(featured in Surf Life for Women Magazine)
No one truly clarifies the meaning of soul surfing like bodysurfers do.
While Pipeline is not known for its spirit of camaraderie, once a year the mood changes. As a group of guys swim into the line up laughing, hooting and cheering each other into waves, we know the Pipeline Bodysurfing Classic will soon be underway. Allan Lennard who has put on the event for 16 years may be the kindling behind this friendly fire. His whole motivation for taking on the event in 1987 was to make sure his bodysurfing brothers could continue to have it all to themselves for a day. The contest was originated by the city as an attempt to promote ocean safety in 1970 which was the same season they started the Pipemasters.
A couple years ago a girl named Emanuel Mansurel from France entered the event which was held in 8 ft surf. I also saw her freesurfing on some solid 10 ft days. As she would swim out beside me, she seemed so vulnerable; no board, no leash, nothing between her and the ocean except her own strength and wave knowledge . I had never seen a girl bodysurf such big waves, matter of fact I never even thought about it. As I showed my excitement, I was informed that different girls had entered the bodysurfing event throughout time and back in the early days they had a couple of womens heats.
This year another girl by the name of Judith Sheridan entered the Pipeline Bodysurfing Classic. Being the only girl in the competition wasnt a problem for her, as male competitors were very welcoming and as she puts it Testosterone has nothing on foam and fiberglass. At home I am usually the only bodysurfer in the water, surrounded by boards, LOTS of very solid, hard surfboards. So the contest was a treat, no boards to worry about.Being that she lives in San Fransico where she has been out in waves heights 4 times overhead, the intimidating factor was not the size or power of the Hawaiian waves, but the water temperature. Cold water is so energizing and embracing says Judith who managed to quickly adapt to the warm water and make her way into the quarterfinals of the event.
I probably wouldn't have been able to pick her strong style apart from the guys if it weren't for the bright orange swim cap that seemed to say girl. While she might fool her parents and others like myself into thinking its some kind of feminine fashion statement, the cap is actually a safeguard for Judith who has endured several injuries . One collision broke my nose, another collision gave me a forehead gash and a broken AC joint in my shoulder (discovered months later). But her safety cap also has its downfalls like being mistaken for a crabpot or a buoy until they see me get barreled. It also works as a huge "X-marks-the-spot" when I am the first one out on a gorgeous peak, sure to attract a crowd, what a drag
Some who might not consider bodysurfing to be as hardcore as board surfing would be quite surprised to meet Judith. She has a serious job as a Geophysicist but like the rest of us; is constantly juggling her schedule at work to make it out in the best surfing conditions of the day. bodysurfing is all about wave knowledge, waves are very selective about picking you up and carrying you along with them says Judith who speaks of waves in the same terms as that of most big wave riders.
It is actually her dedication to swimming that makes Judith so hardcore. Throughout her life she has always found somewhere to swim, whether it be a lake, river or reservoirs. She swims in distances ranging from 2-8 miles and as far as 15. When she was finishing graduate school in Eugene Oregon and was not able to make regular pool hours, she learned to manage swimming in rivers. You couldn't beat the main currents so I learned how to read them. I would swim upstream against the slower currents, work my way into the main current, hold on as long as I could and then let it sweep me back to where I started.
Strangely, a swimming endeavor in San Diego which she considers her best preparation for big surf is actually what lead her to take up bodysurfing. Winter swells would close down the Cove so I couldnt get out to do my swims, instead I would stay just inside the Cove, duck the sets, and try to hold position without fins I think the guys at the cove were getting tired of watching this weird chick hanging out during big swells, just ducking the waves. So they took pity on me, introduced me to another spot and showed me what bodysurfing could be like.
I learned that water is incompressible, I learned that the leading edge of turbulence breaks that rule, and I learned that there is structure to turbulence.
So if you guys still aren't encouraged to go for an occasional bodysurf, make sure to check out the Pipeline Bodysurfing Classic (www.pipebodysurf.com) next year and look for the bright orange cap.