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Written by Suzanne Johnson
Photos by
Austin White

Surf’s Up: Competitive Bodysurfer Tim Casinelli

Casinilli, bodysurfer

The best way to keep from growing old, according to Tim Casinelli, age 54, is to never lose your love of play. As the general manager of Deschutes Brewery & Public House in downtown Bend, Casinelli’s work days are jam-packed, yet he carves out time for regular doses of playfulness through his favorite sport: bodysurfing. Bodysurfing is more than a fun pastime for Casinelli. He’s been a competitive bodysurfer for almost four decades. Last fall, he won his ninth title of grand champion at the World Bodysurfing Championship in Oceanside, California.

The Purest Form of Surfing

Bodysurfing is exactly what it sounds like: riding waves without using a surfboard or boogie board.

“Bodysurfing is simple and pure. It’s just you in the water; you’re part of the wave. And when you get in the tube, nothing in the world can compare for sheer fun,” said Casinelli. 

Bodysurfers often wear fins to swim into a wave more efficiently. Once the wave starts lifting the surfer, they stiffen their whole body to stay planed at the water surface, keeping arms extended to accelerate away from the breaking whitewater. Experienced bodysurfers who find that sweet spot on the wave’s green face add tricks to the ride, flipping and rolling like dolphins playing in the surf. 

Casinelli started bodysurfing as a kid in Southern California. His father, a lifeguard, made him learn to bodysurf before he could use a board. “Bodysurfing forces you to become a strong swimmer because you can’t rest on the board. The ocean can be unforgiving, and you have to respect it,” he said. Bodysurfing became a family activity with his father and brother, who also competes. Casinelli learned to read waves, predict how they break and move, and won his first championship title at age 15. 

Casinilli, bodysurfer
Casinlli trains at the Bend Whitewater Park.

A Lifetime Sport and a Lifestyle Sport

During competitions, each heat of competitors has fifteen minutes in the water to surf the waves. Judges award points for each surfer’s two best rides. The size of the wave, length of ride, the surfer’s position, style and maneuvers are all considered. But for Casinelli, the competitions are just as much about the community as about the points awarded. “The guys in my age group—we’ve got a long history and a lot of camaraderie. We bring out the best in each other,” he said.  

“Bodysurfing is both a lifetime sport and a lifestyle sport,” he added. Long-time competitors fill the 60-plus age bracket and stay involved in bodysurfing culture. Over the years Casinelli has taught junior life-saving skills and bodysurfing basics to young newcomers. “Getting new people into the sport is inspiring because that kid energy never goes away. It stays fun,” he said.

Bodysurfing Without an Ocean  

Eight years ago, the Deschutes Brewery team reached out to Casinelli with an opportunity to manage the pub and restaurant. Casinelli, along with his wife, Kim, and daughter, Laila, were in San Diego at the time. Until then, most of their lives had been spent along the coast, and leaving the ocean was hard. When your passion is bodysurfing, don’t you need to live near the waves?

Fortunately, the Bend Park and Recreation Department was just finishing construction of the Bend Whitewater Park. Located just below the Colorado Avenue bridge, the project converted an outdated dam into a recreation area with a passage for floating rafters, a natural habitat channel for wildlife, and a whitewater channel with four wave features for kayakers and surfers. This wave park was the key for Casinelli to keep bodysurfing, for training and for fun. He’s a familiar face at the wave park, bobbing and diving through the whitewater with Laila, now age 12, who is carrying on the family tradition of wave riding.

Tim Casinelli manages the Deschutes Brewery pub, downtown Bend
Tim Casinelli is the general manager at the Deschutes Brewery pub in downtown Bend.

Bodysurfing the wave park is harder than in the ocean, explained Casinelli, because you swim upstream against the current. “Training in the river makes ocean waves feel easy. It’s like I have jet pack boosters when I swim with the flow of the wave,” he said. 

River bodysurfing may be more difficult, but it’s just as rewarding for Casinelli. “When you swim and surf simply for the joy of it, you feel energized even as it exhausts you. I never feel tired afterward—I feel like I’m floating.” 

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