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Can You Turtle Roll Big Waves?

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It is guaranteed that you’re going to encounter breaking waves while surfing in the ocean. Therefore, it is imperative that you learn how to navigate through these difficult waves if you want to avoid getting violently swept away, or getting injured. One maneuver for tackling breaking waves is called ‘turtle rolling’, which is common knowledge among proficient surfers. However, the question is, can you turtle roll on big waves? 

Turtle rolling is quite effective for huge waves and strong surfs. However, you need mastery over this technique to successfully pull it off against a gigantic wave, which will only come with practice. Moreover, you also need to have the right posture, and an excellent grip on your board to take on tough plunging waves.

Executing a turtle roll is not easy by any means. Even the tiniest of mistakes can cause you to lose your balance. Therefore, if you want to learn how to turtle roll on big waves, you need to be aware of the correct procedure behind it. 

surfer doing a turtle roll underwater

What Is A Turtle Roll?

Turtle rolling is a technique that will allow you to break through waves without falling off your surfboard. It is similar to duck diving, where you push your surfboard under the wave and use it to come through the other side. 

However, where duck diving fails against longboards, the turtle rolling technique comes in handy. Despite requiring more strength and constant practice, this skill allows you to keep better control of your board when dealing with large waves while surfing. 

When Should You Turtle Roll?

The perfect moment to execute a turtle roll is when the wave is approximately two to six feet away from you. While executing the technique, you need to make sure that you’re in the right position and have a firm grip on your surfboard.

Flip over your surfboard the moment the wave starts to break down on you and force the fins to face the sky. If you attempt to go under the sea right before the wave hits, the turtle roll may fail, causing you to be pushed around under the waves, losing your board in the chaos. 

How To Turtle Roll Large Waves

Before you can start executing turtle rolls while surfing, you need to learn about the different waves, surfboards, and techniques you can use to carry out the move. This will give you the confidence to execute a turtle roll with perfection. 

Types of Waves 

Waves tend to break as they travel into shallower water. The speed of the bottom part of the wave decreases, while the top part overtakes and flows beyond it. This often results in a broken wave which usually takes one of three different forms: plunging, surging, and spilling.

Plunging Waves

Plunging waves sometimes referred to as dumping waves have a barrel-like shape.

These form when a wave travels swiftly from deep to shallow water and then slowly slows down. 

These waves are massive which makes them quite dangerous for novice surfers. Therefore, you need to be very cautious while trying to turtle roll in these tides. Moreover, without the proper technique, plunging waves can cause a complete wipeout, ripping you and your surfboard apart.  

Surging Waves

Large swells create surging waves when they near the coastline of a beach. The wave’s base travels quickly, which prevents the crest from developing further. Therefore, a surging wave will hardly break down while you’re riding it. However, these waves are not ideal for turtle rolling as their backwash always happens near the coastline which can be fatal for even amateur surfers.  

Spilling Waves

Spilling waves have smooth crests that crash softly towards the coast. Once these waves start breaking near the sloping seafloor, they won’t be stopping any time soon. Fortunately, these waves are ideal for both new and experienced surfers. So if you’re looking to perfect your turtle rolling abilities, try to spot spilling waves in the sea.

Ideal Surfboards For Turtle Rolling

Now that you can tell the difference between different waves, it’s time to pick out a surfboard. Not every surfboard is ideal for turtle rolling. Furthermore, using the incorrect surfboard to do this technical trick can often cause a wipeout. The most common types of surfboards are longboards and shortboards, possessing distinct properties you should consider before getting them for your surfing sessions.  

Are usually 8 feet or longerUsually around 6 to 8 feet
Have a large surface areaHave a smaller surface area
Offer extra stability and balanceMore responsive and agile
Can catch spilling waves much easilyHarder to catch larger waves

Some surfers may find it easier to perform a turtle roll-on longboards since they are more stable and buoyant as compared to shortboards. Moreover, shortboards are designed mostly for professional use, so you’re better off sticking with a longboard if you’re starting out surfing. 

