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Why Do Surfers Go Under A Wave?

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You might have occasionally come across surfers vanishing under a wave only to reappear on the surface a few seconds later. Although this might seem like an impressive feat that’s hard to accomplish, surfers do it for a particular reason. So the question arises; why do surfers go under a wave?

Surfers go under the wave when they feel the wave will break and it isn’t fit for riding. This trick allows the wave to wash over them, which prevents the surfers from being pushed to the beach, back to the impact zone. This trick is also known as duck diving, where surfers sink their boards underwater and duck beneath an incoming breaking wave. 

The main goal is to end up behind the wave, where the wave doesn’t break. Duck diving is not for the faint of heart. Since this trick relies heavily on the timing, speed, technique, and strength of the surfer, even the smallest mistakes can be very frustrating for beginners. Beginners need to learn to distinguish breaking waves if you want to improve your duck diving abilities. 

Surfer under a wave

Why Duck Dive?

Dealing with waves that are not about to break can be dealt with by guiding your surfboard’s nose over the incoming wave. However, in certain situations, you need to execute a duck dive when the surf gets rough and you are in danger of getting washed out. If the top of the wave breaks and you notice white wash, a duck dive is necessary to avoid being flushed.

It is an effective method of avoiding being pushed back or getting injured by a breaking wave. Sometimes, duck diving is the only option to deal with gigantic walls of breaking waves, which is why it’s essential for every surfer to learn this technique. Given that you don’t ride a bigger board.

How To Execute a Duck Dive

Executing a successful duck dive can be quite challenging for beginners as it requires flawless timing and technique, which only comes with a lot of practice. However, following the correct procedure will give you enough confidence to execute a duck dive perfectly.

Paddle Towards the Breaking Wave

To perform a duck dive, start by paddling as quickly as you can into the approaching wave. You must start paddling towards the wave with as much power as you can muster.

This is because breaking waves are incredibly strong and can push you back easily if you don’t have enough forward momentum. Moreover, make sure that you attach the wave and paddle straight into the oncoming wave to avoid being thrown of your board. Keep the nose of your board straight!

Dive Underneath the Wave

Before you dive you should take a deep breath, because a wave can be pretty violent. If you forget to breath you’re gonna have a bad time when you’ll lose control. When the white wash takes you it can last for a few seconds, the important thing is to stay calm.

As soon as you near the wave, stop paddling, and grab your surfboard by its sides with your elbows bent. Push your body up, like an upward facing dog, and then use the use the weight of your upper body to push the nose down until the water hits your chin.

The moment the water hits your chin, press your back foot (knee) and toes into your board but keep your board straight, after that stretch your other leg straight up to keep your balanced. Your board should be underwater in a straight line.

Push your foot down hard to get your surfboard deep enough into the water. Often you use the right amount of force with your hands, but pushing a board with your foot down is just as important. If you forget to push down the board with your foot, it will not be parallel. This might cause the wave to catch the tail because it’s not submerged.

Just before the wave hits, you dive like a duck towards your board. Lay flat on your board with both of your legs together and hold your breath.

While you’re under the wave, you can bring the tail of your surfboard down to ensure that the entire board goes underwater. To achieve that, apply pressure on the board’s tail using your foot or knee. The deeper your board goes underwater, the more momentum you will generate.

However, timing the dive is incredibly important as well. This is because the velocity of the breaking wave can cause an explosion under the surface of the water, leading your surfboard to wobble and causing you to fall down if you haven’t gripped hard enough. 

Tips to Duck Dive Effectively

To time your duck dive perfectly, you should wait for the wave’s lip to close in while you’re paddling towards it. Then, as soon as you are 1-2 meters away from the wave, you should time your dive so that you’re directly underneath the foam of the water. 

This is the power zone of the wave, and diving directly under it at the right time will protect you from being exposed to the turbulence produced by it. Moreover, diving too early will result in you being attacked by an explosion of white water. 

Lie Down on the Board

Once you and your board are underwater, make sure to hold your legs toghether. You don’t want your tail to rise to early. Lie down on the surfboard and let the wave pass over you. Make sure that your board is parallel to the bottom of the sea or else your board will slip from your grasp due to the force of the wave.

To ensure that you dive as deep as possible, bring your body to the surfboard instead of pulling the surfboard up. If you are not able to dive deep enough you won’t be able to successfully pass through a massive wave.

Rise Above the Surface

Once you let the wave pass over you, you can start to rise above the surface of the water. You can perform a frog kick that will give you enough momentum to propel you to the surface or you can aim the nose of your board to the top of the water and let the board float you up. 

However, you should only resurface once the entire wave has passed over you. If you try to resurface too early, the momentum of the white water can push you back underwater and separate you from the surfboard.

