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How to Duck Dive & Turtle Roll in Surfing

As a novice surfer, chances are you’re biting at the bit to get on your board and start tearing up the waves. If you’ve ever paddled out into waves bigger than one foot, however, you know it’s not that simple. First you need to get past the impact zone and make it to the area known as “the outside.” Paddling out from the beach towards the surf zone will, in most circumstances, require a fair amount of effort barring the presence of a large, deep water channel.

In order to prepare for the paddle out, you’ll need to learn how to either duck-dive (for shortboarders) or perform a turtle roll (for longboarders).

The Importance of Doing it Right

There are two major reasons you need to learn one of the following methods for getting past the inside. The first is that without knowing how to either turtle roll or duck dive, you will be severely restricted with where and when you can surf. This is because at many breaks, you simply won’t be able to make it to the surf zone. The second reason is safety. For the most part, unless you’re surfing enormous waves, ditching your board and diving under a wave is not only bad etiquette, it can also pose a major safety threat to other surfers. Take the time and learn the techniques; you’ll be glad you did.

Turn Turtle

We’ll start out with the turtle roll, also called turning turtle. The turtle roll, used primarily by longboarders, is a useful and relatively simple tactic that will allow you to avoid being swept back to the beach by an oncoming wave.

Here are the basics:

  1. As a breaking wave or wall of whitewater approaches, slide off your board to one side and place your hands on each side of the surfboard.
  2. Immediately before the impending wave overtakes you, take a big breath of air, lower your head under the water and pull the board directly over your head. When you pull the board overhead, you’ll rotate the board so that the underside of the board is facing skyward.
  3. If executed properly, the wave should pass directly over the bottom of your board, which is now facing skyward, while you remain stationary in the water.
  4. After the wave passes, resurface, flip your board back over, and resume paddling towards the horizon.

The Duck Dive

If you’re riding a shortboard, the most practical maneuver you can use to scoot under a crashing wave is the duck dive.

Although it’s a bit more difficult to master than the turtle roll, the duck dive is a superior method for escaping oncoming waves because it allows you to submerge deep underwater and avoid a crashing wave’s voluminous energy. Learning the duck dive does take practice, but with a little commitment and repetition, you’ll be rewarded with the ability to paddle out in a variety of conditions.

Here’s a step-by-step walkthrough of the key elements to executing a successful duck dive:

  1. As with most maneuvers in surfing, the keys to properly executing a duck dive are speed and timing. You want to begin your duck dive immediately before a crashing wave breaks in front or on top of you. If you dive too early, you’ll pop up right as the wave detonates, get crushed, and totally defeat the purpose of the dive in the first place. If you dive too late, you’ll experience a similarly ill fate. The only way to master the timing is through trial and error — once you’ve made a few timing mistakes, you’ll quickly learn and adjust accordingly.
  2. Paddle with as much speed as possible toward the oncoming wave, and just before the wave breaks, grab the rails of your board with both hands and push the nose down under the water. As you push the front end of your board down, simultaneously place your dominant foot on the deck, or top, of your surfboard. You should place your foot near the tail of the board, with your knee bent at a 90-degree angle.
  3. With your weight now over the surfboard, extend your leg to push the board deeper underwater. As you submerge the board, allow your body to sink with it, so that you end up underwater, nearly on top of the board.
  4. As the wave passes overhead, angle the nose of the board back up towards the surface. The buoyancy of the board will propel you upward. Your goal is reemerge from underwater after the wave has passed. Now safely lying on your board above the surface, continue your paddle out.

As a beginning surfer, learning to negotiate the area known as the impact zone is an important skill that will prove challenging, and at times, amazingly frustrating. Keep in mind that even expert surfers are at times at odds with the power of the ocean’s waves. Also remember that the struggle is all part of the reward that comes later when you’re gliding across a wave, harnessing its energy instead of feeling its wrath.

For a beginning surfer, just getting to the waves is half the battle. This surfing guide shows you how to duck dive and turtle roll your way through the impact zone.
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