Sprinting for a growing bump on the water along the north side of Oceanside Pier, competitive bodysurfer Jim Isaac had time for two big kicks before dropping into a chest-high wave at the 2017 World Bodysurfing Championships. Riding the wave shoulder, Isaac effortlessly performed a spinner — a bodysurfer’s version of a prone pirouette — that placed him high on the face, where he adjusted the plane of his body across the ocean’s slanted surface to slide past a crumbling section in front of him and return to the open face for a few more seconds of competitive grace. It was his best-scoring wave of the event, “and it was certainly the most fun,” said Isaac, who lives in Goleta and leads kayak tours of Channel Islands National Park. “You've got to be able to read the wave and to react to it in a split second.”
After 20 years of surfing, first learning in Hawai'i and continuing in the Santa Barbara and Ventura regions, Isaac shelved his 7′2″ Yater pintail, now collecting dust in his garage, and put on a pair of swim fins. Soon enough, the bodysurfing bug took hold. “Bodysurfing is not more or less fun than board surfing, but it is different,” admitted Isaac, 67, who has been a serious bodysurfer since the mid-1980s. In 1993, he signed up for his first world championship event, held in Oceanside each summer and now in its 41st year. Since then, he’s only missed the contest three times.
The former beach lifeguard has run up a decent résumé at the event, finishing on the podium in his division seven times, including three first-place finishes. This year, he defended his 2016 victory in the 65-and-over age bracket. Isaac said his formula for success is water time; he regularly swims with the masters at Los Baños del Mar and always keeps an eye out for surf.
“I surf as much as I can to sharpen my reflexes,” he said, adding, “For me, any time in or on the water is a good time!”