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Duckdiving 101

Duckdiving 101: How to Duckdive

Duckdiving tends to be a difficult thing to learn for many surfers. I think the hardest thing is learning to time it right, although there are a few other steps where people often have trouble.

Here’s how you do it:

  • As a wave approaches, take a few hard paddles directly at the wave to build speed.When the wave is a few feet away, grab the rails at your chest and push down on the front of the board. Get the board as deep as you can. Once it’s as deep as it will go, submerge your body after it.
  • Right after you begin to follow your board underwater and just as the wave is about to pass over you, push down on the tail of the board with your knee or foot to get the board fully underwater as far as it will go. You can pull yourself toward the board to get your body under, but don’t pull so hard that you cause the board to surface too quickly.
  • Your other leg will bend up behind you like a scorpion. The last thing you should see when a surfer duckdives is his or her foot disappearing into the sea. It’s a funny thing to watch, but very graceful when done right.
  • As the wave passes over you, pull up on the nose of the board and allow yourself to float up to the surface. If you’re especially deep, a frog kick can propel you back up.

The motions of the duckdive should be smooth as all the moves flow into each other. Timing is a huge part of a successful duckdive, and this is where experience will be your friend. Only practicing will help you acquire the subconscious “feel” that will let you know when precisely you should begin your dive. For instance, you want to start your duckdive early enough so that you have time to fully submerge the board, but not so early that you float back up before the wave gets to you.

I learned to duckdive my bodyboard before I even owned a surfboard, and this helped a lot with learning some wave timing and the motions of a duckdive. It’s easier to duck a bodyboard because it’s a lot smaller than a surfboard. If you have access to a bodyboard I highly recommend taking it out for a few duckdives just to get comfortable with the motions and the act of diving under a wave with a board.

Tips:

  • Make sure to grip your board HARD. Powerful waves have a knack of causing you to lose your hold on the board, sending it flying out from behind you as the turbulence catches it.
  • The deeper the duckdive, the better.
  • Using your foot to push the tail under will save your board from pressure dings.
  • Harness the circular motion of the wave and try to work with it. If you do it right, a duckdive can seem almost effortless since the flow of water will help you surface on the other side.

Fact: Yes, the duckdive is called a duckdive because that’s how water birds get under waves. It’s fun to watch a duck or other bird nonchalantly paddling around in the ocean, diving under waves that break outside of him.

Comments (23)

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  1. bondy says:

    dear brother.
    can the duckdive technique applied to long board as well? coz i feel its too heavy to push it in the water..
    thx bro

    ps : if u can give some pics in your posts it would be great

  2. pierre says:

    nooo, its nearly impossible to duck dive a longboard… i have a 6’4 quad fish and its still tough to duckdive on that, you need a shortboard around 6ft to 6’4 to get a nice deep duckdive.

  3. Dave D says:

    bondy,

    Yeah, duck diving a longboard can be done in certain circumstances, but it can also be substantially different than duck diving a shortboard.

    I surf mostly at a beach break (Ocean Beach, San Francisco). It can get really big (triple-O). There’s not really any channels, and not always a handy rip, so grueling paddles can be more normal than not. I’ve surfed it with everything between a 6/6 to 10/4, and I’ll go out up to solid double-O conditions.

    Here’s the key difference between long and short. Duck diving a shortboard gets you under the wave and squirted out the back. With the right wave shape, the lip will help push you through as you take right about on your backside. You can learn to come out paddling.

    With a longboard, your focus isn’t getting under the wave so much as maintaining control of the board as you take the white water pretty much in the face, so that you can resume paddling as fast as possible. Here’s how:

    * paddle as hard as you can into the wave

    * plant the nose right where the white water meets the green

    * grab the board *tightly* on the rails and push your body up. The board isn’t going to under the water so much. You want the water to go through your arms.

    * Get as much of your body off the board and in the air as possible, letting the whitewater go through your arms and under your body. I keep one set of toes on the board and put the other foot in the air for balance and to act as a “rudder.”

