surfer duck diving

How to Duck Dive when Surfing

The duck dive is a technique used to help surfers submerge their surfboards underwater, so that they are not hit by oncoming waves.

As you progress on your surfing journey and improve your surfing skills, you’re going to want to start catching some of the cleaner, unbroken waves. Therefore in theory, you need to paddle to the holy land known as “out-back”. While in this area, you are in a safe space where all surfers can relax and take their time, while choosing which wave they want to catch.

However, just like the pursuit of the Holy Grail,  there are challenges that lie ahead. Between the promised land and yourself are waves that are consistently rolling in, and on bad days, waves that have already broken and are smashing you continuously. Those who can’t duck dive may have experienced the helpless feeling that with each wave you survive, you manage to paddle ten metres forward, but get washed eight metres back. 

surfer paddling on surfboard in ocean

The end result is either admitting defeat and catching the best wave that you can while stuck in no man’s land. Maybe you show true resilience and make it out back. But your arms are so full of lactic acid that your chances of catching a good wave have now been diminished. 

Don’t give up dear surfer, for there is still one other option. You need to commit to learning how to duck dive. Once mastered the benefit of this method is that you will waste less energy trying to paddle against the waves, leaving you more charged up to catch incoming waves. It will also maximise your time in the water, as you can spend less time in the whitewash and more time on cleaner waves outback.

What is the best way to learn how to duck dive?

Obviously the most important thing to do when learning how to duck dive is to be on the water.  Now you could focus your time learning on site, so therefore you read the tips in this article, then go and apply them live in the surf itself. 

One of the problems with this is that the conditions may dictate how well the learning experience is. Big heavy waves knocking you around may not be a pleasant experience and cause you to quit which is not what we want, so if you were going to practise these skills in the sea, I would recommend choosing a flat to small day  all so that you get to enjoy the process. 

Other options to consider are to find a still bit of water where you can paddle around on, or at least practice sinking the board. This might be a swimming pool or a lake that you know well – I don’t advise going swimming in lakes by yourself for obvious safety issues. 

Why can’t I duck dive on my surfboard?

  1. When learning how to duck dive, one thing you will need to consider is the type of surfboard you have. Duck diving is generally used on the shorter boards that are easy to sink. Some surfboards have a very high volume. This is great in terms of staying on top of the water and catching waves, however it makes it very difficult to submerge under the water to perform a duck dive. If this applies to your surfboard you may want to spend your time practising the turtle roll manoeuvre. This technique is where you grab the rails of your board when there is an incoming wave, you should then roll to one side, whilst keeping a grip of the rails. This will allow the wave to pass over you and due to the shape of your board,  will have less of a pull towards the shoreline. Once the wave has gone you can then remount your board and continue your paddle. 
  1. Another problem you may encounter when trying to duck dive, is the type of wave you are trying to go underneath. If you are trying to duck dive a wave that is already broken and full of white wash, then the energy is different to that of an unbroken wave. Already broken waves have energy that is flowing in the whitewash and also underneath, therefore you may need to go through the bubbles to try and get through. An unbroken wave is much easier to duck dive underneath as it pulls you towards it and then back out as it travels over you. Don’t be disheartened by the white wash experience as it really can be slog to learn how to get through these types of wave.
surfer about to duck dive

What do I need to do to duck dive?

  1. Paddle Hard

The speed you generate to contact the wave will determine how successful your duck dive will be. As mentioned above, the white water can be difficult to break through, therefore you need to attack it with speed to increase your power as you push through the wave.

  1. Timing

Too early: You do not want to start your duck dive too early and lose all of that hard paddling we just mentioned. Another problem is that an early duck dive will mean that you begin to rise back up as the wave hits, therefore pulling you back to shore with the oncoming wave. 

Too late: If you start the duck diving process to late, you will not be able to fully get the board under the water. The breaking wave will then smash you and end up pushing you backwards.

The best way to judge the distance is to aim for about two metres or a surfboard length in front of the incoming wave. At this point the first step is to grab your board’s rails just below your chest.

  1. Push down and forward

Hopefully you’ve managed to apply the first two steps, now you need to get your board well below the water line. The best way to do this is to imagine you are completing a press up, where you need to lock your arms out. The further you can extend your arms, the deeper the board will be, so try to fully lock those arms out so that the wave passes over you. I like to imagine the muscles that are working so that I focus properly on the action. So I will try to ensure my pecs and triceps are fully engaged in the process to really help the board go under the water.

  1. Push that tail

Once the nose of your surfboard is fully under the water, the next step is to bring the tail under too. This is to ensure that the board gets completely submerged and is less likely to cause you to be dragged by the oncoming wave.

You need to ensure that you get all your weight pushing down on the tail, so try cocking your back leg up as if you were a scorpion and then kick down hard on the board – this will ensure you get more downwards force to get the board parallel. A traction pad is always useful as it gives you a specific target zone to aim for when you are pushing down on the board. 

  1. The otherside

By now the board is underwater and the wave is passing over the top of you. It is at this point you will want to bring the surfboard towards your body – but please don’t rush this process! If you try and come back to the surface too early you will still get caught up in the waves energy and get pulled backwards. 

As you come back to the top of the water, try to aim the nose of your surfboard to the surface and allow the board to naturally bring you up to the top.

Is it hard to duck dive when surfing?

When it’s written down it seems like a really easy thing to complete,  however. the conditions that you are trying to surf in will always dictate how successful this duck diving process is. I’ve been out in some heavy waves and been absolutely battered by the whitewash as I try to paddle out back, so don’t think that I am trying to simplify this task, but I am trying to offer a framework for you to work towards so that you can improve.

One thing that I haven’t mentioned is fitness. If you really want to be able to keep up with the demands that surfing provides, the best way to compete with the elements is to be as fit as you possibly can. Strong paddling will help you to build up the speed you need to successfully duck dive, so start with this. You can also read this article on how to get fit for surfing or look into some of the fitness equipment you can buy to keep you in shape when out of the water. For example, these power stroke cords that are ideal for a surfing home workout.

Looking for a board? Check out our reviews for the Best Mini Mal Surfboards

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