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Thursday, December 30, 2010

The 34th Annual World Bodysurfing Championship

Mike Buchmiller stands at the edge of the shore quietly studying the breaking waves. It's a beautiful and bright morning, and there is a large south swell peaking in three to four foot sets. There are four bodysurfers already in the water braving the big surf, and Buchmiller watches as they compete in the 34th annual World Bodysurfing Championship.

"I'm going to go out there, get some distance, and try and get one of those big ones," says Buchmiller when asked to explain his strategy. "Once I get one of those big ones, I'll stick around somewhere in the middle and try and pull out some of those epic tricks." He turns to look back as the horn is blown, and the competitors begin making their way to shore. "Speed and style is what I do," he says.

Drawing nearly 400 bodysurfers from all over the world, the contest is held annually at the Oceanside pier. Contestants compete in divisions according to age. Bobby Beathard, former General Manager of the San Diego Chargers, is one of the contest's more notable competitors, and has been the winner in the men's 65 and over division five years in a row.

"I've been bodysurfing since I was ten," says Buchmiller. "And this is my third contest." The 36-year-old teacher can be found most days bodysurfing or whomping at either Windansea or Marine Street beaches in La Jolla. "This is the first year in awhile that the waves were any good for the contest," he says. "I had a hard time advancing in the conditions last year."

But this year was to be different. Buchmiller, who is a very strong swimmer, immediately positioned himself in a favorable spot where there was a left-breaking wave. The section wasn't lasting long, but long enough for him to impress the judges. Using his speed, he was the first in his heat to catch a wave, and with impressive style, he was able to score well. He wrangled three waves in the the heat, one of which was a beautiful barrel. Final score: 50 points and advancement to the next round.

While the contestants of Buchmiller's heat made their way to shore, there was an emergency situation. "One of the guys in the last heat got pushed into the pier," says Buchmiller. "He grabbed onto the pile and wouldn't let go. We had to run out and get him. Everyone up on the pier was was yelling, Help him! Help Him! The lifeguards weren't around, so we went in." The man was safely brought to shore. He suffered mild abrasions from barnacles attached to the pile.

Buchmiller advanced to the next round, but unfortunately his luck ran out. He was happy to have advanced, but regretful that he did not go further. "Well," he says with a smile. "There's always next year."

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