Bodyboards buying guide

Bodyboards are more affordable, less tiring, safer and easier to transport than surfboards.
 
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  • Updated:29 Oct 2007
 

01 .Hit the surf

Child on bodyboard in surf

Is your child nagging you to buy them a bodyboard for Christmas? Or do you just want to head into the waves yourself, without going through the hard yards of learning to surf?

The beauty of bodyboards is that they’re quick and easy to get started on, although they can take years to master — don't expect to be doing complex aerial manoeuvres from the word go.

They’re extremely popular at Australia’s beaches, outnumbering surfboards at a ratio of about four to one. Shorter, wider and lighter than their stand-up cousins and with a squared-off nose, their core’s made from a softer foam rather than hard fibreglass.

More affordable, less tiring, safer and much easier to transport, bodyboards are great exercise and loads of fun for kids and adults of all ages. You can ride them 'prone' (face down) — which is most common, or 'dropknee' (half-standing with one knee on the board), or even standing up.

Please note: this information was current as of October 2007 but is still a useful guide today.


The history of bodyboards

Generally thought to be based on ancient Hawaiian Paipo boards, modern bodyboards were invented in Hawaii by musician, engineer and surfboard designer Tom Morey in 1971. When Morey’s surfboard broke, he coated a piece of foam in newspaper and shellac, used a household iron to shape it and took it into the surf — or so the story goes. Music-lover Morey called his creation the ‘boogie board’.

What it’ll cost you

The price of a board depends on the materials, as well as size, any channels or special contours, graphics such as a signature from a professional rider, and surface design.

In general:

  • Entry-level boards for children retail from $15 to $50 in budget department stores.
  • $150 and $200 should get you a dow or polypro core (or a combination), an HDPP slick, possibly one stringer and a reasonably durable quality of foam.
  • $250 to $400 will get you a board made for more proficient riding, from a sports retailer or specialist shop. Often endorsed (and signed) by a pro rider, it‘ll typically incorporate single or double carbon-fibre stringers, deck contours, elbow grooves, nose bulbs (lumps in the nose area that help you grip), a Surlyn slick, a stronger, denser and more durable grade of foam and cool graphics.
  • If you want to choose your own shape, materials and features, you can order custom-made boards over the internet. But to get a feel for what style would suit you, try out a few friends’ boards first, if you can.
 
 

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When you go looking for a bodyboard, speak with a salesperson who is familiar with them. They can run you through their range and help you choose the right board for your level of proficiency, budget and expectations.

Here are a few tips to help you find the right board:

Size is important

The board should reach your navel when stood on its end, give or take a few centimetres. Too small and it’ll sink. Too big and you’ll struggle to control and manoeuvre it. It should also feel comfortable to carry under your arm. If the potential rider’s still growing rapidly, buy a board a few centimetres longer, so there’s a bit of room to grow.

Rock it

Lie the board flat on the floor. Although the nose will be slightly curved, the board should be reasonably flat at the tail end and should only rock a little. Excessive rocking may indicate warp from being stored in hot conditions.

Check the flex

Stand the board up, with the tail on the floor. Flex the board very gently — you want it to spring back easily.

Look at the bottom surface

It should be slick and smooth. Don’t buy it if it has any creases or cracks.

Age range

Children or teens who are learning don’t need an expensive board, and a cheaper board without a slick bottom and with minimal features is adequate. Buy them a hard-bottom board once they’re adept at catching waves and are ready to progress and refine their skills.

For older teens and adults, features such as stringers and channels might seem a bit much while they’re still learning, but they’ll appreciate them as their ability increases.

Don’t buy with your eyes

You’re much better off spending money on good construction and features, rather than fancy artwork or a pro signature.

Swim fins

Factor these into your budget. They’re invaluable for paddling out long distances to waves. Open-heeled fins are better for bodyboarding. Swim-fin tethers will keep your fins from floating away.

03.Features of a board

 

Here's our guide to the various materials and features of a bodyboard.

Deck

The surface you lie on.

Nose

The top, where you hold on.

Tail

The other end. The shape of the tail determines how the board moves in the waves. Types include the original crescent tail, shaped like a new moon. It provides maximum hold on the wave and is good for dropknee riding.
The more recently designed bat tail (which roughly resembles a bat’s wings) gives more speed and manoeuvrability and is often preferred by prone riders.

Core

The core of most boards is either polyethylene (also called dow or PE), or polypropylene (polypro or PP). Dow is heavier and more flexible than polypro and performs well in cold water and big waves. However, it can absorb water over time or if damaged. It also generally needs to be strengthened with at least one stringer, otherwise it can fold under the rider.

The more expensive polypro, on the other hand, is 100% waterproof and is lighter, stiffer, more durable and better in warm water and smaller, choppy waves. Both dow and polypro come in different grades of strength and consistency and this affects the price. Cores can also be a combination of various types of plastic or foam, such as EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate) and EPS (expanded polystyrene) — mainly used for cheaper children’s boards.

Slick bottom

The downward-facing surface is covered by a slippery covering called the slick, which gives the board strength and speed. The two most common types of slick are Surlyn, a softer plastic hybrid, which is very flexible and responsive, and HDPP (high-density polypropylene), which is harder, thicker and stiffer, but with little or no flex.

HDPP is usually found on beginner boards and is good for casual riders as it’s very durable and hardy, but serious riders who want to progress will prefer the higher-performance Surlyn.

Rails

The sides of the board. Straight rails are faster. A rounder outline (with a central widepoint) gives better manoeuvrability.

Channels

Grooves cut into the slick bottom that channel the water for better performance and control.

Stringer

A straight rod inserted into the board’s core to maintain stiffness and increase the lifespan of the board.

04.Safety and maintenance

 

Staying safe on a bodyboard

  • You should be a reasonably strong swimmer and your level of fitness needs to be appropriate to the surf conditions.
  • If you’re a beginner, only surf on beaches where lifeguards are on duty. Don’t go in the water at all if you think you might not be able to handle the conditions.
  • Before going into the water, check the surf patterns and look for rips for a good 10 minutes while doing a few recommended warm-up stretches to limber you up.
  • Parents need to watch small children very carefully. Getting in the water with them is the only really safe option. Lifeguards have the whole beach to watch and conditions can change in the blink of an eye.
  • If your board doesn’t come with one (and most medium to high-end boards don’t), buy a leash with a strong wrist, ankle or bicep attachment, so you don’t lose your board. Always check the leash is secure before entering the water.
  • Be aware of others and give other surfers and swimmers a wide berth. Dive if you see a surfboard coming towards you.
  • Stay calm and wave an arm overhead if you get into trouble. Thrashing around just means you’ll use up valuable energy. If you get into trouble, the board will also provide some flotation.
  • Always use a good waterproof sunblock. Put plenty on and renew it often. It’s easy to towel it off when drying yourself.

Caring for your board

  • Rinse your board with fresh water after use.
  • Boards shouldn’t be left in direct sun for long periods or in hot conditions with no ventilation, as this can cause them to blister, bubble or bend out of shape. Most boards are laminated and heat or sun may damage the laminate.
  • A bag will protect your board from the elements and any accidental damage. Beware of dark-coloured bags, though, which will create more heat.
  • Waxing the nose area, edges and centre of your board with surf wax will help you grip and stop you sliding off.