Robby Fabry is used to a dismissive attitude toward bodyboarding from many grown-ups and surfers, but after more than 30 years in the sport, he’s long since stopped caring. Instead, he’s sharing the love.
Pre-pandemic, he incorporated field trips to the beach into his physical education curriculum at the International School of Monterey. He’s a lead instructor with the surf nonprofit the Wahine Project, through which he’s also helping to launch a new surf team. And after spending his teenage years as a semi-pro, sponsored boogie boarder, he now does it just for fun, and gets out regularly with a group of about a half-dozen other dads.
Fabry grew up in Encinitas in Southern California, then moved to Monterey County in 2001 to attend CSU Monterey Bay. He didn’t get in the water during his first few years here—“I was kind of terrified because all I heard were shark stories, but then I realized it wasn’t as scary as everyone made it out to be,” he says. Once Fabry got in the water in Monterey Bay, he hasn’t gotten out.
“There’s something about being on that board—it’s just so much fun,” he says. “If you’re smiling, you’re the best surfer in the water.”
Weekly: First thing’s first: boogie boarding or bodyboarding, are they the same thing?
Fabry: The normal term for anybody who picks it up for the first time is boogie boarding. For people who know the sport really well, we usually call it bodyboarding. When I was younger it was all about proving yourself to the stand-up surfers; they had a lot of not-nice names for us. I tell people I boogie board now. I am extremely passionate about boogie boarding/bodyboarding, whatever you want to call it.
Is there a sense that stand-up surfers don’t accept boogie boarding?
One-hundred percent. Growing up, I was always called names out in the water. I had to prove myself with my ability. It’s the same thing to this day, at 42 years old.
What we are trying to do at Wahine Project is build a mindset that you shouldn’t just be a stand-up surfer, body surfer or a bodyboarder, you should have a knowledge of everything in the ocean. You can go to the beach and have fun, no matter what the conditions are.
Is there a sense that boogie boarding is a kid’s activity?
There’s a perception that it’s a little kid sport, but what you can do on a bodyboard, it’s mind boggling. Kids watch and they’re like, “Oh my god, I didn’t know you could do that!”
Bodyboarding was a huge part of your youth.
I was in the ocean since I was 3. My dad raised us in the water. It wasn’t until fifth grade that I tried it, and then it kind of took over my life. The second I caught a wave and realized how much fun it was, I wanted to get better and better. Then I started to learn to do tricks and I found a coach. In sixth grade, I started going up and down the coast competing.
At some point, you decided not to pursue boogie boarding as a professional path.
My junior year, I won the high school national championship and I was like, “I’m going to be a professional boogie boarder!” But there are probably 30-40 worldwide that actually make a decent living. I said, “OK, I’ve got to live in reality.”
I was that typical California surf bum. Then my buddy’s family talked some sense into me about going to college, and I went to CSUMB.
Can most of your PE students ever compete at your level?
I’m teaching kids to be exercise people, not athletes. I’m not trying to teach someone to be a really good football player or basketball player. I teach a ton of team-building. My whole goal is skill development—how to underhand or overhand throw, or catch. Then if they want to play competitive sports, they have basic knowledge.
One thing I like about boogie boarding is it’s so accessible. I have a $10 used board, perfect for whitewater.
My friends and I all ride top-of-the line stuff. What you find at the grocery store or Costco, we couldn’t ride those boards, they’re not strong enough; I’d break it in half on the first wave. Fins make a difference too - if you want to get to another level, you have to have that kicking power.
Besides the sport of it, what do you love about boogie boarding?
The more you put yourself in or around the ocean, it’s proven biologically to make you a happier person. Even if you just put your feet in the water or go for a walk on the beach, it’s going to make you happier.