There are a handful of fervent bodysurfers who took the time to document, educate and rave about this one-of-a-kind activity. Here is a brief review of one such pursuit.
The Progressive Art of Bodysurfing: A Style Manual
By Paul A. Kosten, PH.D.
Pak’s Press LLC, 2011
Paul Kosten is a New Jersey resident and Senior Lifeguard at Poverty Beach. He has been riding waves his whole life and has written a bodysurfing style manual. The 82 page effort brims with stoke and attempts to blend a lifeguard’s point of view with that of a waverider. The book is an East Coast perspective on bodysurfing which is expressed through unique terminology and accounts of East Coast figures pushing the progression of maneuvers.
Paul begins the book by establishing a purpose. “The goal of this book is to teach you how to neutralize and use wave force to elevate bodysurfing to an art form.” It is a lofty goal and Paul dedicates part of the book educating beginners and part of the book documenting a “style” manual as he calls it. I will address each part separately.
Chapters 2, 3 and 4 (Reading the Surf, Entering the Surf and Catching Waves) are mostly directed at the beginner bodysurfers. Here we see Paul’s lifeguard side as he describes drifts, rips, currents, types of waves and two ways to catch them. He provides several graphics to aid in description of water hazards a bodysurfer is to be familiar with. The descriptions of hazards and waves are well written and the information could be very useful to a blossoming water-person.
Chapters 5, 6 and 7 (Riding Waves, Exiting Waves and Parting Comments) begin to address the “style” Paul alludes to in the early chapters. Here we find one of the book’s weaknesses. Paul’s Ocean photos are of smaller waves with mixed clarity. Some of the photographs are able to get the point across, but offer little inspiration. This is in great contrast to the black and white drawings by Damien Cwik. Damien’s artwork is a notable highlight in the otherwise underwhelming visual experience.
The content provided in these chapters is basic. It chronicles a reasonable transition from jumping off the sandy bottom to extending one arm out and riding waves. Paul draws on the important dynamics of flotation and their effects on bodysurfing. As he goes on to describe what he calls “Higher-Order” riding of waves, Paul uses technical language to guide the reader through the cut-back, roll-over(spin) and bottom-turn. These, fairly common maneuvers, are described aptly before Paul introduces bobsledding, which is essentially holding one foot while riding in the standard lay-out position. The culmination of skill, in Paul’s opinion, lies one’s ability to string maneuvers together in “frenzied insanity.” One could argue the rider would demonstrate more skill by linking maneuvers with deliberate control, but despite the terminology, Paul writes a strong description and notes the importance of utilizing the wave’s energy above all else.
Throughout the book Paul has also intertwined his own personal experiences with great detail. I find myself most connected with Paul’s writing as he describes bodysurfing on 9/11 and his first experiences with the weightlessness of bodysurfing. The Progressive Art of Bodysurfing: A Style Manual is a unique piece, which despite some visual shortcomings in the time of prolific water photography, offers the reader a stoke-full East Coast perspective on bodysurfing.