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How To Catch Waves on a Bodyboard for Beginners

There is no feeling quite like catching your first wave on a bodyboard. Here is a quick guide about understanding waves and some simple tips to get you started.

proud father watching daughter catch her first bodyboard wave
This is the day I taught my daughter to bodyboard. One of the happiest days for the both of us!

Bodyboarding is an incredibly satisfying sport as it truly is for all ages and skill levels. While this was something I did growing up, it was new to Amy, who only picked it up when she was 40!

When you catch that first wave, there’s no turning back. You’re instantly hooked and it’s a lot of fun.

To help you catch onto the sport a little faster, here are some tips on how to catch your first wave.

How To Teach Your Kids To Bodyboard

For younger children, especially if it’s their first time or if they’re still very new to the sport, it’s imperative that you initially give them some help in catching waves.

By doing this, you’re helping them learn the basics of how to bodyboard and in turn they will hopefully catch some early on to essentially seal the deal and get them to really enjoy bodyboarding.

When I first taught my daughter how to catch waves, she was absolutely delighted. That feeling of just being pushed as you ride the wave is exhilarating and ever since then she has been hooked.

The added bonus of helping them at the start is that you’re able to keep an eye on them in the surf as they familiarise themselves with how currents work, how powerful the surf can be and what dangers to look out for.

Once they get the hang of it, they won’t really need you anymore. In fact, you may just be in their way!

Timing the Push

You’re all set to go and you have your child in the water with you. So how exactly do you help them catch a wave?

The trick to this is timing the waves.

To begin with, you need to pick the right waves. Don’t go for waves that are too big or you risk your child getting dumped. They will eventually get dumped by a wave but you don’t want that to happen on their first few waves or they may not want to get into the ocean with you again.

Initially, you will more than likely be standing in knee deep water with waves that have already broken passing you at about your hip height. If your child falls off their board in the early stages, it’s a good idea to ensure that she/he can stand up themselves.

The waves that you are looking for will have enough power to be able to carry him/her all the way to the shore. You will feel this on your legs as they roll past you. Judge for yourself but If you are getting knocked around by the waves, then they are too strong.

Best to then come closer to shore or wait for the right wave that you feel comfortable with.

The Push

Now that you feel comfortable with which wave would work for you and your family, you have to learn to push.

Position your child on the bodyboard, facing the shore.

Then with one hand, place it on the tail, which is the back of the bodyboard, in the middle. This hand will provide the power when you push.

The other hand should be on the rail nearest you. The rail is the side of the board where your child’s hand will be holding. This hand provides the direction that the board will go.

You will also need to make sure that you have both feet firmly planted on the sand otherwise you may fall over yourself.

As the wave approaches, you will want to stand sideways to the board and let your child know that you are about to push him/her and that they should hold on. You want to wait for the wave to almost touch your hip before you push.

Too early and they will stall in the water and too late they won’t get in front of the wave and will be left behind. As I mentioned, timing is critical here. You might need to practice, but eventually you will get the feel for it.

My daughter and I had hours of fun together when she was starting out.

Father teaching daughter to catch a wave while bodyboarding

Types of Waves

As a beginner yourself or if you’re intending on teaching your kids how to bodyboard, it pays to learn about the 2 different types of waves. This will make catching a wave much easier.

There are broken waves and unbroken waves.

Broken Waves

Broken waves are waves that build in momentum and once it reaches its tip, it bowls over and crashes. It then creates a white wash. Broken waves usually occur closer to shore. As such, you’ll find that to begin with, these are the waves you’ll be catching or helping your kids to catch.

Don’t be fooled, there are plenty of broken waves that are extremely powerful and will still give you the thrill you’re seeking.

Father teaching daughter to catch broken wave while bodyboarding

Unbroken Waves

Unbroken waves are simply waves that haven’t tipped over the crest. You’re essentially looking to catch them before they break so you can ride them longer until they finally break. These waves are usually found further out which may require you to paddle out to catch them.

Some beaches however do also have unbroken waves close to shore but this all depends on the tides and wave direction.

