Back when I was a kid going to the beach every weekend with my dad, I never thought of body surfing as a workout. It was just pure exhilaration — dog-paddling out there for hours, waiting for a good swell, then swimming like crazy for a couple of seconds to catch the wave and ride it at eyeball level, a human surfboard in a rush of sound and foam. Gear wasn't necessary, other than a fin or two. But when I rediscovered body surfing recently, I was surprised to find that gear for it had evolved and that it was a fantastic all-body workout — and just as much fun as ever.
High-speed hand plane
Slyde Handboards Woody: The 19-inch, 19-ounce mini-surfboard from a Venice-based maker straps onto your hand to assist hydroplaning through the water.
Likes: The hand plane, bodysurfing's most radical innovation, definitely added a new dimension to the experience. After a couple of hours, once I got used to riding with my hands extended out from my body like Superman (you can use one or both arms), I felt faster, more maneuverable and better able to stay ahead of the breakers. Swimming with it and diving under oncoming waves is not a problem; it even helps you maintain easy flotation. I also enjoyed the looks of fascination from other beachgoers, who seemed to regard me as some sort of aqua-warrior from another planet. The Woody, one of Slyde's Classic series models, has the classy fit and finish of a surfboard. A padded zipper carry case is included. The ProCoil leash ($19.99 ) cuffs around your biceps.
Dislikes: The fingers on my right hand, which is attached to the board via a two-way Velcro strap, had a tendency to get numb from being fixed in place.
Price: $157 for wood veneer, $200 for carbon fiber. http://www.slydehandboards.com
Sunglasses that stick
Surf Shades: Polarized sunglasses for all water sports include a leash/collar system that wraps around your head and neck, preventing them from becoming lost even when you're tossed in the roughest whitewater.
Likes: They work. The most gnarly washing-machine wipeout could not tear these glasses off my body, and it was great to have the oppressive glare of sun and water radically reduced. The design starts with an elastic strap that clicks into each end of the sunglass arms, then connects that to a neoprene leash and collar around your neck. The glasses can be knocked off your face but not off your body. They include 100% UVA and UVB protection. Note: They are not goggles designed to keep water out of your eyes.
Price: $79; other models range from $69 to $39. http://www.Surfshades.net
DaFin: V-shaped fins have patented half-length "strakes" (side rails) that stiffen the fin from heel to toe, then allow a flex that supposedly allows for greater thrust. The company says DaFin is standard issue equipment for 60 municipal U.S. lifeguard and surf rescue agencies.
Likes: Fast, effective and comfortable. Instant kick speed. Also, they float; twice I retrieved my bright red-and-orange models after losing sight of them for several minutes. They can be worn on either foot. A medium-length fin of 15.25 inches (good for sizes 7-9 feet) weighs 15 ounces, and the 15.75-inch medium-large length (for sizes 9-10) is 21 ounces.
Dislikes: I would have preferred a thicker strap on the medium-length fin, which came off of my size-9 foot twice while I was diving under big waves.
Price: $62.95. http://www.DaFin.com
Second-skin sun guard
Xcel 6 Oz Tight Fit long-sleeve shirt: The 6-ounce polyester-Spandex rash guard is designed for surfers, with flat lock seams and a sun block rating of UPF50+, which blocks more than 97% of harmful UVA/UVB sun radiation.
Likes: In addition to sun protection, the snug, comfy, second-skin fit and four-way stretch allow for unrestricted swimming and a smooth glide across the water without the disturbances inherent in looser-fitting clothing. That's important, since your body is the board in bodysurfing. Can be paired with any fitness-compression short.
Price: $34.95. http://www.xcelwetsuits.com
Wallack is the coauthor of "Bike for Life: How to Ride to 100" and "Fire Your Gym: High-Intensity Workouts You Can Do at Home."