    * As soon as the whitewater gets under you, “plant” the tail of the board as deep as you can and roll it down forward. If you’ve ever used a post hole digger, it’s the same sort of motion. The natural bouyancy of the board will tend to want to push you forward as the tail comes back up. You’re going to be too far up the board to paddle without perling, so when you come back down, get repositioned for fast paddling asap.

    If the whitewater is stacked more than about 3 foot, you’re better off turtling and rolling back over. This is not that easy either and it’s hard to hold on to the board in bigger water. And you have to get back on the board and figure out which way to paddle afterward.

    If the wave face is standing up pretty good, paddle as far and as fast up the face of it as you can, then stick the nose through the lip duck dive style, right before it curls over. You can do this pretty high on the wave and not get sucked over the falls.

    In this last case, you want to think “Michael Phelps” and give it that extra effort; paddle as hard as you can all the way up the face and through the lip. If you slack off… you risk going right back over the falls and getting blown back to the beach. With an out-of-control longboard coming down who knows where.

    Since I’m on a roll…

    == Advanced ==

    DON’T try this crap if you aren’t comfortable in the water and don’t know your break, and don’t have some rapport with your fellow surfers. I’m just putting it out here because it’s what I see in practice at OB. In practice… by old dudes 60+ yo who go out in big conditions on their big boards. I was asking one of them (M____) this winter how he managed it and he told me: “If it’s too gnarly I just swim it out.”

    If the surf is big enough to matter (10′-11′+), and the Big Boys got their Big Toys out, watch what they do. I’ve seen a lot of ditching and swimming, and to be fair, when it’s big, you are NOT going to be able to hold on to the board directly, the white water will tear it from you. Conversely, when it’s 8′,9′,10′+ and you’re caught paddling straight into the peak on an outer bar, the safest place for you to be—for everyone involved—is swimming straight down to the bottom as hard as you can. This turns you into a “boat anchor,” keeping you from getting blown back to shore in a giant spin cycle, and believe it or not, helps control your board. It won’t go flopping all over the place when your pulling down as hard as you can from the end of the leash 9 foot under water.

    Otherwise, trying to hold your board under big, snarling whitewater is just going to get it ripping uncontrollably out of your hands, may get you a torn shoulder ligament, or cut by a fin, or knock you unconscious, or hurt someone else in any of a myriad of ways.

    However, you can often control the board pretty well by holding where the leash is fastened to the tail. If you’re getting worked bad, this is a good way to get back in to shore without hurting yourself or anyone else. The other surfers will watch you to see whether you’re in trouble, but if you’re holding on, controlling your board and getting washed in, everybody’s cool.

    Obviously, do NOT even do any of this with anyone else close by. Take your lumps back to the inner bar and try again. This last winter (2008-2009), I was denied at OB probably 4 times (at least), and once it took me 5 tries to get out. I’ve seen people paddle continuously for close to an hour… then get blown back to the beach. It happens. It’s worth it when you make it out.

    If you go ditch your board in small conditions, and when it’s crowded, people are going to think you’re lame and they’re going treat you like a kook. I learned all this stuff by paddling out in really crappy conditions when it wasn’t crowded, and finding my own peak ride on.

    This got longer than I intended… I’m posting it on my own blog!

  4. DB says:

    I duckdive longboards in smaller conditions, i just think of it like keeping the board at the same level as the water in front of the wave, using your weight to push down and past the wave and then come out the back. I usually turtledive (turn upside down) with a longboard on a larger day and noone can blame you if you ditch your board when the lip’s coming down on you, you get rattled enough without a couple blunt knocks by a board

  5. bondy says:

    dave and db

    thanks for the comprehensive explanation. with my longboard, im still learning how to face the wave in front of me by turtledive, STILL wiped out LOL. but i see one technique how to deal with the wave with a longboard is, the guy grab the nose with one hand/arm, other grab on the rail, and put the body far behind the board.. and ready to be hitted by the wave..

