In the watersports world, an ongoing rivalry continues – bodyboarding vs. surfing. Some say bodyboarding is better; others say it’s surfing. Who is right and who is wrong?
To settle the bodyboarding vs. surfing debate, we’ve put together this all-encompassing guide. Bodyboarding allows you to ride a wave while lying down. You paddle using your arms and legs. When you’re surfing, you have to stand up on the board, and you can only paddle with your arms. Your position while catching a wave is the biggest difference.
There are also additional differences between surfing and bodyboarding, which we will discuss. Here we go!
Bodyboarding vs. Surfing
To understand the difference between bodyboarding and surfing, you first need to know the two types of boards. The board’s size and design are what dictates whether you’re surfing or bodyboarding.
As we stated, when you’re bodyboarding, you are staying in a prone position from start to finish. When you ride a bodyboard, sometimes referred to as a boogieboard, your upper body rests on the board while the lower half of your body stays in the water.
This positioning is due to a bodyboard being smaller than a surfboard, made of multiple layers of material, formed together by machinery.
Significant parts of the bodyboard that you want to consider when purchasing include the bodyboard:
- Core – create’s the board’s shape; made of polyethylene (PE), extruded polystyrene (EPS), or polypropylene (PP)
- Deck – top skin material; cushions impact
- Slick – bottom skin; reduces drag
- Channel – canals near the tail for extra grip
- Rail – steering wheel; affects speed and control; 50/50 or 60/40
- Nose – top of the board; affects experience with waves; wider improves performance for big waves; narrow gives higher speed and lose control
- Rocker – the board’s curve; flat goes faster but will be harder to control, but too much rocker creates drag while being easier to direct
- Wide point – where the contours change direction, controls board’s width distribution; a higher wide point is better for speed and control while lower is better for a loose feel
- Thickness – a thin board is more agile but slower and less buoyant
- Tail – affects control and speed; comes in various designs, with crescent and or bat being the most common
- Stringer – the skeleton that controls strength, stiffness, and control; usually a fiberglass tube inserted in the board’s core
Bodyboards come in different lengths from 32″ – best for children under four feet tall and between 40 and 64 pounds – up to 46″ – ideal for adults over 6’4″ and more than 220 pounds.
When you use a bodyboard, you paddle through the water by alternating your arms and legs’ movement or by combining both for boosts of speed.
When you’re using a surfboard, your entire body rests on top of the board. When you’re paddling, you can only use your arms. As you’re riding a wave, you have to go from lying down into a standing position.
Compared to bodyboarding, surfing is more challenging and physically demanding. You need good balance to be able to stand up without flipping off. And you’ll have to be able to shift your weight to turn the board.
Most surfboards are still made by hand carving. Many purists are against bodyboards because they are made by machinery, stealing the art of having a handmade piece.
There are twelve parts to a surfboard that control the maneuverability, volume, design, and water flow. These are:
- Nose – the tip of the board; pointed or rounded and assists with direction
- Stringer – the reflection point extending from tail to nose down the center; made of carbon fiber or wood, this point provides a reference point for the change of parallel aspect
- Rocker – most important aspect of the design, the rocker is the vertical curve from the nose to the tail; it can be continuous or staged with a heavy or relaxed curvature
- Concaves – bottom contour that directs water through fins to improve stability and control; typically 12″ or 300mm, give or take on modern boards
- Leash – the leg rope connects to the leash plug at the back of the board, and the other end wraps around your ankle, so you don’t lose your board during a wipeout
- Leash plug – a fiberglass plug fixed into the board to attach the leash
- Fins – fins control the turn, speed, and thrust; multiple configurations, types, sizes, and shapes; most common are 3 fins with a thruster, a fin central, and two fins for the outer rails using a five fin system
- Fin plugs – installed before the fiberglass, the fin plugs or boxes are where the fins go
- Tail – various shapes to achieve control, speed, or maneuverability
- Bottom – the bottom of the board goes into the water and controls flow; multiple shape options, typically concave, occasionally with a convex.
- Outline – the board’s overall shape; the template is the radius around your board; the most crucial part that defines the type of board
Some boards also come with a traction pad, which you use instead of wax to provide better grip and traction. These pads go at the tail of your board’s deck.
As you can see, there are a wide variety of customizable options you can do to a surfboard. In addition to the multiple types of bottoms and fins, there are also seven standard surfboard shapes.
- Stand-up Paddle (SUP) – 10 to 11 feet long and 32″ to 34″ wide
- Longboard – 8 to 11 feet long with a rounded nose
- Gun – 7 to 12 feet with thinner profile and shape of a shortboard for big waves
- Funboard/Malibu – 7 to 8 feet long used as a sports version of longboards
- Egg – best for beginners to intermediates with an 8.5-feet length
- Hybrid – 6 to 8 feet in length; a combination of a fish board with better performance
- Shortboard – 6 to 7 feet long with a pointed nose and round or square tail; best for tricks
- Fish – 7-feet long, best for small to midsize waves
In terms of safety, bodyboarding is a safer option. But in terms of an adrenaline rush, advanced swimmers may prefer the challenge and exhilaration of a surfboard vs. a bodyboard.
The biggest difference between bodyboarding and surfing is that when bodyboarding, you ride in a prone position, laying down so you can encounter the waves close-up. When you surf, you’re standing up to ride a wave, which is more challenging and requires better balance. Your skill, physical condition, and the type of water you’re in will determine whether you should choose a surfboard or a bodyboard.