Body surfing is not mucking around in the shore break for people who can’t ride a board. It’s serious business! Get the low down on the sport for supermen right here!
Former masters swimming world champion and world record holder, Dix Ozier, talks to Timothy Edwards about his first aquatic love, body surfing. Here in Part 2 Dix shares some tips to help beginner body surfers prepare to take it to the next level. He also describes some of his favourite body surfing tricks. Most importantly, Dix covers the threats of big wave body surfing and explains how the up and coming body surfing artist should deal with the difficult stuff. Get your fix from the body surfing guru right here!
Tim: Do you have any tips to help beginners take it to the next level?
Dix: People who wanna learn how to go out into bigger waves (without the prospect of getting hammered every time) need to get to an easy break place where they can stand on the bottom in the just the right spot where the wave is going to break and practice diving onto the wave. They need to dive into the wave and angling towards the shore with their upper bodies nice and low so that the hips and legs come up a little bit and practice just getting into the wave without letting it fall on top of them and stopping their forward motion. It’s important to practice this while going with the correct angle that the wave is breaking. If the wave is a right, practice diving right. If it’s a left… go left. Get used to going the way the wave is going. Push off the bottom and get used to getting up to the right speed to catch the wave. You can make it like you are diving off the starting blocks in a swimming race. Push off the bottom and get what it feels like to catch the wave. Practise! Practise on those little waves and ride them in. When you have built up some confidence, take the plunge and try a little further out with your flippers.
Tim: What gear do you need?
Dix: Clearly, fins! That is essential. Well, some people think that they can body surf without fins… and they probably can… but it’s not worth the bother.
If you are in colder water definitely get yourself a swimming wet suit. A nice Yokohama neoprene. Don’t get some old bulky surfer thing. You gotta have a real swimmer’s body suit if you really want to feel connected. Then you will also feel secure! The suit also gives you a little extra flotation… and extra floatation means extra speed. These wetsuits will give you a real advantage! This is especially helpful if you haven’t been trained as a swimmer all your life.
And throw away that silly little bit of wood that you have dangling off your fingers. Get rid of that little mini-surfboard thing. You don’t need that crap! That’s just a device for people who don’t feel the water. Maybe they have really weak lower backs or some other problem where they think that they need it. Maybe they think they are hydroplaning or something. Well, I’ve got news for them. Body surfing is hydroplaning – but doing it with your body, not some little miniature surfboard out there! That is a whole other sport. There is no art to it. Art aside, I don’t think that they are safe or practical. Try swimming out the back with one of those things attached to your hands. It’s not worth the bother. And what if you go over the falls from six feet up and your little board doesn’t hit the face of the wave as you are landing with just the right angle? Its gunna bounce back in your face or break your arm clean off with all that water coming back at you.
Tim: What are the dangers that body surfers need to watch out for?
Dix: I got mobbed on the beach today! I was standing on the beach in my wetsuit and two of my friends were already in the water on the way out when this beautiful woman walks up to me when I was about to get into the water. Next thing you know she has started up a conversation and then she told me how amazing I was. Then she told me that I was amazing again! That was twice. A beautiful stranger told me I was amazing twice just as I was standing at the water’s edge in my wetty. Well, what can I say? What can you do? Maybe its true. I don’t know whether you could call that a danger but, who knows?
Other dangers. Man, you’re gunna be held under. There aint no way of avoiding that. Especially in big surf. And if there is a set coming? Your head will just pop up after going under one big wave and immediately you are going to have to dive down deep again and hold your breath for another ten or fifteen seconds. Like I said before, to do this stuff comfortably you need to be fit. Swimming fit.
There is stuff you need to know when trying to get under big waves. When you dive down you need to angle your body perpendicular to the on-coming surge of water, or you are going to be tossed and tumbled around. You’ve gotta dive right down deep, facing the on-coming wave and deep, underneath it, so that when you look up you can see the bubbles above you. You gotta be under those bubbles because the bubbles are where the turbulence is. You don’t wanna be in that turbulence. Try to make sure that you are clear of all that so that when you pop back up you are as clear as possible from the residual force from the breaking wave that is going to be pulling you back towards the shore. You don’t want to be stuck in that zone where the waves are breaking again, and again and again! You gotta keep that forward momentum going so that you are heading out to sea.
When you first dive down, do some strong dolphin kicks. At the same time do some nice big pull downs with your arms. Stretch your arms way out above your head and pull them to your sides as hard as you can at the same time as you are kicking hopefully enabling you to get underneath that turbulence. Immediately you pop up at the other side of the wave, hopefully clear of most of the turbulence, just keep swimming out to sea. Don’t stop in the smash zone. That means you gotta be fit.
Tim: What about horror experiences. Did you ever get into any situations that you wish you could forget?
Dix: Oh. There was this one time when I took a break for a few months and rode my old Vespa 125 down through Mexico to Central America in search of great body surfing waves. I was about a month into the trip when I pulled into a place in Southern Mexico right near Acapulco called Pie De La Cuesta. Wow. What a place. Amazing big waves! There were no surfers. No body surfers. No swimmers. But, man, I didn’t care. I was going to get some of those big beautiful waves.
