Rob Barber: one of the most experienced bodyboarders in the UK | Photo: Bodyboard Holidays

Bodyboarding has always been a popular water sport in the United Kingdom. But, after the first boom in the 1980s and 1990s, how's the sport doing?

Despite the cold water, the UK has splendid surf breaks and great waves all year round, with Cornwall as the epicenter of the British wave riding scene.

Interestingly, English novelist Agatha Christie was one of the world's first female surfers/bodyboarders.

In 1922, she and her first husband, Archibald Christie, rode a crossover board between a paipo and a water ski in the waves of Muizenberg, South Africa.

After the invention of the modern bodyboard by Tom Morey in 1971, the first generation of British bodyboarders emerged and rode their first waves.

Recreational bodyboarding in the UK then evolved from an entry-level and grassroots level to an organized competitive scene.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the British Bodyboard Club Tour created a national circuit in which many of today's veterans developed their skills.

But by 2012, there was no longer a national competition.

United Kingdom: there are plenty of great surf break and good waves all-year-round | Photo: Bodyboard Holidays

The Rebirth of British Bodyboarding

Recently, the Cornish Bodyboard Series (CBS) was created to fill the gap within the UK scene.

So, how's recreational bodyboarding going in the United Kingdom? Are new people getting into the sport?

"There's been a bigger participation in bodyboarding during the pandemic than there has ever been," reveals Rob Barber, the founder of Bodyboard Holidays and the Newquay Activity Centre.

"Every bodyboard manufacturer and distributor in the UK sold out bodyboards, swim fins, and there are no wetsuits available."

Barber is one of the most successful bodyboarding entrepreneurs in the world and has been in close contact with riders, media, and brands since the sport's early days.

He says that, mostly due to the pandemic, everybody in the UK is getting in the ocean.

"We expect that to roll on from that percentage of people who tried it through the pandemic - some are going to get addicted to it and keep riding."

"With regards to where we're going to - the young people who are coming through - there's a reasonable talent pool," adds Barber.

"There's a group of bodyboarders that I see in the water on the CBS that are popping up and have the skills."

"I think that the more we do those comps, the more they will have the drive to improve and get better at competing - that can help."

Surprising - or maybe not - the bodyboarders who have been in the water since day one are more keen than ever.

"You see them bodyboarding all the time, all going to where the waves are good, and posting videos online. The guys who once were ripping are also ripping now and still getting into it," underlines the Bodyboard School manager.

"So, recreationally, there's this new crew coming in, and the older crew still doing it and making bodyboarding as a primary pastime at 40, 50, and 60 years old."

Rob Barber believes that the UK bodyboarding scene is alive and healthy.

He also thinks that with social media, getting videos and photos posted is the "new competition way of life. That is part of what young people do and part of what it is now."

Things have changed, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Bodyboarding: one of the most popular water sports in the UK | Photo: Bodyboard Holidays

Making Bodyboarding Great Again

According to Rob Barber, there's no magic recipe to improve today's bodyboarding and increase participation.

"When I was 18, there were regular media, so there wasn't this kind of explosion of images all the time," notes Rob Barber.

Times have changed, but some things are still valid.

"An increase in the number of structured competitions would help - it works in every sport."

The experienced bodyboarder supports the idea of developing conditions for a linear evolution from the grassroots all the way up to the national and international levels.

"That would increase participation and push levels up. There's already plenty of decent equipment available, so it's all out there."

The advent of wave pools will also open new opportunities for bodyboarding - in the UK and around the world.

Rob Barber was one of the first bodyboarders to ride artificial waves.

He has tried several technologies, including Siam Park (Tenerife), Surf Snowdonia (Wales), The Wave (Bristol), and FlowRider (San Diego and South Africa).

"Wave pools are amazing and are part of the bodyboarding future. I love them, and I look forward to riding those set to launch throughout the world," stresses Barber.

"The scope for increasing technical riding bodyboarding on these waves is incredible. My skills improved after riding the artificial wave in Bristol, so that's definitely a huge factor in developing bodyboarding."

Wave pools: they're great for improving your bodyboarding skills | Photo: The Wave Bristol

Wave Pools Are Welcome

Bodyboarders are already exploring the limits of what wave pools have to offer, so riders have reasons to welcome them.

"Being able to replicate your rides is unfathomably helpful."

"And being able to film them and doing it all over again is something we've never been able to do in bodyboarding and surfing."

"So, there's room for them to grow participation in inland areas."

New wave pools are being built in Birmingham and London, and there's a new generation of bodyboarders that have actually learned to ride waves in a pool before trying it in the ocean.

Barber can't understand why there's negativity about them.

But what could be done to improve the bodyboarder's experience in a wave pool?

"There's a type of waves top-end bodyboarders like," underlines the British bodyboarder.

"We like wedges, bowls, launch ramps, and big barrels, and that is available in some of them - not all of them. Some settings that are currently available aren't necessarily aimed at bodyboarders."

However, Rob Barber notes that it's always "an epic experience."

"Even on a basic surfing setting at Snowdonia, it still is amazing fun. It's something different. You're riding waves surrounded by mountains."

"It was good for drop-knee and working on combos. It is what it is. Now, they already have barrels, and you can do flips and spins in the pit, and that's great for your riding."

The bodyboarder entrepreneur has no doubts that wave pools are going in the right direction.

"They're increasing their settings all the time, so they'll perhaps have bodyboarder settings and surfer settings, depending on the viability to do that."

"We're all on a learning curve of what's possible. But even in their current state, we always have an amazing time," concludes Barber.

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