Chapter 11: Getting outside: the Turtle Roll and Duckdive

Using the turtle roll, duckdive, and getting outside the breaking waves.

Paddling to the outside can seem like a harrowing experience at first, and even experienced surfers can have difficulty paddling out on big days. There are a few techniques that will make your life much easier when battling oncoming waves. These include observation, currents, timing, duckdiving and the turtle roll.

Observation first

When you first arrive at the beach itís important to observe the ocean and wave patterns. How big are the waves? How often are they breaking? Waves come in sets and lulls, which means that there will be several waves that break in succession and then the ocean will quiet down for a bit before the next set of waves rolls in.

Some surf spots have a channel that make for an easy paddle out. This is a deep spot where waves break less powerfully or sometimes not at all. Although itís more common to see well defined channels at reef or point breaks, itís possible to find channels at beachbreaks.

Rip currents

Rip currents can also assist you to the outside. They act as a conveyor belt as all the water pushed towards shore by the waves heads back out to sea. Itís advisable to leave this trick for when you have a bit more experience. Donít immediately jump in a rip current if youíre a beginner.

When youíre ready to paddle out, youíll want to carry or float your board next to you until you get to deep water. Some surf spots donít require this, but others have very long, gradual sandbars. Donít waste paddling energy until you have to. Also, you donít want to paddle your board if the water is only a few feet deep because you might run your fins aground. Watch what the other surfers are doing and use your head. Wait for a lull between the sets, and then hop on your board and start paddling with a moderate, deliberate speed. Donít blow all your energy in a frantic rush to get outside unless thereís a very short lull between sets. Again, use common sense.

Dealing with oncoming waves

Itís easy to deal with oncoming waves when the conditions are small. As you encounter whitewater, paddle straight at it to gain momentum and meet it head-on. Just before it hits you, push up on the board and allow the whitewater to pass between you and the board. You can do this for smaller unbroken waves as well. Paddle hard and punch through. Itís not fun getting slapped in the face by a wave, but occasionally itís necessaryóespecially if youíre on a longboard. Sometimes the only option to make it through a wave is to paddle hard, grab the board in a death-grip, put your head down and slam through it. It takes a little persistence and guts, but it works ok. Unfortunately this does not work very well if the waves get above three foot.

Every surfer loves a dry-hair paddle out where they are never challenged by a breaking wave. Unfortunately, not every paddle out is a piece of cake. Fortunately, there are a few tricks to help you deal with larger waves that are difficult or impossible to punch through. These are the duck dive and the turtle-roll.

The Turtle Roll

If youíre on a longboard, it will be very difficult or impossible to duck dive your board. Youíll be using the turtle-roll. When you see an oncoming wall of whitewater, paddle straight at it to get some speed, grab your rails and flip the board so youíre beneath it underwater. Hold the board very tight and pull the nose down slightly. Your body will act as an anchor and the wave will pass over the board, keeping you from losing ground. The turtle-roll is a little tricky, but is an essential tool for longboarding. Just make sure youíre holding on tight and youíll be OK. Remember: if you lose the board, it might hit someone else in the head.

The Duck Dive

The duck dive is a more advanced maneuver thatís a lot of fun when done right. If you have a shortboard, you can simply dive under the turbulence and pop out the other side unscathed. Unfortunately, itís not as easy as it sounds. Executing a proper duck dive takes a lot of practice. Click here for duckdiving 101.


Getting to the outside can be a bit challenging the first few times, especially if youíve chosen a day with rough waves and small lulls. Donít worry, over time it gets easier and easier. Keep practicing your turtle roll and duckdiving skills and over time they will improve. You won't have instant success, so don't expect too much and get frustrated.

Now that youíre finally on the outside, take a minute to take it all in. Sit up on your board and relax!

When youíre ready, itís time to catch your first real wave.

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