Jack Johns: Prone to Belly

Jack Johns is one of many surfers redefining the aesthetic of the boogie in creative new ways. Project O caught up with him recently to get the lowdown on this emerging scene and the honky-tonk crew who call it home.

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When twenty-six-year-old Cornish bodyboarder Jack Johns talks about surfing he doesn’t draw a line between standing and going prone. For this rider, who was both British Bodyboard Champion and World BellyBoard Champion in 2011, it’s all about the best way to access the best waves.

Why do you think bodyboarding has changed its aesthetic in the last couple of years?
I think it’s probably because there’s not that much money behind it so the people that have stuck around in this world are all quite creative and just do it ‘cos they love it. There’s a lot of people – like Mickey [Smith], he’s very much from this world, and still is – and loads of other bodyboarder friends who have started up their own companies and brands.

Was it like this when you first started out?
Not so much. The surfing brands were leading it and owning it. Quiksilver and Rip Curl and all the big brands were sponsoring the bodyboarders. And now they’re not at all. Now, all the bodyboarders have made their own brands and we’re supporting ourselves. There’s still not that much money in it. But it’s kind of awesome. That’s only started happening in the last sort of four years, that those brands have disappeared. It means we have to make our own way and all these great new companies are starting up and supporting bodyboarding. There’s loads of cool shit! Everything’s sort of going in the right direction. The stuff people are doing in the bodyboard world that no one really sees is awesome. The guys at I Am None are collaborating with a wetsuit company called Zion at the moment. The stuff they’re doing is pretty amazing.

What’s up with your company Boogtique?
Well me and a friend in Ireland, Fintan Gillespie, were just fed up with not being able to get any decent bodyboarding clothes in the UK so we decided to start importing it. We’ve got a few of our own things, t-shirts and stuff like that, but we mainly import other people’s brands. We’ve got brands like I Am Numb, Grand Flavour, there’s quite a few. They’re mainly based in Australia and there’s a few American ones. In Australia, bodyboarding and surfing are almost on the same level. I mean it’s not as big, but people don’t look down on bodyboarders so much down there. The waves are perfect for it.

Do you stand-up surf too?
I’ve bodyboarded all my life really, but I stand-up surfed for about eight years from when I was ten or eleven. I went back to bodyboarding because I just preferred riding heavier, hollow waves. Pretty much every bodyboarder I know can [stand-up] surf and surfs really well. The reason we bodyboard is because we like different sorts of waves – heavier, more powerful waves. And it’s not really that functional to ride those kinds of waves on a surfboard, unless you’re Shane Dorian or something.

Is there still hostility between the two camps?
The rivalry only exists between ignorant people. All the best professional surfers salute the bodyboarders because the bodyboarders are pushing them to ride new kinds of waves. The rivalry does still exist though, definitely, a lot. It’s just people who are stuck in their ways and just think bodyboarders are lying down and sliding about, which is fine. They can think that!

Surfing seems to be going through a creative renaissance – with new craft like alaias and all sorts of paipos becoming popular. Do you think this openness to trying new boards will re-energise the bodyboarding industry too?
Totally yeah. Fergal Smith, when the waves are super fun, he’ll just ride a bodyboard all the time. Most people just swap it up. All the bodyboarders I know ride bellyboards and longboards and all sorts. Everyone’s super open to it. When I was younger people weren’t really open to it that much. It was like, ‘I’m a surfer, that’s what I do.’ But I think people have more respect for bodyboarders now. It’s all down to the waves and the types of waves you’re going to ride. Different boards are good for different conditions. I’ve only got about three boards. I’ve got a custom NMD bodyboard, shaped by Dan Sivess, a 6”8’ singlefin and a few bellyboards. Bellyboarding is great fun. There’s definitely a scene around that – especially in Cornwall. It’s really taking off. It’s always been an older thing but it’s starting to get younger. All the retro kids around Newquay that ride single-fins and longboards are starting to ride bellyboards, because of the [Saltrock] competition. It’s seen as a fun thing to do so people are happy to do it. It’s kind of come into trend. Five years ago they probably wouldn’t be seen dead doing it. It’s kinda weird.

And you lived in Ireland for a while?
I lived on the west coast of Lahinch for a while. It’s an awesome place. Where we lived is kinda around the Cliffs of Moher and Riley’s. There’s a good few waves. When we first started going out there, there were only two other bodyboarders, one being my business partner Fintan, and his brother Tom. And now there’s quite a few. There’s still not loads, probably about six Irish dudes altogether. I did my first trip with Mickey [Smith] when I was about fifteen. And I’ve been going back ever since. We’re always searching for new waves. I’ve found a lot of new waves in Scotland in the last few years and there are lots of waves still in Ireland to be found. Mickey’s been finding waves a lot the last few months. It’s awesome. Ireland’s got such a big expansive coast, there’s no way every wave’s been found. I’d like to explore South America for waves too.

Is there interest in bodyboarding from outside the core community?
Yeah definitely. It’s kind of hard to sell bodyboarding to people that don’t know anything about it. The Guardian ran a bodyboarding photo taken by a friend recently, two weeks ago, in Tahiti. And then Chris Evans on the radio was like, ‘It’s the most amazing photo I’ve ever seen.’ So people do appreciate it. But it’s just not really out there for people to see. You say bodyboarding and they just think of riding white water into the beach.

 

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