Gillis Bodysurfing gives back at annual Surf Festival contest
by Martha Farah
Over 100 men and nearly 50 women from throughout California and Hawaii competed in the International Surf Festival body surfing contest Saturday morning at the Manhattan Beach pier.
Jason Napolitan, of Manhattan Beach, placed first in the men’s 19-39 division, followed by Adam Warren of San Diego and Alex Merteska of Los Angeles. In the women’s over 18 division, Meredith Rose, of Del Mar, was first, followed by Nancy Chonnell of Oceanside and Lindsy Youcam of Manhattan Beach.
The contest is hosted each year by the Gillis Beach Bodysurfing Association, California’s oldest body surfing club.
“This is one of the few Surf Festival events that you don’t have to be a lifeguard or affiliated with a team to compete in,” said Bob Holmes, a founding member of the 55-year-old bodysurfing club.
“A lot of people will say they body surf. But what they mean is that a wave pushed them to the beach in the whitewater. When you see a competitor do an underwater take-off, spinners and a backslide, you realize there’s a lot you can do on a wave,” Holmes said.
“For those who aren’t watermen or waterwomen, it’s still enjoyable to watch. You don’t have to be a gymnast to enjoy watching the UCLA women’s gymnastics team.”
The Gillis Beach Bodysurfing Association was founded at the Gillis Street jetty in Playa Del Rey, before construction of Marina Del Rey “wrecked the surf there,” Holmes said.
“We all went to Westchester High in the early ‘60s. In 1964, we decided to form the club, which now has over 50 members.”
“We’ve been best men at weddings, and pallbearers at funerals. It’s really is an extended family,” Holmes said.
To minimize the inevitable judging controversies, club members don’t compete in the contest.
“Hosting the Surf Festival contest is our way of giving back to the sport,” Holmes said.
Riding a wave is one of the greatest feelings in the world, he added.
“You can board surf, kayak surf, and stand-up paddle surf. But at the end of the day, it all comes back to bodysurfing. It’s the purest, and I think the most enjoyable way to ride a wave. ‘You’re in it and not on it,’ Holmes said.
For complete results, visit SurfFestival.org.