Brit Bodysurfers At The World Championships

03 . 12 . 16

​Back in August three of our friends, David Smith and Jack Middleton from Surfers Against Sewage and Jack’s girlfriend Brogen Latham, travelled to California to compete in the 40th annual World Bodysurfing Championships at Oceanside Pier. Whilst conditions during the championships were challenging, to say the least, they had an incredible trip and have returned home inspired by what they saw and the new friends that they made. Here’s Jack’s account of their Californian bodysurf adventure:

With teams coming from all over the world, including France, Brazil, Hawaii and Australia, this truly was a ‘World’ event; amongst this, our small team of three made the trip from Cornwall to Southern California to take part. We descended upon Oceanside, in North San Diego County, via slightly different routes: Brogen and I flew from San Francisco to San Diego where we were met by David who had driven down from LA. From there, we drove the fabled Pacific Coast Highway 101 through some of the places we had grown up reading about in surf mags; La Jolla, Del Mar, Cardiff-by-the-Sea, Encinitas, and Carlsbad, before arriving at our final destination; Oceanside.

Having only a vague idea of where our Air BandB was, we decided to drive down to the pier, scope out the contest site and then head along from there until we found our accommodation. We ended up being sidetracked by food shopping, and after binging excitedly on some of the most unhealthy and sugar-laden offerings that America could offer, the three of us decided that bodysurfing a new break on the crash after a sugar high wasn’t a wise move, and so we turned in for an early night.

We arrived at the contest site at Oceanside Pier early the next morning; David was in the second heat of the day at 6.30 am and we wanted to assess the conditions that we’d all be swimming out in. What conditions they were! Solid 8-10 foot dredgers greeted us in the relative morning chill on the south side of the pier. Heat 1 was underway and my first thoughts were:

1. Everyone was sat very close to the pier

2. There was an inordinate amount of wetsuits being worn (I had, somewhat naively, only brought a pair of boardshorts with me, although it turned out that they were all I really needed as I’m so used to the cool North Atlantic!)

Within minutes of David entering the water for his heat I realised the reason why everyone was sat so close to the pier: There was a proverbial river running through the line-up, sucking everyone and everything, no matter how unwilling, northwards and, (more worryingly) under the pier. Watching David fight against this current, I suddenly had a serious case of nerves and regretted not getting in the night before. After a valiant fight that pitched David against an oceanic Goliath, and with a reluctant salute, David (the literal not the mythical) shot the pier! Before we could register what had happened he came running back around before diving in for Round 2; down, but not out.

The funny thing about 15 minute heats is that they go past extremely quickly and, before I knew it, my time had come. I decided to walk down the beach several hundred metres before getting in so that I wasn’t swimming against the current from the get go, but knowing full well that I would probably be seeing the underside of the pier pretty soon anyway! The hooter sounded and we made a dash for the water, and to my immense pride I didn’t trip over my fins on the way in and made it out back second in my heat (Editors note: we should point out here that Jack is an incredible swimmer who used to compete at a high level. He swims like a fish).

My pride was short lived! Another set came through and these waves were heavy. Weighed down by early morning fluffiness and far too many corn dogs, I began swimming for a set wave, feeling the power as it built. I turned my head to catch a glimpse and saw a sand-churned wall coming towards me. The wave picked me up and I plunged down, but somehow I managed to pull sideways and spin. To my pleasant surprise, I was riding this huge shimmering wave and couldn’t resist giving myself a little pat on the back. For a second, I forgot about the pier, the raging current and the other contestants and remembered my love of bodysurfing. I felt alive.

This feeling was temporary however, as I began to swim back out. I was pretty convinced that I was swimming in a perfectly straight line, but to my horror the pier was fast approaching. I turned and began to swim diagonally and, for about 5 minutes, I was simply swimming on the spot! The clock was ticking – I knew I had to do something; my best option at this point was to just ride the waves and cross my fingers. Wave after wave, I got beaten: I got a thrill and beaten again, but somehow managed to ride 3 incredible waves. I got out and walked up the beach feeling a little smug and returned my cap – I had managed to stay on the right side of the pier. It wasn’t long before the realisation of the danger I had just faced set in and I began to wonder how Brogen was going to get on. The results of my heat came in and next to my name was written ’28pts – 4th’. I felt compelled to write ‘and alive’ next to it!

Whilst David and I had been swimming against the current in our heats, Brogen had sat on the beach convincing herself that, despite the chaos unfolding before her, she could swim out and come out triumphant. Ten minutes before her heat though, she decided that discretion is the better part of valour and pulled out. I’m not sure what convinced her – it could have been seeing the guy who got a fish hook through the chin or the several people who had to be saved by the lifeguards – but whatever it was, we were thankful.

With the competition over (for us anyway) it was time to kick back and relax, and we definitely couldn’t have done that without the kindness and community of Del Mar International Bodysurfing Club – and particularly Vince Askey. Nothing was too much trouble for them and we soon became part of the fold, cheering on our newfound team mates, having a beer and making friends from around the world. This was what it was all about; the real reason we had come all this way.

Over the next few days with these wonderful people we had some epic bodysurfing sessions up and down the coast, ate some great food, learnt new things, saw new places and even got a private tour of the California Museum of Surfing. In the days after the competition the swell dropped and the waves were incredible. In-between supporting our team mates who had made it to the finals we absolutely scored and soon the devastation from our poor performances in the competition was forgotten. Watching Dirty Old Wedge with the likes of Mark Cunningham, Mike Stewart and the Hawaiian contingent was a particular highlight.

We were so inspired by our experiences that, on returning to Cornwall, Brogen and I decided to start our own bodysurfing company called Frogs Legz with the aim of bringing the underground chargers of the UK Bodysurfing scene (of which there are many) together through photos, stories, gear and by working with the UK Bodysurfing Association, to organise regular meet-ups and competitions.

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