Surfing vs Bodyboarding: Key Differences Between the Watersports

Surfers and bodyboarders are both wave riders, but the sports have distinct differences. Surfing involves standing up on a large board while bodyboarding requires lying down on a short foam board. Beyond equipment, technique, skills, risk factor and athletic demands also set surfing and bodyboarding apart.

Understanding the contrasts helps choose which watersport matches your interests and abilities. So let’s break down the key variations between surfing and bodyboarding.

Surfboards vs Bodyboards

The most obvious difference is the boards used:


  • 6-12 feet long
  • Lightweight foam or epoxy/fiberglass
  • Pointed nose, wide mid and tail fins
  • Ridden while standing on top


  • 2-4 feet long
  • polyethylene foam core
  • Rounded nose, soft topsheet
  • Ridden in prone position

Surfboards support a standing rider while bodyboards are small enough to lie down atop. This key equipment variance alone creates a very different experience.

Riding Styles Compared

The stance dictates unique riding techniques between the sports:

Surfing Styles

  • Generating speed by paddling
  • Popping up to feet on wave face
  • Turning off bottom and top of wave
  • Trimming across face to build momentum
  • Using rail or fins to turn and maneuver

Bodyboarding Styles

  • Prone position for wave catching
  • Arm paddling for propulsion
  • Arching back to generate speed on face
  • Turning with elbows and shifting weight
  • Fins aid grip but turns mostly rail based
  • Spins and airs possible by whip or pivot

Bodyboarders use arm strength versus leg power for mobility. Surfers leverage height and rail control for turns.

Physical Demands

Due to the riding variance, athletic requirements also differ:


  • Leg paddling for speed requires lower body and core fitness
  • Popping up and balancing upright needs leg strength
  • Arms mainly assist directional changes
  • Endurance for long sessions paddling against currents


  • Arm paddling and arching require upper body strength
  • Prone stance is less physically taxing than standing
  • Core engaged for maneuvers and stability
  • Can be more aerobic pedaling legs to catch waves

Bodyboarding utilizes arms while surfing uses more legs. Lying down reduces fatigue for bodyboarders.

Learning Curve Comparison

Skill progression varies between the sports:


  • Just standing up on waves takes practice
  • Developing balance and coordination to ride laterally
  • Learning to trim and maneuver across wave face
  • Few weeks to several months to ride unbroken green waves


  • Basic wave catching and prone riding intuitive
  • Arching and turning accessible on early waves
  • Advance tricks like spinning and inverting have steep learning curve
  • Riding unbroken waves possible within days of starting

Bodyboarding has a quicker initial learning curve. But mastering advanced surfing skills takes more time.

Risks and Safety Differences

Both sports come with inherent risks, but bodyboarding is arguably safer:

Surfing Risks

  • Falling from height of standing can cause impact injuries
  • Riders and boards tossed in whitewash commonly cause collisions
  • Large boards can damage self or others if uncontrolled
  • Hold downs and leash pulls from bigger waves

Bodyboarding Risks

  • Low stance reduces risks of collisions and falling from heights
  • Smaller boards don’t have mass that surfboards do
  • Less likely to be hit by own board
  • Still prone to hold downs from larger surf

Bodyboard design and size make it less risky in crowded waters. Staying low reduces potential energy of falls.

Costs Overview

Gear expenses for each sport:


  • Surfboard $500-$1500
  • Leash $20-$50
  • Wetsuit $100-$500
  • Fins $50-$150
  • Travel board bags $100-$200
  • Maintenance supplies $50+


  • Bodyboard $100-$300
  • Leash $20
  • Wetsuit $100-$300 (optional)
  • Fins $30-$60 (optional)
  • Day bag $25-$100
  • Less maintenance required

Quality surfboards are more expensive than bodyboards. Beginner bodyboarding requires less gear investment.

Locations Guide

Wave choices for both sports:

Good Surfing Waves

  • Point breaks
  • Reef breaks
  • Beach breaks with peaks
  • Bigger swell sizes

Good Bodyboarding Waves

  • Beach breaks with open faces
  • Spilling peaks or closeouts
  • Smaller swell sizes
  • Shorebreaks
  • Waves with tubing sections

Beach breaks favor bodyboarding’s maneuverability. Hollow waves suit getting barreled on bodyboards.

Popularity and Participation

Both sports have passionate followings:

Surfing has a more visible mainstream presence in popular culture compared to bodyboarding. But both continue to grow globally as popular ocean pastimes.

Summing Up Key Differences

While cousins in the watersports world, looking at surfing vs bodyboarding side-by-side reveals:

  • Surfing involves larger boards ridden standing up for maneuvering waves. It requires more balance and leg strength with a steeper learning curve.
  • Bodyboarding uses smaller boards ridden lying down. Arm strength drives mobility with a quicker initial skill progression.
  • Surfing sees more participation and commercial popularity, but bodyboarding remains a passionate lifestyle sport.

So while they utilize waves similarly, the choice comes down to your athletic interests and abilities. No matter which you choose, be safe, respect other water users, and most importantly have fun out there!

Frequently Asked Questions – Surfing vs Bodyboarding

Is surfing or bodyboarding easier to learn?

Bodyboarding has a quicker initial learning curve. The prone position and smaller board makes catching and riding waves accessible faster.

Which is better exercise, surfing or bodyboarding?

Surfing engages more lower body and core strength from standing. Both provide a full body workout, but surfing burns slightly more calories per session.

What are the age and size requirements for surfing vs bodyboarding?

Surfing can be done at any age, but requires enough size and strength to manage the larger board. Small kids find bodyboarding easier to start due to the smaller size and lying down position.

Can you bodyboard and surf on the same waves?

Yes, many spots accommodate both sports well. Beach breaks with spilling peaks or closeout sections are ideal for sharing between standup surfers and bodyboarders.

What type of wetsuit is needed for each sport?

A standard 3mm-5mm full or springsuit works for both surfing and bodyboarding. More insulation needed for colder climates.

Does bodyboarding or surfing have more risk of injury?

Statistically, the fallen height and collisions from standing atop a surfboard makes surfing have a slightly higher injury rate. Bodyboarding’s lower center of gravity reduces risks.

Which activity gets you in the barrel more?

Due to maneuverability advantages, most bodyboarders find it easier to get deeply tubed in the barrel compared to surfers. Surfers can still get covered up but bodyboards fit the tube better.

Is a leash required for either surfing or bodyboarding?

Yes, most lineups mandate a leash for both sports. It prevents loose boards from hitting others and controls equipment in the impact zone.

Hopefully this comparison helps explain the primary differences between surfing and bodyboarding and assists in choosing the right watersport for you!

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