Bodyboarding has had its fair share of strange designs, odd accessories, and downright crazy inventions over the years.
Riptide guest contributor Rob Beaton from Vintage Bodyboards has given us his list of the craziest inventions in our fair sport.
The 1980s brought a tremendous boom in popularity for the young sport, turning the bodyboarding industry into a lucrative land of opportunity.
Some manufacturers experimented with extreme concepts as an attempt to bring bodyboard design to the next level. Other companies desperately scrambled to invent something, anything, in hopes of hitting the jackpot and making money while the industry was hot.
Whether these products were born in the name of innovation or just to turn a profit, they are each a bizarre albeit charming part of the history of bodyboarding.
High-performance bodyboard with tons of features (1987)
Turbo Surf Designs experimented with some truly interesting concepts in the 1980s. The pinnacle of Turbo’s innovation came in the form of a board that more closely resembled a spacecraft than a bodyboard: the Turbo Z. This shortscale board had nearly every feature imaginable, including a hydroplane shape with large wingers and a scoop nose (called Turbowingers and Turboscoop, respectively), raised grip rails, padded deck, vibrant graphics, and an Arcel core. It even boasted three fin boxes in case you wanted to mimic Simon Anderson’s thruster fin configuration on a bodyboard. Unfortunately for the Z, it simply didn’t perform as well as expected and suffered from lukewarm reviews by riders. Even so, Turbo deserves credit for pushing the boundaries of high performance bodyboard design.
Wearable skegs (1991)
There was a time when it seemed that every company was trying to incorporate skegs into bodyboarding, however possible. There were twin fin kits and skeg boxes. There was Morey Boogie’s famed Mach 20 RS bodyboard with retractable skegs. There was even a product called Fin Finz, miniature skegs that could be installed directly onto your swim fins. Just when it seemed like every inch of skegworthy real estate had already been taken, along came Shin Fins.
They were plastic skegs wrapped in a neoprene sleeve, and rather than attaching them to your equipment, Shin Fins were to be worn on your lower legs or forearms (or both). The idea was that wearing a set of Shin Fins would allow improved steering, but it was too little too late. By the time the product finally came out in 1991, bodyboarders had already been effectively maneuvering their bodyboards just fine, without Shin Fins, for a solid 20 years.
Morey Boogie Mach 8-TX
Textured bottom bodyboard (1991)
I can still remember the first time I ever saw the advertisement for the Mach 8TX. The headline screamed, “Anatomy of Speed!” A bodyboard with a unique, dimpled bottom was sprawled across the page. My eyes widened as I yanked the magazine up to my face to get a closer look. The sea of pockmarks covering the board resembled the surface of a golf ball. The concept was the brainchild of Steve Moran, the designer who freshened up the Morey Boogie line in the early 1990s with clever offerings such as the Mach VF, Mach SCS, and the XFlex Core.
The theory, inspired by similarly designed submarines and boats, was that dimples would trap microscopic air bubbles that would lubricate the surface of the water, in turn reducing drag and increasing speed. It was a crazy concept, but would it actually work? I was desperate to find out. Hoping to find a financier, I eagerly showed the ad to my dad and suggestively asked what he thought. He replied, “I think you should get a job.” Foiled! I never did find out firsthand, but many riders still attest that the Mach 8TX was one of the fastest boards they’ve even ridden.
Aftermarket channel system (1988)
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the same thing could probably be said about bodyboard channels. It took many years for channels for be perfected into the functional feature that we know today. A brief milestone along the channel development continuum was the introduction of aftermarket channel systems. Brands like PosiTrak and Power Ridges offered plastic “channel” strips that could be affixed to the bottom of your board to theoretically give your board a little extra bite.
The white, tapered curves that made up the PosiTrak Channel System seemed like a fairly legitimate attempt for the era; at the very least, they looked pretty cool on the bottom of a classic Mach 7-7. The polar opposite was Power Ridges. According to the patent documentation (US Patent #4878980), the Power Ridges themselves were nothing more than automobile protective side molding renamed and repurposed for use on a bodyboard. In other words, Power Ridges were car parts. Car parts! Whether they worked or not, there’s something fundamentally disturbing about gluing automotive surplus to the bottom of your board.
Catamaran bodyboard (1989)
The year was 1989 when a young, wildhaired fellow named Matt Allen graced the pages of Bodyboarding Magazine riding one of the strangest looking bodyboards ever seen. The advertisement was for Body Cat, a twinhull bodyboard that was inspired by catamaran sailboats. The design promised more speed, longer tube time, and the ability to do “360 tail spins”. It was certainly a curious craft that looked like it was made from hard, molded plastic. One thing was for certain: Body Cat must have been a real dog. Even Matt Allen the fearless charger of The Wedge who later rode for Scott Hawaii, Hot Buttered, and Victory to name just a few, seemed to be struggling just to get the thing moving in the ad’s photos.
Not surprisingly, Body Cat died a quick death. Some even allege that Body Cat was actually a phony business that served as the front for a money laundering scheme. Whether or not that is true, there was a legitimate patent filed with the U.S. Patent Office, and at least one Body Cat the one ridden, by Matt himself in the advertisement, once existed.
Webbed paddling gloves (1987)
A major trend in bodyboarding accessories in the late 1980s was the webbed paddling glove. With a span of flexible material stretching between each finger, webbed gloves all promised the same thing: greatly improved paddling power. The most prominent and well-known brand was Webs, but a sea of competitors like Aquatic Propulsion Equipment (A.P.E.), Otters, TFL, Thunder Claws, ZGloves, and literally countless others flooded the market with similar products. It only took a few short years before seemingly everyone was wearing them, including J.P. Patterson, Ben Severson, Danny Kim, Kyle Maligro, Chris Won, and nearly every grom around the world. Before long, riders realized that paddling with these gloves was not only extremely tiring, but they were actually able to catch waves just as well without them. There was a stigma that soon followed, suggesting that webbed gloves were a crutch for those who were unable to catch waves on their own. As quickly as they appeared, webbed gloves became embarrassingly passe and vanished from the bodyboarding scene.
Steerable bodyboard (1986)
Arguably, the most outlandish bodyboard design of all time is the Cut Master bodyboard. This board’s claim to fame was a mechanical steering system that allowed two of its four skegs to be turned by way of a rotary crank lever that protruded from the deck. There is no doubt that the complicated system of pulleys and cogged belts inside the board made it somewhat of an engineering marvel, at least in the world of surf craft.
However, the Cut Master seems to leave more questions than answers. How heavy is this thing? Does it actually float? Most importantly, is it even safe to use? With all its sharp corners, it makes you wonder if there’s a reason it was named the “Cut Master”. It may have actually been safer to get dragged across a reef than getting hit by such a snaggletoothed board.
Some of the weirdest bodyboard designs are ones that never made their way to the marketplace. A picture is worth a thousand words, so I’ll just let these speak for themselves.