Bodyboarding. A word which can stand for so many different things to so many people in the world of surfing. And to others outside of the sport? “Sorry? No, I’m not a bodybuilder.”
Bodyboarding has been around for a fair few decades now, and yeah, although its popularity may have already peaked in the 90’s, the sport is still very much alive and kicking (pardon the pun), with some exceptional talent spanning the globe.
But professionally, bodyboarding is a sport that is becoming increasingly challenging for its athletes to make worthwhile and as a result, is difficult for existing fans to follow and even trickier to bring new fans into the fold.
So what the heck is happening? And what’s in the future for people who love going prone? MSW did some digging and spoke to some of the most passionate and informed old guard, to try and work this all out.
“It’s like torture that we put on our bodies. My body is shot, I’m so tired, my shoulders are extremely sore,” says 2017 World Champion Iain Campbell, following the fifth round of the IBC tour (that stands for the International Bodyboarding Corporation, by the way) at Antofagasta Bodyboard Festival in Chile.
The bodyboarding world tour has been on pause for a few years — maybe that’s why Iain’s feeling a little wounded.
“I think for the most part yeah. Not having a tour for a couple years is difficult because it’s both mental and physical and being put back in that situation makes it very tough. I went freesurfing before the event and injured my shoulder. Luckily the event was a right so I wasn’t leaning on that shoulder [laughs].”
The IBC took over the bodyboard tour from the APB (Association of Professional Bodyboarders) in 2020. The APB will still be around, but act as more of a riders’ union, that’ll be an airing room for athletes competing on the world tour. Sound confusing? That’s because it kind of is. The main thing to know though is the IBC are running the bodyboard world tour, but at a fraction of the budget that the World Surf League operate with.
“We have never had an investor come on board," said former APB Tour director Alex Leon. "The top athletes helped fund us by paying membership fees towards the administration of the whole tour and the event promoters pay sanctioning fees. We don't have any major sponsors, we don't have any major investors."
“You have different parties you are trying to keep happy. You have governments for one, then you have the event promoters, the athletes and then you also have the fans. You have to try and balance everything. The governments might want something the fans don't want. It is a real juggling act."
Bodyboarding has never struggled for talent, or for the next big thing, or the next craziest manoeuvre but the professional side of the sport has struggled financially.
“The transition (from APB to IBC) hasn’t been easy," said Iain Campbell. "We knew it would be difficult for new people to come in but the problem we’re seeing here is a continuation of the same mistakes as before. And it’s really tough to work with these guys who have always been there to run their own events, but running a whole tour is quite difficult. So there are certain things we are kind of missing. This is the second year they’ve been running events and the communication is not there. It’s a big problem we have had in our sport for many years.
“Some of the events have been tough to be a part of and some have been amazing so it’s not all bad.
“The main problems are communication, simple social media stuff, live feeds during the events, things that they should be on top of.
“Social media marketing is the biggest key that we have so we should educate people and I don’t think they’re seeing that as an opportunity to grow the sport."
Big wave Irish bodyboarder Seamus ‘Shambles’ McGoldrick, also chimed in.
“The dissolution of the APB and the creation of the IBC caused a lot of rifts and many people took to social media etc to complain. This fighting is quite negative for the sport. Essentially, what happened was the IBA was created from the ashes of the GOB (Global Organisation of Bodyboarding) which brought professional bodyboarding through the 1990s.
It’s like torture that we put on our bodies. My body is shot, I’m so tired, my shoulders are extremely sore.
“But the thing which caused the major revolution in bodyboarding performance and culture were the seminal No Friends video series which showcased bodyboarding at the highest level. And not in the traditional, conservative surf contest format which 90% of the time would bore you to tears.
“Back in those days, bodyboarding had no friends in the industry. Bodyboarding was still seen as unpopular for what ever reason. But that doesn't matter to a bodyboarder. We are not doing it to fit into whatever surf scene is trending at the time. We are doing it because it is fun and because of the waves you can ride on a boog and because we want to be like our heroes such as Skipper and Hubbard and Roach.
Having all these junior events with prize money for the kids really helps give the next generation a stepping stone for the future.
“Bodyboarding has never struggled for talent, or for the next big thing, or the next craziest manoeuvre. The professional side of the sport has struggled financially. But it has persevered and I respect that the hard working team of men and women behind the IBC are keeping things going.”
Jeff Hubbard is one of bodyboarding’s icons.
“Surfing is much more popular in the main stream. But the fact remains that bodyboarding is still more accessible to a larger global demographic based on cost and ease of use. Also being underground and quite hardcore with the types of waves bodyboarders can charge definitely has a special appeal,” said Jeff.
“The Junior Pro tour the IBC is doing is great and super important. Having all these junior events with prize money for the kids really helps give the next generation a stepping stone for the future.
“This is the IBC tours first year running so what ever improvements need to be made I am sure they will work on those for 2023.”
So Jeff believes the future is bright, but the current situation of the tour is something Iain Campbell isn’t sure is a feasible option for him personally in the long run.
“I’m at a position now where I’m questioning is it worth it going to these events because where is it benefiting us in the long run? For me it's hard to be there because its costly, both on my body and my wallet.
“I’m getting a bit older and there’s other things I want to start doing and waves I want to start chasing and its hard to be a part of this and think whether these investments are even worth it, and that’s tough.
“If the streams get better and the socials improve and push our profiles and get new people in then I’ll be in a happier place but I don’t know how long that will take.
“I don’t want to see the sport die, I want to see it thrive.”