A Cynic’s Guide To | Watersports

Things that are a bit like surfing, but not really

“Hell is other people,” Jean-Paul Sartre famously wrote.

But, then again, he also wrote that “the ideal limit of aquatic sports is waterskiing,” so we should probably discount Sartre as a reliable guide.

Perhaps what he really meant to say was “hell is other surfers”. Or, more accurately still, “hell is other surfers who have ditched surfboards in favour of stand-up paddleboards, descended en masse upon the line-up, and proceeded to take all the waves.” Yes, that sounds more like it.

On that doom-laden note, here’s a handy guide to things that are a bit like surfing, but not really.



A bit like surfing but… you just use your bod, tensed into a rigid wave-riding torpedo. You might also consider attaching palm fronds to your feet as per the Hawaiians of old, or donning a pair of flippers, or even purchasing/carving one of those wanky handplanes.

Why? Because, to quote Mike Stewart, “it’s the best interaction between man and nature that exists.” Also so that you can take a photo of your hand-crafted wooden handplane hanging on the wall next to your cactus plant and bung it on Instagram to let everybody know what a legend you are.

Why not? Because you just saw an article on the Inertia titled ‘3 Reasons Why Hand Planing Is Totally Awesome’. Also because you’re worried about the integrity of your spine.

Where? Shoreys and wedges are best, the Wedge in California being the ultimate combination of the two. It snaps necks like twigs on a regular basis. North Shore lifeguard Mark Cunningham, now into his ’60s, could negotiate the Pipeline line-up with remarkable facility and grace.

Who? Cunningham, Stewart, Barack Obama, hipsters.

Social Acceptability: It’s OK to bodysurf, just maybe not OK to expect anybody else to give a shit.

Stand-up Paddleboarding

A bit like surfing but… you are permanently erect, like a giant, implacable cock — except for when you fall off and endanger the lives of your fellow men and women, which is most of the time. You will also need a paddle, a bigger board, and a greater sense of entitlement.

Why? Give free reign to your inner bellend!

Why not? Sorry to keep harping on about hell, but, to quote Curtis Mayfield, if there’s a hell below we’re all gonna go. Stand-up paddleboarders, however, will be near the front of the queue, somewhere between war criminals and people who talk on their phones in the quiet carriage of the train.

Where? First known cases were reported in Hawaii, but the affliction has since spread uncontrollably, and few coastal areas are now unaffected. A particularly nasty outbreak is currently plaguing the SW coast of France.

Who? Laird Hamilton, obviously — he’s the ring leader. The new Laird documentary, incidentally, which just premiered at Sundance, is titled Take Every Wave, which may as well be the mantra of the entire stand-up movement.

Social Acceptability: Zero. It is the antithesis of rad.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. Art by @pentagram_pizza


A bit like surfing but… you dispense with the whole popping-up part and just lie there, except for when laboriously hoisting yourself up onto one foot and one knee. It’s also known as boogie boarding, which is the same as bodyboarding but maybe takes itself a bit less seriously; some find the term offensive. Other vaguely derogatory epithets include spongers, lids, speedbumps, dick-draggers, fanny-draggers, etc.

Why? Because there’s no arguing with the man in the tube.

Why not? That awkward moment when you’re talking to a girl and she asks if you surf, and you say, ‘yes… well, I mean, technically I bodyboard, but… wait, where are you going? Don’t leave!’

Where? Numbers have dwindled since the bodyboard boom of the ‘90s, but strongholds remain in the Canaries, the Basque Country, Portugal, and one or two other places where bodyboarding is still considered an OK activity for adults to partake in.

Who? Mike Stewart is widely acknowledged as the greatest bodyboarder ever, and is a pretty rad dude by any standards. Generally speaking, bodyboarders are prone to glowering and bad manners, but that’s not necessarily their fault. There is also a tendency towards over-defensiveness among their ranks. Make a playful remark at bodyboarding’s expense in the hearing of a bodyboarder, and you risk being subjected to a passive-aggressive half-hour monologue about the numberless merits of bodyboarding.

Social Acceptability: Relations between surfers and bodyboarders have often been hostile, but the emergence of the SUP as a thing has given rise to a new sense of solidarity, causing ancient foes to unite against a greater threat. And while bodyboarding a 2ft mushburger in a drop-knee stance, with face contorted in grim concentration, is beyond the pale, air-dropping into heaving death slabs and suchlike is eminently respectable.


A bit like surfing but… standard fins are replaced with a single giant keel, at the end of which is a pair of winglike vanes. This is the hydrofoil bit, which glides just below the surface and lifts the board several feet out of the water.

Why? So you can surf unbroken open-ocean swell, obviously. Also, because you are a waterman.

Why not? You may as well become a cheerleader for forced child labour, or start dressing like Jimmy Saville. Friends and family will ostracise you, and rightly so.

Where? Well away from anybody else. These fuckers are lethal.

Who? Laird was naturally the first to introduce the concept, strapping himself into a pair of giant ski boots atop a foil-equipped wakeboard, which required jet ski assistance to get started. Kai Lenny made some minor improvements, opting for a strapless contraption that more closely resembled a surfboard, and could actually be paddled into waves. Neither looked particularly graceful as they bobbed and wobbled precariously way out on the shoulder, but who wore it better? Read here!

Social Acceptability: It is not socially acceptable to do anything Laird does. Those pioneering, ski-boot footsteps were not meant to be followed in.


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