    the duckdive technique to longboard that youve told above, thanks i will try that..thx master

    cu at padma beach ;)

  6. OZbrudda says:

    Don’t bother trying to duckdive a longboard, plain and simple. Turtle rolling is dumb and 90% of the time when you do you’re relying on chance. Watch guys rolling there longboards and see how they come up most of the time. Next to the board,washed off. I work as an instructor and I can tell you, turtle rolling, eskimo rolling, whatever you call it is PROVEN to not work. There are too many longboards in lineups everywhere, if you don’t wanna be a kook, ride a shortboard, theres no excuse for not riding short unless your over 60,extremely unfit or disabled hahaha

  7. Sean says:

    Love your site. I’m going to post this in the Surf-Minds forums. I’ll credit you and put a link to your website.

    Dave D: OB pier is a great place to surf! The grilled mahi taco special at South Beach is incredible.

    Come register and start posting! http://www.surf-minds.com/forums

    The forums just launched!

  8. thefullnelly says:

    This topic is a great reason why surfers should cross-train with different shapes/sizes of boards. I grew up surfing shortboards, and I made the longboard switch later in the game. If it’s too thick, I go for the shortboard that can be easily duckdived. In large conditions,while riding a longboard, I try to keep my distance from others, often self-sacrificing to prevent injuring someone else. I go for the inch worm technique while paddling out in big surf with a long board, and most times I make it (often via the abondon-ship, bottom swim). If I’ve made no progress and I’m still inside after a good-long effort, then it’s time to switch while I’ve got something left in me. (If you make it with the longboard then you can feel the nostalgia of the longboard drop in) Remember that those old dudes may not know the difference. They just grab big ass longboard and go for it. Don’t feel like a sissy, at least you are trying.

  9. Billy says:

    Does weighing less matter about being able to duck dive a short board? I weigh 115 pounds and have been trying to get this duck diving thing under control the last 20+ times I’ve gone, took advice from friends that already do it right and I still can’t do it. I know the concept of it all, but it just doesn’t seem to work. I have a 6’8″ board and I’m 5’6. I can get the nose of the board under but the tail always gets caught with the white wash and I get tossed everytime. I don’t think I’m getting the board deep enough when doing it. Any suggestions? Should I switch to a shorter board?

  10. Andy says:

    I’m a beginner but moderately strong swimmer. When it gets tough for me to get out on a long board due to conditions, I’ve tried turtling, but I get washed so far back it’s pretty tough. I’ve tried duck diving in those situations and the same thing…I get washed back fairly far on a long board.

    I’d like to try the ditch and dive to the bottom some time as long as there are others around.

    Also, sometimes I think it may be worth waiting 4 or 5 minutes for a lul, then charging out.

    Maybe it’s just the breaks when using a long board. Certainly a serious workout.

  11. 415local says:

    Sean says:
    July 31, 2009 at 12:45 am

    Dave D: OB pier is a great place to surf! The grilled mahi taco special at South Beach is incredible.
    =========================

    there is no pier at Ocean Beach SF… thats in san diego

  12. Anthony Gill says:

    I’ve always struggled with Duckdiving, and as I usually small beach breaks I’ve never bothered with it. Recently i surfed a reef break and got hammered as I didn’t have the technique. The local I was surfing with gave me one tip which has totally transformed my ability to duck dive. It has to do with the angle of the board, and simple physics. I can’t get my 6″8 fish very far under water, but he pointed out to me that it doesn’t really matter, as long as you can have the nose of the board facing up just after impact, the board will project you through to the other side of the wave. If the nose of the board is still facing downwards as you aim for depth when the wave is breaking, you will be pushed back by the wave unless you have executed a really perfect deep dive. However, if you are struggling to get depth, and the waves are small enough, just think about getting the nose down, under the water, then getting the nose facing up just after impact. Don’t be afraid as you begin to really lean on the back of your board to get the nose facing upwards. The board wants to get back to the surface and you steer it to exit the back of the wave. On the small beach breaks that I surf this simple rule has saved me ample time getting out through the breaks. The hardest thing is remaining balanced in the early attemptes, and having the courage to confront the wave even though you are diving quite shallow. Also, if you do come up to early in the wave, the nose will actually will be caught by the hydraulics and be projected back over your head.

