Although surfing and bodyboarding seem similar as they both include riding a board down a wave, anyone from either side will likely argue that there are more differences than similarities.
Is surfing harder than bodyboarding?
Surfing requires more physical endurance, stability, strength, and skill than bodyboarding, as well as a much steeper learning curve.
Surfing is significantly more difficult than bodyboarding, however, that does not make bodyboarding an easy sport to master.
Let’s take a look at how these two sports compare, how they are similar, and why each could be considered harder than the other.
Is Bodyboarding the Same as Surfing?
Both surfing and bodyboarding are water sports that share the same goal of catching ocean waves and riding along their faces.
That, however, is for the most part where these two sports part ways.
Surfing and bodyboarding are more different than the same when we consider the board, how we paddle, the types of waves we catch, the gear we use, the tricks we perform, and the parts of our bodies that we engage the most.
Although surfers and bodyboarders share the same space, both sides argue that they are not like the other.
Is Surfing More Difficult Than Bodyboarding?
As mentioned above, most people consider surfing to be the more difficult sport of the two.
Although there is no doubt that surfing is harder to learn, many bodyboarders will argue that there are aspects of bodyboarding that are harder than surfing once you begin progressing past the beginner stages.
Steep Learning Curve
Surfing is tough to learn as there are so many aspects to master before you can really enjoy the sport.
Because of this, some people spend hours in the water without ever getting to surf a wave.
Bodyboarding, on the other hand, can be done within minutes if the right wave comes along. This makes it much easier for those new to the sport.
Surfboards are harder to paddle in the way that you will need to generate momentum with your arms.
As our upper body is not as strong as our lower, this requires a lot more strength and endurance.
Taking off on a surfboard is one of the most challenging steps new surfers face.
This is because they not only have to paddle with their arms, but need to stand up (in seconds), and remain balanced, all in perfect timing with the breaking wave.
As bodyboarding is done horizontally, it eliminates most of the needed timing work (but not all), as well as the energy and strength needed to perform the pop-up motion needed to get to your feet.
Similar to the takeoff, you will need to remain on your feet while surfing. This requires a great amount of balance, as well as core strength and all-around coordination.
As you continue to ride horizontally on a bodyboard, you don’t require as much core strength or balance when bodyboarding, which makes it less physically demanding and easier to learn.
Why Is Bodyboarding Harder Than Surfing?
Although surfers will argue that paddling on a surfboard is harder as you need to use your arms, there is no doubt that surfboards create significantly less drag in the water, thanks to their buoyancy.
This means that although bodyboards are short you can use your legs and fins to paddle, you will be pushing against significantly more resistance than you would on a surfboard.
Waves always look bigger when you are on a bodyboard, simply because you are so much closer to the surface of the water.
For example, if you are 6 feet, and riding a 10-foot wave face on a surfboard, then the wave will only appear 4 feet tall when you are standing.
On a bodyboard, however, you will perceive the full 10 feet of the wave.
Although the wave is still the same size, riding it on a bodyboard seems significantly more daunting.
Similar to the perspective of the wave, because your eyes are only a few inches from the water, your apparent sense of speed and intensity of the wave is significantly greater than when riding on a surfboard.
On a bodyboard you will feel each bump through your entire body, as well as constantly have water splashing up in your face.
It truly is a sport of its own.
Difficult to See
Unlike surfing which provides you more height to see oncoming sets, other surfers, as well as how the section of the wave is working. Bodyboarding is done too close to the surface of the water to see.
This means that waves come on you faster, sections change quicker, and your decision-making time is significantly shorter.
Type of Waves
When you surf a bodyboard, the waves you choose are often different.
As bodyboards are shorter than surfboards, it is difficult to catch waves further out (unless they are incredibly steep).
This means the waves you surf will often break closer to the shore, be steep and hollow, as well as being just about ready to close out.
This is why so many bodyboarders say it takes more guts to bodyboard than to surf.
Is Bodyboarding Easier to Learn Than Surfing?
Bodyboarding is significantly easier to learn than stand-up surfing for the single reason that you don’t need to stand up.
