The Purest Sport: Bodysurfing the URT Womp

Mark Brown talking it up.

Mark Brown, a legendary San Diego bodysurfer, was the master of ceremonies and chief referee at the 2nd Annual URT Womp, a bodysurfing contest held last Sunday at Coronado’s North Beach.

Bodysurfing is the purest sport of surfing. It is purely natural. You are one with the ocean,” Brown said to participants prior to the start of the event.

My first memory of bodysurfing was in early September 1971 when I first moved to Imperial Beach at the age of seven. My parents drove down to the end of First Street (now Seacoast Drive) to spend the afternoon at the beach.

I eagerly jumped into each small wave I could find and attempted to ride the whitewater as far as possible. Ever since that day I have loved bodysurfing.

During my 13-year career as an Ocean Lifeguard in Imperial Beach and on the Silver Strand, I bodysurfed every chance I got.

A few times each summer, my sons and I head to Boomer in La Jolla to catch a few reef waves at San Diego’s only bodysurfing beach. It is a great place to learn and be humbled.

Doug Mann and Ian Urtnowski, proprietors of the ocean clothing company URT, did their best to make the Womp a great family day at the beach.

“This year we have about three times as many contestants as last year and we have lots of kids,” said Ian.

Kids, young and old ruled the Womp. Joe Byrne, 12, a 7th grader at Coronado Middle School, was stoked.

“I made it to the finals, because I did a couple of barrel rolls,” he said.

Al Hansen, who at 65 is still a grom at heart, was on the beach observing the Womp.  “My first memory of bodysurfing is from 1950 when I was four,” he said.

“We’d go to the beach at the Hotel del Coronado. Later when I was older we had these big sheets we’d fill up with air and we’d ride down the waves and they’d go ‘whoosh’ and the air would rush out. At North Beach, we’d take out surplus life rafts into the surf and jump off of them into the waves.”

Cheyne Merrill of Imperial Beach competed in the 15 and under division making it all the way to the semi-finals. He competed with his fellow Coronado High water polo teammates Elijah Belmontez and Jack Walsh.

Surf scribe, John Elwell, 78, was on hand. John had just returned from a sailing trip in the Sea of Cortez. “Back in 1940-41 we’d come down to the North Beach on horses,” he said. “I learned to bodysurf from my dad who picked it up in Hawaii in 1939.”

Surf author John Elwell.

Others present included Jim and Nancy Walsh (Jim made the finals but had a head-first encounter with a dog that was loose in the whitewater), Chris and Sarah Holder, Rich Hidalgo the chief event judge, Matt Finley and Dan Mann whose son was a finalist in the 14 and under division.

Somehow I made it all the way to the final heat with Jim Walsh, Damon Bassett (who made the beautiful hand plane trophies), Bobby Wurzelbacher (who won last year), Scott Lambert and Ross Sinclair.

All of my fellow finalists were great bodysurfers, taking off underwater, spinning in the barrel and whitewater.

Ross, a former water polo player at UCSB, ended up winning. Scott came in second. I ended up third. Both Scott and Ross are Newport Beach Lifeguards and awesome bodysurfers.

The finalists. Scott Lambert (2nd), Ross Sinclair (1) and me (third). Photo courtesy of Drew McGill

So thanks to Doug and Ian and the entire URT family for proving that there is nothing better than spending a day in the ocean with a pair of swim fins, a few friends, and a big smile.

Full results for the event can be found here.

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