For a haole (non-Hawaiian/Caucasian) visiting Maui, my boogie boarding style is not bad—particularly for a 56 year-old Oregon guy. So, before I wipe out and crush my skull on a reef rock, I want to share some of the boogie boarding wisdom I’ve accumulated over several decades of warm-water vacationing.
First and most important: look good before you set out for the beach. Who knows, the surf may be down and you’ll spend the whole day sitting on your beach mat. You want to look like a boogie boarder even if you’re not boogieing.
Here I’m modeling, from top to bottom, a Pacific Whale Foundation cap (to demonstrate my eco-ocean sensibilities), rimless Maui Jim sunglasses (spendy but tropical trendy), a Xcel nylon/spandex shirt (protects against the sun and boogie board burn), and Tommy Bahama swimming trunks (picked out for me yesterday by Laurel, my personal shopper extraordinaire).
Most of these are, of course, entirely personal fashion statement preferences. However, I heartily recommend a similar shirt for serious boogie boarders. If you’re wave playing for several hours, as I was today, the effectiveness of the sunscreen you put on will be sorely diminished, and sore likely will be just how your red back and shoulders will feel the next day.
Plus, paddling around on a boogie board and bouncing along on waves while you’re lying flat on your stomach can cause boogie board rash. I get this right under my rib cage if I’m not wearing a shirt. So seriously consider wearing a top of some sort (a T-shirt will do fine, but is clammier than a nylon/spandex shirt).
Second: use fins (and a boogie board, of course). If you’re really adept at reading waves, knowing exactly where you have to be to catch one, you might be able to successfully boogie board without fins. But most people, which definitely includes me, find it much easier to maneuver around with fins.
I use snorkeling fins with ankle fasteners. If you don’t attach snorkeling fins to your ankles, almost certainly they’re going to come off in heavy surf. It isn’t fun to search for a fin while waves are breaking over you and you’re yelling, “Has anyone seen my fin?” It’s well worth it to spend a few bucks on ankle fasteners for the fin peace of mind. Or, you can get official boogie boarding fins that strap tightly to your foot, but this is impractical for most tourists.
So, once you’re well dressed and properly equipped, you’re ready to boogie. I’m assuming that you want to go out to where the waves are breaking well off the beach. You can play with your boogie board, though, right on or close to the beach—as are these folks I took photos of today.
However, real boogie boarding takes place a ways offshore where the waves first break. Sit on the beach and watch the boarders who are already out there if you haven’t boogied a location before. If you’re wondering why nobody is catching some wonderful looking waves, there usually is a good reason. Like rocks. Sharp rocks. Reef rocks. Nasty rocks.
Water is the best thing about boogie boarding. Rocks are the worst thing. I know where most of the rocks are in Napili Bay. I’m always thinking about how to avoid them. Wind and waves have a sneaky way of moving you from a safe boarding spot to right in front of a reef. If you catch a wave, you might well go right over the rocks. Or, you might not. When I’m in doubt about whether I’m going to catch a rock after catching a wave, I let the wave go.
Different strokes for different boarders though. Some boogie boarders are major risk takers. Some like to play it absolutely safe. Do what feels right to you. This photo shows the usual boogie boarding order of things: a line up of boarders ranging from closer in to farther out from shore (note them avoiding the rocks on the left). Generally, you’ll get more waves if you’re a bit closer in, because there are more smaller waves than larger waves, and larger waves break further out.
Larger waves usually are more fun. They’re also scarier, if you’re new to boogie boarding. In my opinion, the main thing to remember about waves is that water rarely hurts you. It’s rocks that hurt you. So if you’re thrashed around by a wave like clothes in the spin cycle of a washing machine, no big deal. You’ll pop up just fine, no worse for wear. It’s being thrashed around underwater when rocks are also underwater that hurts like hell. Again, stay away from rocks.
Try to catch a wave just as it’s breaking. Follow the line of white foam. Become the foam. Merge with the breaking wave.
If a large wave has already broken and you’re in front of it, you have two choices: go with it or go under it. Going under it is an essential boogie boarding skill. Just dip your head, press down on the front of the board, shut your eyes (if you wear soft contacts, like me), and kick with your fins. After the wave goes by you’ll pop up about where you were instead of halfway to the beach, which likely would have happened if you went with the wave.
That isn’t good if your goal is to get out to where the waves are breaking. Getting back out after catching a wave is what I like least about boogie boarding. They should have a rope tow or something, especially for geezers over fifty. Tip: don’t ride a wave all the way in if you don’t feel like paddling all the way back out. Tilt your board sideways and jump out of the breaking wave after you’ve had enough fun with it. That shortens the paddle back.
Often it’s best to paddle back in a half circle. In the surf a straight line usually isn’t the shortest distance, timewise, back out to where the waves are breaking. Head off to the left or right from where you ended up and the waves probably won’t be breaking right over you all the way back out.
People use various approaches to boogie board paddling. Easiest is the “hold on with both hands to the front of the board and kick with your fins” option. But this is tiring on the legs. Others use the “paddle with both hands, either both at once or alternately” option. That works fine if the ocean is calm. I’ve evolved a “paddle with one hand while hanging on with the other hand, plus kick” approach. I keep falling off the board when I paddle with both hands, so this is a workable hands/feet combination for the less dexterous.
Etiquette wise, try not to run into other people. Sometimes it can’t be helped, however. Today I rode a wave in most of the way on the back of another guy. Once I landed on top of him, I couldn’t get off. He didn’t seem to mind, thankfully. The very next wave I caught, two girls ended up on my back. Instant boogie board karma, I figured.
When you run over someone it’s good form to wave back at them with a breezy “sorry but I couldn’t help it hope you’re OK" gesture. If they don’t respond, you might check to be sure that you haven’t knocked them unconscious. Fortunately, boogie boards are a lot softer than surfboards.
Rather paradoxically, locals get preference in staking out the “sweet spot” where the best waves are breaking. Yes, they get to boogie board all the time and we tourists don’t. But the native Hawaiians have been roundly screwed by the Americans who took their land, so I don’t mind taking back seat to a local when it comes to catching a wave. Plus, you can learn a lot by shadowing the local boogie boarding guys and gals. They usually have a much better sense for the ocean that we haoles do, so I try to follow their lead.
Most of the time. On Kauai once I learned that if a couple of local guys start yelling at each other, “Here comes a big one,” it’s time for the haoles to swim for shore. If the locals seem just mildly enthused about a wave, then I figure I can handle it. But if they’re wildly excited about some monster that is approaching, I’ll probably be terrified.
Of course, that was quite a few years ago, and I’ve become a better boogie boarder now. About all I fear now is sunburn. Wear a shirt and put on lots of SPF 30 sunscreen. Then go out and boogie.