Remarkable Women Bodysurfers Set Out to Establish a World Record — Just to See If They Could

Women bodysurfers at Del Mar beach, San Diego, March 15, 2018

Click here to see them in action.

It was a cool and windy Sunday morning at the beach in Del Mar (of racetrack fame) in San Diego County — far from ideal conditions for bodysurfing. Less than a week prior, Vince Askey, the leader of the Del Mar BodySurfing Club (DMBC) and event sponsor, put out a Facebook invitation to women bodysurfers to help set a world record for the greatest number of women on a wave at the same time.

No one knew for sure if anyone would take him up on his proposal, especially when it became apparent that wave conditions would be dreadful. Yet when the day arrived, 13 female bodysurfers ranging in age from 8 to just short of 75 years old arrived at the Del Mar lifeguard headquarters beach to make history. If you count the 6 months in utero baby girl of the pregnant mother (who also brought her own mother to join in), you could argue for a total of 14 aspiring record setters.

Who Were the Participants? The participants had an impressive list of bodysurfing and other sports accomplishments. Nearly half of these women had won or placed in major world bodysurfing competitions, while others excelled at water sports like swimming, water skiing, and water polo. In addition, some were competitors in unrelated sports like volleyball, cycling, and skateboarding.

Occupationally, they included for example, a computer consultant, museum curator, military officer, retiree, student, and stay-at-home-mom. These women share a love of the ocean and the exhilaration of riding waves. The sentiment most often expressed among them about bodysurfing was the marvelous feeling they experience being in and blending with the ocean, no matter how many or few waves they catch.

This dream team consisted of a core of competition superstars enveloped by other talented and spirited bodysurfing devotees determined to answer the call to set a world record. Calla Allison drove from Orange County and ran out of gas in Oceanside. (She had to call a friend to bring her a can of gas.) Scotti Shafer came from San Clemente (due in July with her first child). The San Diegans included Morgan Launer who hadn’t been in the surf for a couple of months, Angela Oschmann who usually bodysurfs in La Jolla, Sunny Rickard who hails from nearby Carlsbad, and Meredith Rose, a local Del Mar DMBC regular, completed a core of the competition-winning ringers. To round out this dream team, the other hearty participants included: Alessandra Barbosa, Hayley Nemeroff, Colleen Boyd Turner, Christy Hahn, Lyn Shafer (mother of Scotti Shafer), Sue Lafferty, and Sabrina Jutronich.

What Is Bodysurfing? Bodysurfing is not a well-known sport. You catch a wave by swimming along with it like a surfer would paddle on a board, except that you use your body as the board. It’s low cost: only fins and a wetsuit are needed to participate, and even those are not essential. It provides an intense interval training-type workout because you must exert yourself to catch a wave and can then “rest” while riding it into shore. Making your way out from shore again can be strenuous work, but once there, you can relax while you wait for the next wave. It is also low impact (most of the time) unless a wave wallops you against the sandy bottom.

Guinness Anyone? Bodysurfing has not been recognized as an Olympic sport and has no professional pay component. The Guinness World Records folks have no category for the most bodysurfers on a wave. However, they have documented the record of the most board surfers on a wave at the same time (110) by a group in South Africa in 2009. Like the surfers did, DMBC wanted to set a record for bodysurfers.

Guinness Record for most number of surfers on a wave at the same time (110)

What Lurks Beneath: Even under the best of circumstances, bodysurfing provides challenges of wave size; water temperature; high, low, and rip tides; powerful winds; and strong currents. Often the visibility allows the bodysurfer to see the fish she is swimming with; and seals, seagulls, and pelicans frequently accompany them. Dolphins and the occasional whale can be spotted swimming by. (On this day, a large pod of dolphins were seen gracefully making their way north — always a propitious sign.)

Unfortunately, stingrays also like to lurk on the sandy bottom and will deliver a nasty sting if stepped upon. Hence, the “stingray shuffle” (moving your feet in a shuffling motion when walking from the beach towards swimming depth) to scare the stingrays away can be a good preventive measure. Although the sting is very painful, it is rarely life-threatening. Thankfully, sharks are rare visitors to the Del Mar beach waters — at least as far as we know.

The Conditions: This particular cooler 60-degree morning (air temperature) offered blown-out conditions (poorly formed waves) and a strong current carrying everything in its path fairly rapidly towards Mexico. The cold water (60 degrees), gusting winds (~ 9 knots), and decent-sized waves (height 2–4 feet) with tight intervals (wave after wave coming quickly, offering no time to recover between them) made for demanding swimming. Pounding waves like these means holding your breath to repeatedly duck and swim under them or end up being tossed like a cork towards the shore.

The Game Plan: The intention was for all of the women to swim to the outermost break (where the largest waves crest) and form up an arm’s length apart. Instead of angling in the customary left or right directions, the women aimed to ride the waves straight towards the shore. In this way, when Meredith Rose, the leader chosen by the group, called out which waves to catch, they would have the greatest chance for as many women as possible to ride the same wave at the same time. But just to get out far enough beyond the unrelenting waves while fighting the drift of the current was a formidable task. Needless to say, women who bodysurf hardly shrink from challenges. As such, they rose to the occasion and made several inspiring attempts.

The Guys: This day was about the women, and the DMBC men and friends came out to support them in any way they could. The men took photographs, one served as videographer in the water, another handled the drone photography from above, and others simply offered words of encouragement and congratulations. It was a team effort all around.

The Record: It wasn’t like the Guinness World Records folk were there to count, but of the 13 women who entered the water, a drone photo appeared to show 8 of them on the same wave at the same time. You can decide for yourself by clicking on the link just beneath the title photo above to watch the fascinating video posted by JacuzziSurfer. (Video erratum: Sunny Rickard was incorrectly spelled Ricard, and Sabrina Jutronich has no competitive accomplishments.) Regardless of the exact number, since there are no other known attempts, it can reasonalby be said that on March 25, 2018, the sponsoring Del Mar BodySurfing Club established the world record for the largest number of women bodysurfing on a wave at the same time.

Tsunami, Why Not? In spite of the difficult conditions, everyone agreed it was a delightful venture to see what they could accomplish. Many spoke eagerly of a future attempt to break their own record (25 next time?). Hopefully, when that day arrives, the water will be warmer with less wind and calmer waves so the DMBC group will have a better chance to strut their amazing stuff. Perhaps other groups around the globe will rise to the challenge of doing even better, and Guinness will create a new category for the number of bodysurfers on a wave.

If not, short of a tsunami, they’ll be in the water no matter what! In fact, it wouldn’t surprise anyone if some of them even tried to bodysurf on a tsunami wave, just to see if it could be done.

BACK ROW L-R: Alessandra Barbosa, Hayley Nemeroff, Sunny Rickard, Colleen Boyd Turner, Morgan Launer, Christy Hahn, Lyn Shafer, Sue Lafferty. FRONT ROW L-R: Meredith Rose, Calla Allison, Scotti Shafer, Angela Oschmann, Sabrina Jutronich. Photo credit: Adam Crane
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