Man surfing with golden sunset

Surfer at sunset public domain image by Kanenori on Pixabay - free for reuse

Making A Splash: The Most Popular Water Sports Of The 1980s

by Jane Duncan, freelance writer

31 January 2022

The 1980s was a period with a thirst for adventurous pursuits. It was full of brash colors, exuberant language, vibrant music, and high-adrenaline sports. There was a renewed enthusiasm for activities such as surfing and jet skiing; and it was also a time when new sports were born - wakeboarding being just one of them. If the cool kids of the 80s weren't riding waves in some form, then they just weren't doing it right.
Many of the so-called extreme water sports that are popular today, were either invented or tweaked during this decade. Let's look at the activities and faces that made a splash during the 1980s.

The Thrill of Wakeboarding

Wakeboarding is a mid 80s hybrid invention. The sport was conceived by San Diego surfer Tony Finn when he crossed a water ski with a surfboard to create the skurfer. Wakeboarding combines the thrill of waterskiing with surfing, as the participant rides the wake of the craft they are towed behind. Finn joined forces with Texan Jimmy Redman to popularize the sport, eventually setting up the World Wakeboard Association. The WWA established contests, affiliations, rules and guidelines for the sport, cementing its reputation globally.
While the skurfer is usually towed by a motorboat, jet skis can also be used. Knowing the basics of jet skiing was actually essential for any 1980s water sports enthusiast as it was the personal watercraft of choice for other activities. Jet skis were used to tow serious surfing contenders out to the big waves.
Neon green female wakeboarder

Enhanced and cropped public domain image of a neon green wakeboarder (free for reuse). Original wakeboarder image by B360RidingShirts on Pixabay

Surfing Success

Surf culture swelled to new heights during the 80s, but it wasn't only embraced by those catching the breaks. Surf cool cruised into the mainstream with the release of classic films such as Big Wednesday and Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and with the colorful fashions it inspired.
California was the epicenter of surfing and the birthplace of arguably its most famous 1980s star, Tom Curren. Curren won 33 championship events during a career characterized by the very 80s notion of personal ambition. The 1980s supported unapologetic success and stars such as Curren epitomized this ethos.

Bodyboarding Builds Momentum

Interest in bodyboarding, or boogie boarding, also peaked in the 1980s, buoyed in part by its accessibility. Bodyboards cost less than surfboards, and the sport often appealed to novices as it seemed less technically inclined than surfing.

Bodyboarding also had its star players. Mike Stewart is a nine-time world champion bodyboarder who was also an enthusiast of bodysurfing, another hit of the 80s, and of big-wave tow-in surfing. It was 1980 when Stewart won the first of his nine world titles and invented the gyroll maneuver.

The 1980s were a watershed of neon wetsuits, loud boardshorts, and the even louder roar of boat engines. In fact, it's hard to imagine having memories of the 80s that aren't awash with ocean waves, beach smells, and water sports action. In today's busy world, it's encouraging to see that there are many people still finding the time to hang ten and enjoy the sports that oceans and water inspire.