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A bodyboard is a type of short, snub-nosed surfboard. The modern incarnation of the bodyboard was developed by Tom Morey in 1971, although the roots of the bodyboard are much older. Body boarding is probably the oldest form of surfing, with evidence suggesting that bodyboards were used extensively in Hawaii and Polynesia to play on the waves for centuries. Basic body boarding is easier and safer to learn than basic surfing, so many beginners and travelers start out with body boarding, progressing on to surfing if they feel so inclined or honing their body boarding skills.
The basic design of a bodyboard includes a snub nose with tapered sides called rails and a crescent shaped tail. A typical board is lightweight and made from resilient plastic or foam. Some bodyboards are protected with a layer of resin, like surfboards, but cheap bodyboards with a thin layer of protective plastic are much more common, and readily available in tourist areas with good surf. Some artisans also carve body and skim boards from wood for an unusual appearance.
According to Morey, the design for the bodyboard was inspired by an encounter with a young surfer who had put together a shorter surf board from assorted materials. The board looked like a good idea, if it could be refined, and Morey turned out several prototypes to experiment with before settling on a final design and calling it the boogie board, in a nod to his love of music. The modified boards quickly took off, and by the 1990s, a body boarding subculture which rivaled surfing had emerged.
The equipment needed for body boarding is fairly basic, starting with the bodyboard itself, which is around 40-42 inches (101-107 centimeters) long for men and tall women, and 38-40 inches (97-101 centimeters) for women and short men. Many body boarders also wear a leash to attach themselves to the board, and flippers to assist with paddling out. In cold water, a wet suit should be worn as well. All of the equipment including the body board can be thrown into a duffle bag which fits into a car, making body boarding somewhat more practical than surfing for those with compact vehicles.
Most people body board by lying chest down on the bodyboard and paddling out to position themselves for waves. Some body boarders adopt a crouching stance known as a drop knee, while more adventurous body boarders stand fully upright on the bodyboard. Body boarding is much like surfing: you paddle out behind the break and try to catch a good wave, riding it as long as possible. Experienced body boarders can do challenging tricks, just like surfers.
Like any water sport, body boarding can be dangerous for people who are not experienced. Taking several classes will teach you how to read the waves and respond to emergency situations, and it is always good to follow the advice of more experienced body boarders. Always check the weather before going out, and call your adventure off if conditions look unsafe. Body boarders should also be aware that their sport carries some stigma in surfing culture, and that if they go to highly popular surfing spots, they may experience hostility.