World’s best bodyboarders — and amateurs — compete on South Shore of Kaua‘i
July 22, 2023, 7:42 AM HST
* Updated July 22, 7:52 AM
Looks can be deceiving. To unaware visitors, Prince Kūhiō Beach may appear to be a mere spit of sand opposite Lāwaʻi Beach Resort on the South Shore of Kaua‘i.
But to some of the world’s best bodyboarders, it’s home to a beloved set of surf breaks – PK’s and Centers – and to the annual Garden Island Boogie Board Classic.
On Friday, with 1- to 2-foot waves, the three-day pro-am contest entered its fifth year, drawing 241 participants from Hawaiʻi and California.
“It’s on my home break,” 16-year-old Aarya Tabalno of Kōloa said between heats. “I love how [the Classic] brings the community together. It gives a chance to the kids I want to show that they can bodyboard. It’s super good for everybody in the community.”
Tabalno is no ordinary teenager. She’s the number one Junior Women’s bodyboarder in the world, winning her crown at contests in Brazil and Chile on the 2023 IBC Bodyboarding World Tour.
The Garden Island Boogie Board Classic was founded in 2018 by professional bodyboarders Jeff Hubbard and Chris Burkart. They wanted to establish a premier bodyboard competition on Kaua‘i, and in order to do so they founded the nonprofit Kaikeha.
They dedicated the event to raising the next generation of watermen and waterwomen.
“We’re trying … to mentor them, to teach them how to ride better, to have more respect and reverence for the ocean, to understand what the wave does, what to do, where to be and where not to be,” Burkart said. “Because we make it a pro-am, the kids get to go ahead and come alongside the professionals in the sport … They all get to ride together.”
Friday’s surfing was dedicated to professionals only. But on Saturday and Sunday, amateurs – including children – are slated to get in on the action. That’s pro bodyboarder Sammy “Meerkat” Morretino’s favorite part of the Garden Island Boogie Board Classic.
“The kids really light up the event,” said the 26-year-old Morrentino. “That’s the highlight of the event for me, is watching the little kids get pushed into waves.”
Morrentino also hails from Kōloa and is participating in the IBC Bodyboarding World Tour. He is ranked No. 7 in prone and No. 3 in drop knee styles.
The competition has real stakes for professional participants: its prize purse is $10,000, and the Drop Knee Pro Division winner will earn 1,000 points towards their IBC World Tour rankings.
The final event for the Drop Knee tour is the Sintra Pro in Portugal.
Meanwhile, amateur competitors are buried in prizes from the Classic’s many sponsors, such as fin bags from the Aloha Collection and gift certificates to Duke’s Restaurants.
Hubbard and Burkart celebrate bodyboarding as the most egalitarian of watersports.
“You don’t have to be old, you don’t have to be strong, you can be young, you can be poor, you can be rich, you can be anything – every demographic can go out on a boogie board and have fun in any wave conditions,” Hubbard said. “That’s what’s so great, is that it doesn’t discriminate. That’s, I think, what we love about it so much.”