Beginner Surf Gear

How to Duck Dive Properly

In this post we look at when you should duck dive and when you should bail on a wave. Each has it merits, and choosing the correct method depending on the surf conditions is critical.

duck dive

Wether you’re a beginner or advanced surfer, a duck dive should always be your first port of call. Here why duck diving is preferable:

  • The risk of breaking your leash is much lower
  • You’re able to continue to paddle to the next wave faster
  • It’s safe for other surfers around you

Bailing on a wave always, particularly a big one, always introduces the risk of your leash breaking and potentially a long swim back to the beach.

Moreover, when you bail on a wave you will often get thrust deep beneath the water and sometimes even Tombstone. (when you max out your depth underwater forcing your board to be pulled upright by your leash).

Getting back to the surface and onto your board ready to paddle takes a lot of time and energy and often means getting stuck on the inside – where you are unable to paddle out to the backline.

How To Duck Dive?

If you have yet to master the duck dive, we’ve sourced a very useful video which shows you step-by-step how to duck dive correctly. We think it’s easier watching a video on how to duck dive than reading paragraphs of text on how to do it.

When To Duck Dive

The different types of waves or wave scenarios will determine the most suitable course of action for you as a surfer. Let’s explore these different wave types.

Big Whitewater

Always try and duck dive in big, heavy whitewater in spite of it being counter intuitive. Naturally you’ll be intimidated in this environment and want to bail and dive deep underwater. Remember that you can only go as deep as your leash, which for a shortboard is usually around 6ft long.

In big whitewater, you are going to get thrashed around a lot underwater, and it will feel like you’re temporarily in a washing machine. The best way to handle this is to bear hug your board or grip onto it as tightly as you can. Some surfers purposely put wax on the rails of their boards for this exact reason.

Another tip for enduring the beat down of the whitewater is tilt your board at a 45 degree angle to ocean surface. This is minimise the downward force exerted on the board from the wave and mean that you won’t get sent as deep. In turn you’ll be able to rise up to the surface quicker.

Heavy & Hollow Beach Break

These types of heavy barrels usually drop from a steep height, hit the water’s surface, bounce back back and cause a secondary explosion. Duck diving these types of waving is also strongly advised. This is because with the right timing you’ll be able to pass under the wave fairly easily.

To time it right you’ll want to position yourself about 5-6 feet away from where the lip of the wave lands. Just before it hit’s you’ll want to make deep, strong duck dive and by doing so you’ll be able to slide under that secondary explosion of water. In most cases you should be able to make it out the other side of the wave relatively unscatched.

Hawaiin pro surfer, Nathan Florence, has put a together a great little video on when duck dive and when to bail. Check it out below.

When To Bail

If the wave is going to break on top of you, then you definitely want to bail. There are a few different ways to bail, One is just to jump off your board and swim underneath the oncoming wave.

If the wave is very big, then you may want to try and stand on your board for purchase and dive as deep into the water as you can.

If you’re surfing an incredibly thick hollow wave like Teahupoo, then regardless how good your duck dive is, you’re not making it out the other side.

Your head may pop out of the other side of the wave, but the sheer volume of of water will pull you over the falls. Therefore, bailing on a wave like this is a must. Moreover, you’ll also probably have to take your less off to avoid being pulled over the falls.

Oftentimes when you bail the force of the water will mean that your board will drag you. Instead of fighting this and wasting energy, try crossing your legs and putting your arms over your head and let your board drag you.

Remember that if you do decide to bail, always check around you to make sure that your board won’t end up hitting someone else. In heavy surf conditions, this can become a real danger, particularly if you have multiple surfers bailing on the same wave.

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