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The Surfboard

Although the long, narrow board, or Malibu, from 1.83 to 2.25 m (about 7 to 7.5 feet) long, is most often associated with surfing, surfers can also surf using shorter belly boards or lightweight canoes or can bodysurf without a board by holding their bodies rigid with arms above the head. Belly-board surfers clasp the board to their chests and steer with their legs. Bodysurfers and belly-board surfers wear swim fins on their feet to make their paddling out to join the wave easier. These surfers generally enjoy their sport closer to shore and with smaller waves.

How It's Done

The best conditions for surfing occur when large, smooth ocean swells in deep water peak up into steep sets of waves, or breakers, as they encounter a shelflike reef or sandbar 90 to 900 metres offshore. Surfers also look for another type of wave, more difficult to ride, the taller, plunging "dumper," which occurs with a steep rise of bottom to the beach. The lee side of a point of land or a jetty often has the proper contour for good rolling breaker waves. Under ideal conditions, as at Makaha, Hawaii, with 4-m waves, riders can surf half a mile or more. The surfer first swims with his board out beyond the crests of breaking waves to the point where the larger rollers peak up. As the wave approaches him he paddles toward shore to attain sufficient speed to coast down the face of the wave. Once the surfer, using his board, has caught the wave, he can rise first to a kneeling and then to a standing position and ride the wave until it dies out near the beach. Long-board riders hold their arms over their heads and shift their limbs, and thus their body weight, to control their speed and direction. To increase speed and distance, experts ride diagonally toward shore. In international competitions, groups of 5 to 12 competing surfers perform in the same area, each making perhaps 10 wave runs during a meet, each run scoring up to 20 points. A panel of judges awards points based on takeoff, turns, length of ride, and difficulty of wave selected. Thirteen points are awarded for a win, 10 for second, 8 for third, 7 for fourth, and one less for each succeeding place. Another system of scoring allows one point for a win and upward for succeeding places. Selection of wave and when to end the ride are at the discretion of each surfer.