Although paddling with your arms may be more difficult at first, once you have gained the strength and endurance in your upper body, paddling with your arms will seem much the same as kicking with your legs.
The motion of popping up onto your feet while riding a floating object down a crumbling wall of water, however, is characteristically more challenging.
Furthermore, one thing that makes bodyboarding easier to learn is that you will be able to get yourself riding on a wave almost right away.
This of course doesn’t mean you will be cruising along the face of the wave in drop knee on day one, but you will be able to enjoy the sensation of a wave.
Surfing, on the other hand, can leave you days without knowing the feeling of riding a wave, until you have managed to both pop up, and remain up for long enough.
Because of this, many people give up on surfing before they have even started.
Does Bodyboarding Help With Surfing?
Surfing and bodyboarding are different in more ways than not, however, they do have some overlap which means learning to bodyboard can help with some aspects of surfing.
With both bodyboarding and surfing, the waves we choose to paddle for and the position we put ourselves in are essential to a good ride.
Although the waves we surf on each board are slightly different, bodyboarding will help you spend time in the water to observe how the waves break when to paddle, and where the best spot is to sit.
To learn this on a surfboard you will first need to master popping up.
After you learn how to stand on a surfboard you will need to learn how to duck dive (unless you never want to make it to the backline).
Duck diving on a bodyboard is significantly easier than on a surfboard as it has a smaller volume, and is, therefore, less buoyant.
If you have mastered duck diving on your bodyboard, you will find duck diving on a performance surfboard significantly easier to learn.
Yes, the muscles you use while bodyboarding are slightly different to those used when surfing, and some would argue, to a lesser intensity.
That being said, bodyboarding is extremely physically demanding and will quickly leave you exhausted and out of breath.
If you are a bodyboarder and wish to try your hand at surfing then you will have a physical advantage when starting with your new sport.
Is surfing more dangerous than bodyboarding?
Bodyboarding is done lying flat, on a soft board, and (potentially) in shallow water.
Surfing, on the other hand, is done standing up on a hard board, usually in deeper water.
From this, it is clear to see that bodyboarding can be safer than surfing as you don’t have the risk of hitting your hard board, as well as having the safety of remaining closer to shore.
That being said, when bodyboarding is taken to a more extreme level, there is a strong argument that bodyboarding could be the more dangerous water sport.
Should I learn to Surf or bodyboard?
If you live close to the ocean and are considering taking up a new watersport, then both surfing and bodyboarding could be great options.
The problem is, choosing between the two can be difficult as there are advantages to both.
Of course, the best option would be to not have to choose, simply get both boards, and choose which to use depending on the conditions.
Unfortunately, most of us can’t afford to dedicate ourselves to both sports, so how do you choose?
Consider the Waves
Always consider the waves before buying a new board, whether it is a bodyboard or a surfboard.
If you want to take up a water sport but your local beach only pushes through 2-foot rolling waves, then a bodyboard will simply not bring you as much joy as learning to surf on a 10-foot longboard.
That being said, if you live just off a curling reef, then learning to surf on a surfboard could be a dangerous choice.
Surfing takes longer to learn than bodyboarding, so if you only plan on riding a wave once a month then you are best off buying a bodyboard.
This will eliminate much of the learning curve, and allow you to ride a wave each time you head to the ocean (if there’s swell of course).
Many surfers will argue that there is a lot more to get out of surfing than bodyboarding, but it takes dedication.
Once you progress past the beginner stages of surfing there are more tricks, board shapes, and maneuvers to choose from than bodyboarding.
That being said, if you don’t plan on dedicating yourself to surfing you will likely not get to experience them.
If budget is a problem then bodyboarding is likely the direction you want to head.
Bodyboards are in general, significantly cheaper than surfboards, although to bodyboard you will also need fins and fin socks, which brings the cost of the two sports slightly closer together.
Surfing and bodyboarding are often put into the same category, and for the most part, this makes sense.
As both are water sports and done by riding along a wave on a flat object, they seem similar in most people’s eyes, but when you look closer surfing is significantly more difficult to learn.
Not only that, but surfing can be more physically demanding than bodyboarding, however, bodyboarding does bring a sense of intensity that stand-up surfing leaves behind.