Learning to Turtle Roll

Turtle rolling is a tough technique to master but once perfected, it can change your surfing experience. Now that you have the knowledge and means to carry out a turtle roll, it’s time to learn the proper technique when using this skill to handle monstrous waves. 

Step 1: Glide into the Incoming Wave

Start paddling into the oncoming wave with as much speed as you can muster. Here, timing is key as you must be quick and exact when the wave faces you. As the wave is right before you, hold your surfboard’s sides while keeping your elbows bent. 

This posture will provide you with adequate traction while also allowing the wave to roll over your body. However, remember not to outstretch your arms, otherwise, you will most likely be thrown beneath the water.

Step 2: Hand and Body Positioning

As soon as the wave is about 6-7 feet away from you, take a deep breath and flip the surfboard upside down so that the fin is pointing to the sky. Next, by slightly lifting your torso, you can generate extra leverage and speed which is your bread and butter to execute a turtle roll. 

In this step, make sure that your elbows are properly bent and the board is close to your body. Also, try to keep your board as straight as possible, otherwise, the wave can throw you off!

Step 3: Embrace The Wave

As the wave arrives, grip your board’s rails tightly before sliding off the surfboard and into the water. As soon as you see the wave breaking, move your head beneath the water and bring the board over your head. Flipping your surfboard upside down is the first step for executing a turtle roll.

When you’re underwater, remember to stay relaxed and composed. It’s also advised to not force yourself against the wave as that can destabilize you and disrupt your whole maneuver. However, if you feel as if you are losing momentum, you can do a frog kick when the wave goes over your board, which will allow you to regain your balance on the surfboard.

Step 4: Repeat For the Next Wave 

Once the wave has passed, you can flip over your surfboard. Get back on the board by kicking it with your legs and pushing it into the water with your hands. Once you’re back on your surfboard, you must paddle hard to escape the wave’s impact area and wait until the next wave arrives to repeat your move.

Common Turtle Rolling Mistakes

Turtle rolling is a tough trick to pull off, leaving no room for error. Therefore, we have listed some common mistakes surfers perform while turtle rolling so you don’t end up repeating them.

Not Perpendicular to the Wave

Beginners frequently make the mistake of not having their surfboard perpendicular to an incoming wave. If the large wave hits your surfboard from the side, there is a high chance that it will knock you off the board by causing it to flip over. Therefore, always encounter a large wave head-on, keeping your surfboard directly perpendicular to the surge. 

Rigid Arms

When your arms are too stiff, you won’t be able to catch the incoming wave properly. Rigid arms leave no room for you to absorb the impact of the wave, causing the surfboard to slip from your grasp in the process. Therefore, it is important to keep your arms relaxed and below your shoulders while the wave passes over you. 

Flipping the Board too Early or Late

If you flip your surfboard way before the wave arrives, chances are that you won’t be perpendicular to it during the actual contact. On the other hand, you shouldn’t flip the board upside down while the wave is hitting you directly. This will cause you to lose your balance and get pushed back by the wave, disrupting your turtle roll. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What Size of Waves Are Too High To Turtle Roll?

If you’re just beginning to learn how to turtle roll, the ideal size of the wave should be around two to three feet. While you can gradually work your way up to larger waves, trying to turtle roll waves as high as 10 feet can be quite dangerous and requires months of practice.

Can I Turtle Roll Large Waves Using a Foam Board?

You can use a foam board to learn how to turtle roll. Because of its weight, a foam board is quite easy to flip and can allow you to float a lot better than any other type of surfboard. 

Is it Possible to Turtle Roll Mid Air?

If certain sections of your surfboard, especially the nose, are out of the water during contact with the wave, your turtle rolling chances are quite slim. Your board will probably become imbalanced during the process, making you lose control. 


If you follow the steps mentioned above, maintain an appropriate posture, and do not repeat your mistakes, you’ll learn turtle rolling in no time. However, surfing is about having fun and if you feel that a technique is too much for you to handle, there’s no pressure to learn it. With that said, you can now grab up your surfboards and head to the beach! 

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