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7 – Getting Outside

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 it’s 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 it’s more common to see well defined channels at reef or point breaks, it’s 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. It’s advisable to leave this trick for when you have a bit more experience. Don’t immediately jump in a rip current if you’re a beginner.

When you’re ready to paddle out, you’ll want to carry or float your board next to you until you get to deep water. Some surf spots don’t require this, but others have very long, gradual sandbars. Don’t waste paddling energy until you have to. Also, you don’t 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. Don’t blow all your energy in a frantic rush to get outside unless there’s a very short lull between sets. Again, use common sense.

Dealing with oncoming waves

It’s 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. It’s not fun getting slapped in the face by a wave, but occasionally it’s necessary—especially if you’re 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 you’re on a longboard, it will be very difficult or impossible to duck dive your board. You’ll 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 you’re 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 you’re holding on tight and you’ll 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 that’s 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, it’s 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 you’ve chosen a day with rough waves and small lulls. Don’t 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 you’re finally on the outside, take a minute to take it all in. Sit up on your board and relax!

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12 years ago

Excellent advice i’ve been riding 7’6 and pretty much getting smashed on most surfs trying to paddle out. My board is too buoyant to duck, so the turtle has been excellent, makes getting out so much easier and your energy is stored for catching the waves you’ve been gazzing at for months. Cheers guys

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