Father teaching daughter to catch unbroken wave while bodyboarding

How to Catch Broken Waves

Catching a broken wave is actually quite easy. You will need to position yourself, standing, in the water facing the shore with both hands on the rails of the board close to the nose (tip of the board).

As the wave approaches, you jump forward with the board almost skimming the water, then land your body onto the board. Don’t jump too high as you will sink when you land and the wave will wash over you.

When you land on your board after your jump, try to land centred on your board. You don’t want to land too far forward as that means the weight of your body will cause the nose of the board to sink. If it hits the sand, you’ll nose dive and flip over.

At the same time, you don’t want to land too far back either as this will cause too much drag and you’ll end up stalling in the water. The wave won’t be able to pick you up from the back and will just roll past you.

Get this right and the wave will speed you towards the shore!

How to Catch Unbroken Waves

As you are becoming more advanced or you’re just a bit of a thrill seeker, time to catch those unbroken waves that are further out. Here are a few pointers before you do so:

Water Safety

As far as all our bodyboarding tips go, this is the most important. Water safety is paramount, regardless of what level you are at.

Before you start venturing out further from shore to catch those unbroken waves, it’s important that you are confident in the water. Are you a good swimmer in general? Do you know how to read rips? Can you paddle out on your bodyboard?

It is always advisable to only ever bodyboard on patrolled beaches, especially if you’re with your family and you’re only beginning to learn more advanced moves. Always swim and bodyboard between the flags.

My partner and I always teach the kids to look back to see where they are. If they have moved away from the flags, they need to re-position themselves and make sure everyone around them that they know are also aware. We always look out for each other.

If you’re at the point where you’re now catching unbroken waves past the point you can comfortably stand up, it is advisable to start to wearing fins. Not only will the fins help you catch waves, it will help you swim, thread water and get you back to shore quickly if you’re out of your depth.

Picking the Right Wave

Once you get past the breaking waves into the swells, you will want to decide where the waves are forming up so you can get there at just the right time. You also want to pick a wave that has the right shape for you to catch.

With experience you will be able to pick the right waves instinctively, however early on it can be challenging just finding the right one.

You will notice that surfers can catch waves that are not very steep at the face. Waves that form like this are not as good for bodyboard riders. This is because we sit lower in the water and have more drag and don’t generate the take-off speed that a surfer can.

The ideal wave for a bodyboard has a steeper face, allowing gravity to assist the take off. Too steep and unfortunately you may wind up nose diving!

Waves also change shape as they move closer to shore. The trick to positioning is being at the spot where the wave is steep enough for you to catch the wave. Too far out and the wave won’t be steep enough. Too close to shore and the wave will be about to break and you may get dumped!

It sounds difficult and It may take a while to master, but it is so worthwhile when you can start getting your positioning right and catching beautiful unbroken waves.

Another thing to consider is how the waves actually break. Closeouts are waves that break all at once and are not great for bodyboarders. The ideal wave is one that starts to break at one point first then rolls onto itself as it approaches the shore. These are called left or right breaks depending on the direction the wave breaks when looking at it from shore.

Point breaks tend to generate regular left or right breaks and at beach breaks, tides and sand bars can influence the way waves break.

bodyboarders patiently waiting for the right wave
I’m out with the clan, waiting for the right wave that we can catch together.


Positioning refers to where you place yourself in the water while waiting for a wave to catch. This can vary depending whether you are at a beach break or a point break and even tide timing can affect where the best position for catching waves is.

I often stand above the beach and watch the waves for a couple of sets to get an idea of where they are breaking before I get into the water.

Paddling out

To catch unbroken waves, you will need to get through the surf zone and the broken waves. This can be challenging at times and you may feel that for every step forward, the breaking waves will push you back 10 steps.

There are some techniques that you can use to get past breaking waves and one of which is to learn how to duck dive. This is the technique where you start paddling into a wave and then you push the nose of your board down into the water and diver under the wave as it crashes above you. This way you don’t lose momentum and are ushed back closer to the shore.

It is also not uncommon for wave sets to have flat periods. This is the perfect time to paddle out to where you want to catch the waves.

