Born To Boogie: Legends of Bodyboarding scooped a lengthy review spanning two pages in South Africa’s Cape Argus newspaper on Monday 23 September. Here’s Gregor Leigh’s review in full:
Teabaggers, speed bumps, spongers or shark biscuits… As an (erstwhile) stand-up surfer I’m well aware of the plethora of derogatory terms used to refer to surfers who prefer to slide around on their bellies instead of “braving” the world of stand-up surfing. But if you’re caught inside at Waimea Bay by a set of rogue fifty foot waves which are going to pummel the life out of you thirty feet underwater (we surfers don’t do metric; deal with it) it doesn’t matter what type of board you’re using – you have to have cojones. Big cojones.
Hawaiian surfer JP Patterson’s 1985 experience as “a cockroach in a washing machine [on] spin cycle” is one of many compelling and fascinating anecdotes in Owen Pye’s excellently researched book, Born to Boogie: Legends of Bodyboarding, which have turned my head around regarding the stature of this sport. And yes, in case like me you didn’t know this, bodyboarders have conquered all the legendary big challenges, including Pipeline, Jaws and Teahupo’o, the heaviest wave on the planet. What’s more, the manoeuvres executed by these brave athletes are often more complicated and spectacular than those attempted, or even possible on stand-up boards.
The book is beautifully presented, richly illustrated with superb and well-printed colour photographs. And while it may be true that in this age movies, easily accessible on various internet sites, are better at showing the action and complete moves of a fluid sport like surfing, I still believe that a crisp colour image captured at the decisive moment offers a timeless opportunity to savour the spectacle of an airborne trick, a terrifyingly thick lip, or a death-defying take-off down a giant face.
What makes this book particularly special, however, is its readability. In chapters chronicling the triumphs and anguishes of several of bodyboarding’s most influential characters: the pioneers, the women, and many of the mavericks (including South Africa’s own bad-boy bodyboarder Andre Botha), Pye has penned the first comprehensive history of the sport with a series of gripping personal tales. They begin with Tom Morey’s prolific development of the original, eponymous Morey Boogie Boards (“When a guy removes smoking, drinking, gambling and chasing women from his life…there’s a whole lot of time to do other neat stuff” – an observation Andre Botha appears to have refuted), and include several heart-warming stories, such as that of Australian Damian King who wrenched himself away from his mother’s deathbed vowing to win the world bodyboarding title – and duly did. There are separate chapters reliving the excitement of two of the most dramatic contests in the history of the sport: the 2000 Tahiti Skins event and the 2001 Shark Island Challenge, the former held in conditions best described by the graphic quote from another South African, Alistair Taylor: “The waves were like nuclear bombs going off. You could’ve got killed in that stuff!”
The stories continue right up into the 2010’s, just before the book’s publication this year, but for me one of the most fascinating is the account of Mike Stewart’s epic swell chase clear across the Pacific in 1996. After exhausting himself tangling with massive, storm-spawned monsters at Teahupo’o, he flew straight to Hawaii to find the same swells causing the rare Maalaea Beach Park break to fire at 6 to 8 feet, before moving on to Anchorage, Alaska with JP Patterson where they braved the icy waters “to catch the tail end of the swell, still peeling at 3 to 4 feet”. By this time Stewart had become so intimate with the swell he could identify its “fingerprint” through its peculiar variations in frequency, and is quoted as saying “the swell had taken on a personality of its own”.
Addictive stuff indeed. Or, as proclaimed by one of the sport’s most colourful pioneers, Joe “Dr 360” Wolfson, salt water is “the best drug there is”. Amen, says Pye – and so do I.