Bodysurfer Cunningham Wins Championship at Pacific Beach

At the second Pro-Am Bodysurfing Championship Saturday at Pacific Beach, an amateur but experienced bodysurfer, Dan (Boom Boom) Beach said of the professional division final between Mike Cunningham and Bill Dohn:

“The only chance (Dohn) has is if Mike has a heart attack on his way out to the water.”

Beach made his prediction with no disrespect toward Dohn. In fact, the two are friends.


Even Dohn, a 28-year-old engineer from Woodland Hills who has only been competing for 1 1/2 years, didn’t give himself much of chance. “I don’t know why I even bother,” he said. “If there was one type of wave breaking the same way all the time, he would kill me. He’s just a fish.”

Cunningham, of Gardena, is a five-time world champion and a lifeguard who has been bodysurfing for nearly 20 years. “Being a lifeguard, I’m looking at surf all day. That’s always been my ace in the hole.”

After the 15-minute final Saturday afternoon in two- to four-foot waves, Cunningham had won another pro division championship.

“We got a good set of waves and that helped me out,” Cunningham said. “It’s a combination of the elements and being in the right place at the right time.”

The elements Saturday had little to do with the surf, which was choppy but consistent throughout the day. There was, however, a glare off the water from the late-afternoon sun that made it difficult for the judges to see the competition.

“I just tried to stay as far south as possible so that the judges would be able to see my rides,” Cunningham said.

In the amateur division, T.J. McIver, a 15-year-old from Laguna Hills, defeated five others in the final. Carly Ford, of Ojai, won the women’s division.

McIver, a freshman at Laguna Hills High, was competing against bodysurfers much older than himself. A couple of them, like the 46-year-old Beach, were more than three times older.

“It makes it a lot harder,” McIver said. “I’m used to competing against people my own age.”

Cunningham’s first-place prize package included $200, a gift certificate for $100, a wet suit and some smaller prizes from the contest’s sponsors.

Of the 52 bodysurfers in the men’s division Saturday, 44 competed as amateurs and eight as professionals. Only three women competed.

Because of the friendly nature of the sport and its competitors, contest rules are not always strictly enforced. Rule No. 1 in the International Bodysurfing Assn. states: All contestants must be 18 years old before the scheduled date of the contest.

McIver, remember, is just 15.

An onshore breeze made what otherwise would have been a perfect day at Pacific Beach a rather chilly one, with temperatures in the upper 60s. But it must have seemed like a sauna to those who competed Feb. 4 in a bodysurfing contest at Santa Cruz.

It was snowing on the beach just before the start of the men’s final.

“It was really strange,” bodysurfer John Shearer said. “Actually, the water (54 degrees) felt great compared to the air.”

Said Dohn, who finished third in the junior men’s division at Santa Cruz, “It didn’t matter. We were there to bodysurf.”