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If you’re going to Hawaii, it’s likely that someone in the family is keen to try surfing. It’s a respectable quest, considering that Waikiki is where the sport was first popularized by Duke Kahanamoku. Indeed, it’s hard to picture Hawaii without envisioning that iconic image of a surfer riding waves into the sunset.
But for many, this daydream is often drowned by reality. Surfing comes with a steep learning curve. At best, first-timers can hope to be able to stand up on the board — kind of — before they return home. The truth is, for families of varying ages and abilities, surfing is probably the least practical activity.
As you beach hop around Hawaii, you’ll likely see locals of all ages enjoying a different sport — bodyboarding, or “boogie boarding,” as it is often called. Bodyboarding is similar to surfing in that you catch and ride waves, but it’s more approachable because you lay on the board instead of standing up. This makes it a great activity for the whole family, as it requires no balance, so travelers spend less time learning and more time having fun.
Abby Kamahele, marketing manager for Hans Hedemann Surf School, likes bodyboarding because it can satisfy a range of adventure thresholds. Small waves can be ridden safely by people of all abilities, and the sport’s straight-forward nature allows participants to learn and improve quickly, mimicking the thrills of surfing without all the trials and tribulations.
“Riding a bodyboard is easier than getting up on a surfboard because you can just lay on the board, wait and catch the wave,” Kamahele said. “But you can also learn an advanced set of skills that allow you to actually ride the wave and make turns and cutbacks.”
Hans Hedemann Surf School offers group and private lessons at Walls in Waikiki, one of the only breaks on the island specifically for bodyboarding (you won’t see any surfers there). Teachers begin with a tutorial on how to properly handle the board and how to judge, catch and ride waves. For small kids, the guides will ride on the same board, helping them steer and ensuring they have immediate success. From there, the lesson can move on to more advanced techniques, such as carving and spinning. In this way, bodyboarding takes only a day to learn but provides ample room for growth. After the lesson, you can rent or buy a bodyboard at a lower cost than a surfboard, which parents will appreciate.
Surfing owns the spotlight in the Hawaiian Islands, and I’m all for giving it a try. But don’t overlook bodyboarding.
It can provide the same exhilaration without any of the fussing, falling or frustration. Perhaps best of all, because it lives in the shadow of surfing, it is mostly ignored by visitors — bringing families one step closer to the locals.