanced and playing in that space between the two forces. Playing amid the rising and the falling! How cool is that?
Tim: Do you keep up the dolphin kick once you are on the wave?
Dix: Once you are on a wave and you decide that you want to work it around a little and stay on it a little longer then you will need to start kicking again. Staying on the wave is about speed adjustment and that is done in various ways, but an important way is kicking. Using a flutter kick. You catch the wave with a nice powerful dolphin motion – actually the dolphin motion is not just a kick – It’s moving your whole body. One of those motions gets you onto the wave with the speed you need… and then you might give a stroke or two of freestyle just to conform perfectly with the speed of the wave. But then, if the wave is going really fast and starts to overtake you, you need to start the kick again. That’s what I do. Tiny super-quick little flutter kicks that keep me moving at the speed I want and need. With flippers (fins) you can build up quite a bit of speed! The other speed factor is your body shape. The less of your body that is touching the face of the wave the more planing you have. If your whole body is touching the face of the wave, then you have friction. You gotta extend out from the wave and then you can decide whether you want to speed up or slow down. Whatever.
So, yeah. You gotta keep kickin’ even after you take off. Finally, you gotta decide whether you are going to take it all the way into the shore or whether you are going to go back out to catch the next wave.
To be continued….
In Part 2, Dix Ozier, the body surfing master, provides tips to help the aspiring body surfer take it to the next level, describes some of the dangers of the craft, explains how he does some of his famous body surfing tricks and lists the equipment that a body surfer needs (and points out crap that they don’t need) to become a real body surfer. Don’t miss it.
Swimming coach and former masters swimming world champion and world record holder, Dix Ozier, operates a swimming squad and a guest house in beautiful Hot Water Beach in New Zealand. While he was born, educated (musical studies) and lived much of his early life in the USA, Dix has expanded his musical, cultural and aquatic knowledge and skills through living for extended periods in New Zealand, Australia and South-East Asia.