Main Image: Rider- António Stott Howorth Photo- Rita Durães
It turns out there were more of us out there after all.
I started bodysurfing with my older brother and cousins. Some of them went on to join the first generation of bodyboarders in Portugal, others never felt attracted to the sponge invasion… fins, initially brought over by family and friends in Brazil, were all we needed. Wetsuits were a luxury and handplanes were unheard of.
Occasionally there would be rumours, a guy had been spotted in a line-up somewhere jostling for position with the crowds of board riders, but quite honestly, in about 18 years of bodysurfing exclusively I never once met another bodysurfer I either didn’t know or who was not related to me.
Then things began to change. A couple of us connected on Facebook; there seemed to be a group who regularly bodysurfed up North; a wave addicted architect began shaping handplanes; “Come Hell or Highwater” appeared out of nowhere and left us staring at our television screens, speechless.
An experimental competition was organized just outsider of Lisbon and there they were… a few dozen other bodysurfers…with homemade handplanes and fins of different shapes and sizes. But above all the same passion for wave riding with nothing but your body.
We looked on bemused as the judges, also taking their first steps, explained what maneuvers were worth more or less points. Then we basically forgot what they had said and went out and did what we loved doing: catching waves and having fun.
One guy stood out. The second tallest of the crew – after me – he sported a silver helmet and we giggled amongst ourselves as he consistently rode the miniature waves all the way to the sand. We weren’t giggling so much when he won. Many of us learned more about bodysurfing in those few weeks than we had in years.
António Pedro, a veteran surfing championship organizer was the man who took us from an amateur competition and turned it into a proper competition with four stages in different beaches, recognized by the Portuguese Surfing Federation. António Stott Howorth, our silver helmeted friend, became the first Portuguese champion in 2015 and that same year a group drove out to participate in the Euro-Atlantic championship. We had learned that we were not alone, it was time to tell the French.
In 2016 the competition grew to five stages, attracting increasing numbers, including some of the pioneers of bodyboarding who, having grown tired of the competitive scene in their sport were drawn to the camaraderie and general goofy spirit and passion of bodysurfing.
But the year began with tough news for one of the best of us. Migas, who had placed highly in 2015 felt his world crash down around him when he was diagnosed with MS and considered dropping out, since there was no saying how his body would react in the water after he started the medication.
Fortunately for all of us he persisted and celebrated the 2016 title in front of his bodysurfing peers and a busload of friends and family in the legendary beach of Supertubos, in Peniche.
As a group of Portuguese bodysurfers makes its way back home after participating in a Euro-Atlantic competition in Morocco – taking two places on the podium in the masters category – we can’t be sure of how far or how fast bodysurfing will progress over the next few years. But we know one thing for sure. We know we’re not alone.
By Filipe Avillez