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Liquid Flight

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A self-professed "beach rat'' in childhood, Shearer grew up playing "King of the Wave'' on rubber surf mats at his home in Manhattan Beach, Calif. Nearly three decades later, he still holds court in the water: In addition to his world bodysurfing titles, Shearer has captured three national championships in bodyboard surfing, which is done on a short, polyethylene board also known as a boogie board.

While he won't claim a favorite, he admits that "there's nothing quite like bodysurfing.''

"It's the purest form of surfing,'' he says. "It's just you and a pair of swim trunks and fins, and you feel it all: warm water rushing up against you, the sun hitting your face, the power of the waves carrying you. When I'm in that water, I know there is no better place.''

--Maria Mihalik

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