Bodysurfers and Australian beach culture
Faculty of Education and Arts
School of Communications and Arts
Recently, while enjoying the early morning surf at Bondi, I found myself confronted by a flashback to another era. Looking up as I swam through a long break, there she was, gracefully arrowing down the front of the wave, head up, arms extended out, planing on a small handboard. It was a powerful wave which had broken more than thirty metres beyond the outermost bank, so her speed was impressive as she hurtled down the wave's sloping face, completely in control. Spray fanned outward from the board, and there was a smile beneath her narrowed eyes as she sped towards the shallower bank and, beyond, the beach. Her image, vivid as a Max Dupain photo, will always remain with me.
On that early Sunday morning the bodysurfer came to symbolise the surfing world we have lost: a world where she, I, and others like us dominated the waves, rather than the boardriders. Fifty years ago she would not have been alone on the wave, for there would have been at least a dozen or more keeping her company. Today at Bondi, surfers obediently swim between flags no more than sixty metres apart, with the best waves being monopolised by boardriders who enjoy three or four times the area. In the 1950s and earlier, the reversal of this situation left the comparatively few boardriders corralled in an equally restricted space. For more than half a century, bodysurfers (the first 'surfers') far outnumbered all other forms of surfing enjoyment, riding the best and/or longest waves free from any interference. Nowadays, the surfers are the board and boogieboard riders, and they rule the surf with the help of the surf lifesavers.