  13. vedgiee says:

    nice tips everyone ty

  14. stokesy says:

    I agree with Anthony Gill, if you’re not dealing with bigger surf, technique counts more than depth. One thing that i found really helps is to not puff yourself out when getting out, even if it is wave after wave on the head. Stay relaxed so you feel comfortable when you hold your breath. Timing is important, you’ve got to work that out for yourself. Also, when you push the board under with your arms and leg(on the tail) your body will rise up a little, at this point push of your tail and literally dive with your board. head first obviously, still holding the rails. Difficult to explain but if you can put your weight into the dive it helps.

  15. Gideon says:

    @Billy- It sounds like either of 2 things to me. The first is that you’re forgetting to kick the tail with your back foot- as mentioned above, this stabilizes the board and propels you through the wave. Second, it sounds like you’re riding a board that’s way too big for you. If you’re 5’6″ you should be riding a 6′ board tops. If the board is too big there’s no way you’re gonna be able to get all that foam underwater. If you’re able to stand up on your 6’8″ I would suggest just going for the shortboard. It’s a lot easier to get out to the line-up and if you keep on trying you’ll get the hang of it eventually.

  16. Aidan says:

    Having problems duck diving in 4 to 6 ft surf i surf a 5″11×18 3/16 x 2 3/16 and weigh 62kgs.would you reccomend in losing LxWxB or go for a shorter board

  17. tyler says:

    seriously, get good at surfing and shortboard. There’s no need on an typical day 3-6,7,8 ft to have a board over 7ft. In a lot of spots, there’s no waves for longboards like SFOB, its just dangerous to yourself and everyone else, isn’t there enough to worry about?

  18. Nacho says:

    Hi guys, just wanted to know if you could give me some advice to be a pro surfer. I am 12 years old and I’ve been surfing since I was 10.

    Thanks XD

  19. Brother from OZ says:

    Look at this Website below if you want some info on how or what to do to duck dive
    ‘BIG WAVES’; it also has 3 other links at the bottom of the website for you to check out. I think I remember reading something about ‘duck diving’ (or whatever you want to call it) longboards as well.

    http://www.surfline.com/community/whoknows/whoknows.cfm?id=1052

    Generally the better you are at duck diving the more enjoyable surfing becomes.

  20. Whale says:

    I duck dive my 10’4 longboard. That said, I am 290 lbs. :)

  21. Stephen says:

    Regarding turteling (rolling the board upside-down, It works very well with long or short boards. But most people make the mistake of gripping the board too tight and pulling it down flat on the water surface. This just makes the rip-jolt worse. Actually you want to roll over and point the nose of the board straight into the whitewater and do not hold your body close. The dynamics of the board will allow the water to channel right through to board and the thrust to pass between your board and body. If you do it just right, you will barely feel any force on the board itself. Secondly, while you grip the board tight with your hands only, let your body completely relax. Since your body is 97% water the kinetic energy will pass right through your body; the more relaxed the better. Think Karate and don’t fight it, let the force reasonate right through your body, be very limp, but grip tight with hands only. ONE WORD OF CAUTION: on big days, 8+, never be directly behind a paddler as they and thier board will come directly toward you. get and angle off to either side.

  22. Holly says:

    How deep is the water that we’re duckdiving in? Is it neck length or something or is it really deep? Also, how deep does the water get when the waves are breaking? Is it really deep? I know that past the waves, it’s really deep but what about where the waves are breaking?

  23. Ramrod says:

    Thanks a lot for your explanation. But there is only one problem, i have a 6.5 shortboard and i cant seem to be able to duck dive it, I weight 145 pounds and I am 5,10ft tall. Is this normal am i like to skinny to be able to duckdive a board this big? i appreciate your time guys..

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