When you resurface, make sure to take another deep breath because sometimes another wave might surprise you. If this waves catches you, you still have enough breath to ride it out.

Type of Waves You Can Duck Dive

Duck diving requires more than just following the correct procedure. You should also understand the different dynamics of a breaking and a non-breaking wave to prevent things from getting dicey in the sea. 

Broken WaveUnbroken Wave
Produce large amounts of turbulenceProduces less turbulence
Produces energy directly against youThe energy goes in a circular motion
Extends beneath the surface of the waveDoes not extend below the surface
Duck diving requires more efforteasier to duck dive under these waves

Common Duck Diving Mistakes

Simple mistakes can make your duck diving attempt, especially on a broken wave, go wrong. Most of these mistakes are made by amateurs causing them to either lose their balance or get pushed back due to the wave’s energy. 

Not Paddling with Enough Speed

One such mistake is not paddling hard enough. If you don’t have enough momentum while you’re paddling, chances are that you will be washed out by the upcoming breaking wave while you are attempting to duck dive underneath it. 

This is because white water is incredibly powerful, and it generates a huge flux of energy underneath the surface. Therefore, the more speed you have, the better your chances will be of performing a duck dive flawlessly.

Keeping Your Eyes Closed Underwater

If you keep your eyes closed while underwater, you won’t be able to identify heavy turbulence beforehand and thus, won’t be able to evade it in time.

To prevent mishaps when maneuvering through a powerful wave, always keep your eyes peeled for a suitable route through the turbulence and the bubbles it creates. Some surfers aren’t bothered by salt water and are able to look where they are and see when a wave has passed.

Ditching the Surfboard

Inexperienced surfers often abandon their boards while trying to perform a duck dive. This is primarily because of a lack of self-confidence to surf the incoming wave.

However, you should never abandon your surfboard since most of them are rather huge and might become a potential hazard for the surfers around you. Your leash can break because of the force of the wave so you better be a good swimmer.

Surfboards for Duck Diving

If you’re following the correct procedure but still you’re unable to successfully perform a duck dive, then chances are that you’re not using the correct surfboard. A duck dive is generally performed on smaller surfboards, such as shortboards

This is because surfboards that have too much volume, like foam boards or fish boards , are extremely difficult to submerge underwater and perform the technique. The less volume your surfboard has, the easier it is to get under a wave. Practicing a duck dive with a shortboard in calm water is probably a good idea.

Duck Diving With a Foam Board

Duck diving with foam boards is challenging because of its buoyancy, which makes it harder to sink the board. To avoid being pushed back, you can try to dip the surfboard’s nose in the water before the wave arrives.

Make sure that you do not resist the motion of the wave by keeping your board as flat as possible. Using a foam board to duck dive can be useful while dealing with gentle white water, but it will not perform well in larger, stronger waves.

Duck Diving With a Fish Board

Due to the size of the fish board, executing a duck dive can be tricky. A tip for fish board users is to use their feet to push down the board when the tip of the board is underwater. 

Generally, fish boards are not difficult to submerge underway due to their narrow head, which allows them to penetrate the surface of the water. However, the difficulty level varies depending on the size and volume of the fish board.

Duck Diving With a Longboard

The extra volume and size of a longboard can make it excessively difficult for you to perform a duck dive with it. Even professional surfers don’t prefer duck diving with a longboard. 

Instead, to tackle large waves, they perform the turtle roll, in which you use the extra length of the longboard to roll over the breaking wave.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Can I Practice Duck Diving at Home?

To practice duck diving at home is very impractical, you would need to fill a large pool with water and try to maintain your balance on the surfboard. Moreover, you can practice holding your breath for as long as you can to increase your lung capacity and give yourself a better chance to duck dive larger waves.

What Surfboard Length is Best For Duck Diving?

Surfboards that are around 5-7 feet are ideal for performing a duck dive if they don’t have much volume, it also depends on your weight. This includes shortboards. The longer the boat, the more effort you will require to submerge the board underwater. A bigger surfboard requires more time to dive so timing is essential.

Should I Push the Surfboard’s Tail With my Knee or With my Foot?

The answer depends on the strength of the wave. If the wave is incredibly powerful, then it’s better to use your back foot to push the board. Otherwise, pushing the board down with your knee will suffice.

Using your knee first and then your foot works wonders, but your technique has to be consistent. Sometimes only using a knee is enough but when waves get bigger you have to use your toes as well to push the board under water.


Duck diving isn’t an easy trick to master. However, with the right amount of practice and correct guidance, you can perfect your duck diving abilities. Once you’re able to learn the skill, you’ll host enough confidence to take on breaking water any day of the week.

So what are you waiting for? Head on to the beach and show us all how to perform a duck dive! The feeling of diving under a wave is magical and hard to explain. When a wave passes over you is just incredible, something you have to experience!

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