It’s been a rough couple of decades for competitive bodyboarders. In the '90s, contests, magazines, and clothing companies fueled a vigorous industry. Stars were born from their prowess belly-riding three-and-a-half-foot foam boards.
Then came hard times. Competitive circuits faded away. Contracts dried up. Bodyboards gathered dust in the garage, even as surfing—which, for the first time this year will become an Olympic sport—hit the mainstream.
There hasn’t been a major contest in California for many years. That will change later this month, though, with a two-day bodyboarding contest and festival at the OB Pier, with professional and amateur divisions. The organizers are using the Bodyboarding US Festival, taking place Nov. 23-24, as a trial run for what they hope will be a North America pro tour with stops in California, the East Coast, Mexico, and Puerto Rico, that could launch as early as next year.
"We believe for the sport to grow and be sustainable it needs events at a national level," says Washington Teixeira, owner of Bodyboarding US. "We need to create idols through contests like this."
When Teixeira announced the event earlier this year, competitors flocked to register—a sign of what spongers have always known: Dedicated riders kept the flame alive through lean times. Now a new generation is taking the reins, and maybe leading the sport to another break-out moment.
The father-son duo of Diego and Micah Land, residents of Vista who are both competing in the event this weekend, exemplify this. Now 42, former competitive rider Diego Land has passed the torch to his son, 14, a San Marcos High School student who last year was crowned champ of the California Scholastic Surf Series.
We caught up with the father, a sales manager for an off-road company in North County, on the eve of the upcoming contest.
How did you and your son get into sponging?
I’ve been bodyboarding since I was 10—I basically grew up surfing Oceanside Pier. I competed for a stint. Tried to make a living at it but realized it was a lot harder than I thought. I found free-surfing and traveling to be more enjoyable, so I tried to get exposure that way, shooting photos for magazines.
I introduced Micah to it when he was 6. He latched on to it right away. It allowed us to be closer and for me to share my passion. He loved going out even if it was small. Starting at a young age he progressed really quickly, taking off on bigger waves than I did at his age. Watching him grow into the sport reignited me, and I was like, "Wow, let’s do this together."
He competed for the first time in middle school. He started getting into the finals consistently and just got better and better. In 8th Grade he was the state champion for the California Scholastic Surf Series, out of 26 schools.
Are you stoked for this comp?
We’re both really excited. He’s competing at a high school level and to do this on the side will better his ability and competitive skill set. As for me, I’m excited to see what I have left in the gas tank at my age. Everybody I bodyboard with is stoked.
What impact could this contest have for the sport?
It’s going to be great exposure for bodyboarding in Southern California. There are lots of bodyboarders in SoCal, but we haven’t had a contest or series in such a long time. It could bring some life back into bodyboarding. I have so many friends I’ve met through the sport who would like to see something like this contest come back to California.
It’s been progressing for years, we just don’t have that global attention like surfing. The guys that still do it are a tribe. We have so many close friends and people we’ve met. It’s a great group of individuals to be a part of. This contest means a lot to the guys in SoCal that bodyboard. There are a lot of adults and kids who rip on a bodyboard but don’t get any exposure.
What trajectory has bodyboarding been on since its heyday?
In the '90s, there was a circuit through Morey Boogie, that’s what really started the whole contest thing for bodyboarding. That fizzled away after several years. I wouldn’t say the sport lost momentum, though. It’s always been here.
What is it you love so much about sponging?
There are so many moves we can do on a boogie board. We can get so much deeper on the wave than surfers, and surf shallower waves, whether that’s shore break or reefs. The experience is totally different from surfing.