Ten years ago I got assigned to write about a surf spot. I’m actually still working on the article, but along the way I’ve had the pleasure to connect with a different subculture of waveriders: bodysurfers! They are a “chop suey” mix of personalities, ethnicities, and skillsets, many with styles that reflect the surf spots they frequent, but all without an industry or pro scene mentality.
From a photography perspective, I’ve found that shooting bodysurfers is fricken difficult. Because their bodies are literally slicing through the water, it is hard to get clean shots without spray. I guess it makes the photos you do get that much more precious.
So here’s a look at bodysurfing on Oahu, Hawaii, from my perspective.
At many contests on the North Shore, the Hawaiian Water Patrol crew regularly provides water safety and security with jetski and life-saving support. But during breaks in the action, they sometimes launch into a few (poho bumbay (otherwise waste)). Here’s Mark Cunningham on a sweet insider during the 2009 Pipe Masters.
Mike Stewart, Don King, Mark Cunningham, and Kaimana Stewart, Ehukai, 3/21/14. The term waterman is thrown around too casually nowadays, but these three are true legends of the ocean. Champion bodyboarder, award-winning water photographer, celebrated lifeguard. Oh yeah, and they are all pretty decent bodysurfers too, with 19 Pipeline Bodysurfing Classic titles between them. Mike’s son Kaimana has good pedigree, keeps good company, and is already on his way to being a fine bodysurfer in his own right.
Unknown, Sandy Beach Bodysurfing Championship, 5/22/10. Even in contests, it’s all about style. This guy’s got it. Straight down, head first, back to the wave. And look at his hands; delicate, subtle style.
Mark Cunningham, Pipeline, 1/16/10. Even on the most streamlined, fat-free bodies such as Mark’s, the flowing water creates unusual ripples across the body. Colors got filtered out on this shot so I chose to convert it to black & white.
Rodrigo Bruno, 2006 Pipeline Bodysurfing Classic, 2/1/06. This is not a wipeout. Brazil’s Rodrigo Bruno is purposely throwing a 360 on the takeoff while being lip-launched. He actually made it to the trough of the wave, but lost forward momentum and got overrun. Still, it was a ballsy effort.
Point Panic, 10/12/13. Douglas Palama, an avid bodysurfer and photographer, passed unexpectedly on September 2013. Friends and family got together the following month for a very touching paddleout at Point Panic in his honor. After his ashes were spread into the ocean, Dougie’s fins were given to the sea, and back to Dougie. Also, short paddleout video can be found here.
Sean Enoka, Point Panic, 5/18/13. Sean’s a great guy, already featured in this magazine (Fin Quiver). Here he is at Point Panic, the only surf spot on Oahu dedicated exclusively to bodysurfers and handboarders. Located near the heart of Downtown Honolulu, Panics is a popular summertime destination when the south swells roll in.
10/26/13. Here’s a manini’s eye view of us humans at play. The curves are compelling.
Unknown, Point Panic, 6/27/09. Whether it be a rubber slipper or a custom-shaped board (with attached GoPro camera), handboarding is alive and well.
Mark Cunningham, 2006 Pipeline Bodysurfing Classic (PBC06), 2/1/06. I actually entered this contest just for fun and bombed terribly. Afterwards, I spent more than four hours straight in the water, shooting some of the most amazing bodysurfing I had ever seen (to date). Had to turn off my point-and-shoot cameras, delete photos, and conserve my physical energy throughout. I captured this classic shot of Mark in the final. In most every performance sports discipline, style can be conveyed by the hands. As you can see Mark oozes style.
Unknown, Sandy Beach, 11/14/09. I had broken my back two weeks prior so was landlocked. I was jonesing to take pictures, especially with a solid east swell on the offer, so I shot Sandy Beach from land. Guys were out there charging as usual. Nice visuals, inspirational, and a good way to recover.
Mike Stewart, PBC06, Pipeline, 2/1/06. He is mostly known as an iconic bodyboarder, but Mike may actually be an even better bodysurfer. Still frames really don’t do justice to his dynamic style, flow and technical wizardry.
About the photographer: Neal Miyake is an electrical engineer turned “suit” for the government. He has been an avid waverider and enthusiast photographer for most of his life, and currently enjoys blending the two through water surf photography. Pipeline is his favorite photo studio. Oh, and he’s a terrible bodysurfer who just tries.