So, I parked the Vespa and, not even thinking, just swam straight out. In almost no time I tried to catch this enormous set wave and it sucked me up the wall, threw me out in front then slammed me into the ocean floor. Looking back, I can’t believe what I did. I didn’t even have swim fins (flippers). In big waves, you must have fins! You need speed to stop yourself from being sucked up the wall! Let that be a lesson. Don’t even try to body surf big waves without fins… that is if you want to live. Man, I hadn’t even checked the bottom to see if there were rocks or a reef. If I hadn’t been so young and flexible, man, I would have been killed or maimed with spinal injuries or something.
Things don’t normally bother me in the ocean, but this time I got straight out. I knew that I had been beaten up bad, so I wanted to check by body and make sure that I was in one piece. Well, I survived but there is a lesson in this. When you are young and impetuous you do foolish stuff. If you want to stay alive you don’t do what I did. You check the conditions. You ask people about the break. You take fins out there with you. Something good came out of all this. Thinking back, that is the last time I have ever gone over the falls in really big waves. This day in Pie De La Cuesta was so scary and memorable that I have never done anything so foolish again.
Tim: Tell us some of your favourite trick moves.
Dix: Oh, mate! I take off like no one else does – because I take off underwater, then pop out the front! That’s interesting enough, right there. The comment I get is “You look like you’re flying!” Well, I am flying, man! That’s why I body surf. I want to fly! I don’t swim six strokes of freestyle on top of the water like those other wannabes. That’s boring. That’s a lot of work. You don’t want to, you know… work. You just want to be relaxed. I prefer to do as little as possible. No struggle. If it happens, on a smaller wave, that I feel like I wanna have some fun and do a little barrel roll or two that is okay – no big deal – but that’s not what it all about. I’m probably getting too old for all that. All I want to do is get into a wave and enjoy the sensation of flight. That’s the art of it for me, these days. Just making it look easy.
Oh, but there is one trick that I do that I really love but I generally save it for days when the waves are too big to catch. When the waves are enormous and closing out and it’s getting just too big to surf, I wait in the line up until a huge set wave comes straight at me. When the wave arrives and I am right at its base, I look up at the tip of peak of the wave maybe nine feet above me then I do a huge dolphin kick and pull as hard as I can with my arms and launch myself up the face with the rising water (going upward with the current) and when I get to the lip I kick again and burst into the air. As the wave keeps going that leaves me flying through the air and then diving into the deep trough way below me behind the wave. For a while I am completely out of the water. This may not actually be a body surfing stunt, but it is so much fun. You get an elevator ride up the face and get launched into the air before a huge splash down behind the wave. Goes to show you can even have lots of fun when the waves are too dangerous to body surf.
Tim: How does body surfing make you feel?
Dix: There is a component of my being – its not even a personality thing – its not even an identity thing. Its deeper than that! It’s like my past life as a sea creature – a dolphin, maybe – comes through me and all of a sudden, I am beaming with joy. “Out here are some waves… and I am going to ride them! Wooo-hooo. Eeee-ha!” I just become…? Well, I can’t describe it. Some other element in me comes out. It’s like stepping into the sunlight after having spent two months in freezing black fog.
Where else on the planet are you going to get that close to mother nature? Man, you are copulating with the planet! It’s amazing what the sensation is and when you come out of the water, you know that you are the man. You made a wave!
You’ve got all the nutrients – the sun, the salt, the water, the air – you are made of 75% water and there you are, out there playing in the water. What better opportunity do you have to enjoy life? Come on. What are you going to do? Are you going to be a wanker – or are you going to go body surfing?
Tim: So, tell me Dix… are you the best body surfer in the world?
Dix: There is no way for me to know. I just don’t.
I tell you, a couple of years back I was taking some of my swimming club pupils to a surf swimming workshop down the coast – you know – one of those gatherings where people get to challenge themselves and push themselves beyond their comfort zone – and one of the participants (some punk kid in his twenties who was super fit, a really good swimmer and top life guard) screamed out to me while we were swimming around way out the back, “Hey Dix, I challenge you to a body surfing race. Just you and me. First to the shore has the world title!” The bastard then started swimming toward the first wave he could see and was almost onto it before I even got a chance to reply. Well, I might be an old bastard, but I wasn’t going to let a cocky little smart-arse, who got to choose his own wave, beat me under those circumstances. It wasn’t ever going to happen. I had to swim about ten meters over to the next sand bank to get the next good available wave but I gotta tell ya, I have never gone so hard in my life. I caught that wave and kicked like hell all the way to the beach and when I stood up on the sand, I was five meters in front of him. I just stood up, beat my chest and screamed, “Man… I am the champion of the world!”
So, I guess that I can say that I am the world champion body surfer. But its unofficial! But seriously, I don’t compete in those events like that Mark Cunningham dude who rides massive waves at Sunset, Waimea and Pipeline in Hawaii. I have been there and done those things too but never in competitions. You gotta know this about me, Timmy boy… I walk my own path. I don’t follow anybody in anything. I just do my own thing. For me to say I am best at it (though I might joke about it), I can’t really do that because I do it my way. I just want to blaze my own trails and do as many amazing things as I can in life. I’m really never going to follow a pack. Mind you, if someone put on a contest for people over sixty-five, I might be tempted.
Tim: Is there anything that you have not done that you still hope to do?
Dix: There is a place in Hawaii called Point Panic that is pretty much a designated body surfing spot. It is an unusual surfing spot in that it is consistently big, yet still quite mellow and it goes on for hundreds of meters. Man, I could do that. To catch a huge wave that peels… then keeps on peeling seemingly for minutes is something I’ve just gotta do some day!