Catching the Unbroken Waves

You have now gone past the breakers and you’re staring out into the blue yonder, waiting for the perfect wave.

Once you see the right wave forming, you need to move yourself into position and shape up for the wave.

Aim you board to shore and start paddling and kicking as the wave approaches you. This is much easier if you are wearing fins. The more speed you generate, the more likely you will catch the wave.

Some bodyboarders use both arms to paddle and some use just one while holding the board with the other. With practice you will find what works best for you. Just like when you catch the broken waves, you will feel the wave take you toward the shore when you have successfully caught the wave.

two men and a boy bodyboarding and catching a wave together
I’m using both arms to paddle, my best mate is only using 1 arm and my God son is just riding the wave with no effort!

As you get more confident, you can start to make turns and even do some tricks as you ride the wave. Whether you get off the wave once it breaks or ride it all the way to shore is up to you. Catching a nice unbroken wave, turning down the line and riding the crest is truly an exhilarating feeling.

Frequently Asked Questions

How to teach kids to paddle on a bodyboard?

You can start this process at home. You don’t have to wait until you get to the beach. Place the bodyboard on the floor at home and show them how to paddle and kick. If you don’t want to try this out in the surf as yet, the next best thing would be to practise in a pool. That way they can also learn to balance on the bodyboard while paddling.

If you find that their arms are forced to paddle widely because the bodyboard nose or rails are in the way, place your kids further forward on the board.

When you’re out in the ocean, allow them to practise further in the shallow waters so they can now start to get use to the instability of the water’s surface.

How do I make sure I don’t get hit by my own bodyboard?

If you’re walking out to the water to catch a wave you’ll inevitably be faced with the prospect of an oncoming wave which you will want to get past. Always hold your bodyboard side on to the wave or lift it above the wave, out of the water. If you keep the full face of the bodyboard facing the waves, you will risk getting hit.

If you know how to duck dive, this would be the most ideal scenario for the bigger waves. Duck diving is when you push your bodyboard under the wave so that you’re not having to face the wave head on.

If the oncoming wave is too big and you’re unsure if you can get past it, catch it. Uncertainty of how to tackle a wave is sometimes more damaging. Just catch it to shore and start again.

How far do I have to swim out to catch a wave on a bodyboard?

Unlike surfers, not far at all! You can catch a wave in waist deep water. You don’t have to paddle out so far until you can no longer touch the ground. This is one of the many reasons bodyboarding is great for everyone.

What is the best bodyboard to buy for beginners?

The best bodyboard for beginners is very much dependant on a few factors. Just because you’re starting out, it doesn’t always equate to buying a cheap bodyboard and have an “it will do” mentality. Like anything, you get what pay for it and sometimes investing in better equipment will enhance your experience.

This Parts of A Bodyboard: Ultimate Guide article will outline everything you will need to know about a bodyboard so you can make an informed decision.

Here’ s a great video How To Catch A Wave On A Bodyboard for your reference.

The best thing you can do for catching a wave is simply to get out there and if possible, as often as possible.

You will start to get to know your limits and you will also get to understand what sort of waves you seem to like catching. When you get used to this, you’ll find that you may even become quite picky as to which type of wave you want.

It is a common misconception that broken waves are no fun. This is not true! They may have a shorter run because they are closer to shore but depending on the day, they still provide fast and powerful runs.

You don’t always have to catch the unbroken waves.

Whatever kind of waves you decide you wish to catch, just practise water safety and do what you’re comfortable with. Have a whale of a time!


bodyboard101.com Amy and Andrew at the beach

We’re Andrew & Amy and we are a small blended family that love to bodyboard! We’re here to share everything we know to help you with your bodyboarding adventure as a beginner, with your family or if you’re transitioning onto intermediate level. Let’s go!

22 thoughts on “How To Catch Waves on a Bodyboard for Beginners”

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this! We’re planning a trip to the beach next year when everything has finally died down, and I want to learn to bodyboard in the worst way.

  2. Bodyboarding sounds like a lot of fun! I’ve seen people doing it and thought to myself that it would be so much fun to try. Thanks for the tips!

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