Jesus 'Chuy' Silva Jr: Bodyboarding champion


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The Independent Online

Jesus “Chuy” Silva Jr was one of the top riders on the world professional bodyboarding tour, representing not only himself but his native Mexico. He helped popularise the sport – once better-known as boogie-boarding – around the world, and not least in his home town of Puerto Escondido on Mexico's Pacific coast.

His late father, Jesus “Chuy” Silva Sr, who died in 2009, had previously turned the Mexican resort into a magnet for “stand-up” surfers who now flock to tackle its famous pipeline, el tubo, by day and empty its bars of Tecate beer by night. While Chuy Sr was an internationally known stand-up surfing hero, Chuy Jr, at the age of four, decided to make his own mark by riding the short, rectangular bodyboard, usually on his belly, sometimes using the DK “drop-knee” technique of kneeling on the board, winning his first national event at the age of 12. Chuy Jr has died at the age of 25, not on the waves but on the motor scooter he used to get himself and his boards to the Zicatela beach in Puerto Escondido.

“Puerto Escondido is the heaviest beach break in the world,” said Rob Barber, who runs the UK's only bodyboarding-specific school, part of the Newquay Activity Centre in Cornwall. “Waves travel through extremely deep water at great speeds and then detonate with great power on the coastal shelf, with consistent tubing waves of up to 40 feet attracting the world's best wave riders. To Chuy, these were his home waves.”

Chuy Jr – his English-speaking friends loved saying his name because it's pronounced Chewy – was a language teacher during the day, a bodyboarder at dawn and sunset. He was Mexican national champion in 2008 and 2009, when Mexico was one of bodyboarding's greatest venues, and he went on to compete in world championship events of the International Bodyboarding Association, including those at Arica, Chile, and in the Canary Islands last year. His problem was in finding the sponsorship that was easily secured by his US rivals, but one of his proudest achievements came in an event in Tijuana in 2009 when he outscored the great American, Jeff Hubbard of Hawaii, the IBA world champion that year (as well as in 2006 and 2012). Silva didn't just ride waves, he flew over them, doing back flips, rolls and “inverted airs” high above the crest.

He was born in Puerto Escondido in January 1988. “I first got into football, karate and swimming,” he said in a blog shortly before he died. His father's reputation as a stand-up surfer was hard to follow but, having been given a boogieboard by his dad when he was four, Chuy Jr decided he could enjoy his waves better on his belly rather than his feet. Although people born near oceans had been riding makeshift planks or boards for centuries, if not millennia – notably in Polynesia – the boogieboard created by the Californian, Tom Morey, had added a sporting dimension in the 1970s. Young Chuy took to his board as though it was part of him, helped by swim fins (flippers) to give extra propulsion on the crest, face or curl of a wave.

When news of Chuy Silva's death spread around the internet, tributes poured in from around the world. The International Bodyboarding Association wrote: “Chuy was a great personality with many friends around the world and will be remembered deeply forever… This is a sad day for bodyboarding… RIP Chuy Silva – your legacy will live on!”

His death, from head injuries sustained while coming back from a bar in the small hours, caused a massive debate in his home town, not over surfing or bodyboarding but over the safety of motor scooters. In a small town which is still largely poor despite foreign tourism, motor scooters are the equivalent of the family car, with both parents often seen with two or even three children clinging to them. Helmets are not mandatory, and are, anyway, usually beyond the family budget.

Jesus “Chuy” Silva Cabrera: professional bodyboarder: born Puerto Escondido, Mexico January 1988; died Puerto Escondido 13 January 2013.