how to duck dive

Learn how to duck dive

As you progress as a surfer, one handy skill you should pick up is how to duck dive. Duck diving the way surfers pass through oncoming waves without losing progress towards a spot in the line-up. While you’re paddling out, oncoming waves can send you back towards shore, causing you to waste energy and time struggling to get to your destination. The more frequent and bigger the waves, the more “ground” you lose.

If you learn how to duck dive properly, you’ll be able to get through these waves and maintain your progress. Once you’ve become a truly proficient duck diver, it’ll feel like second nature.

Start small

Duck diving isn’t easy at first. It takes effort and practice in order to get good. So it’s recommended that you start practicing when the waves are small and the surf is mellow. There are no conditions too flat for practicing your dives. In fact, you can even start practicing in a swimming pool. Once you’re confident with smaller waves and have developed some technique, feel free to move on to bigger ones.

It’s also much easier to duck dive on a small board. Even when you’ve developed your skills, pushing a large board down and quickly diving under a wave can be a real challenge and maybe next to impossible depending on your own size and strength. When you learn how to duck dive, you should start on as short and as narrow a board as you are comfortable with. Duck diving isn’t for longboarders, who should learn how to Turtle Roll.

how to duck dive

Pic: Bengt Nyman (Flickr CC)

Dive deep and fast

As you learn how to duck dive, keep in mind that you want to miss the force of the wave as well as limit your time dealing with it. This means a short, sharp dive with your board under the wave followed by surfacing and getting back to paddling out. Keep in mind that you want to dive so that you avoid touching the white water or white part of the wave as much as possible to limit your exposure to the force of the wave.

The motion of your board should be like a “scoop” motion — a smooth and quick dive under the wave as it approaches and a similar return to the surface as soon as the wave passes. Of course you can’t always totally avoid white water, but try to as much as you can. As you learn about the different kinds of white, you’ll know what kind of water looks rougher and more powerful and how to better avoid it.

How to duck dive in brief

  • Put your hands under your shoulders, grabbing the rails (sides) of your board
  • Straighten your arms and push your board down under the approaching wave, nose first — make sure you take a deep breath!
  • Keep your arms straight, lean forward and keep your board underneath you, following through with your leg
  • Bring your torso down onto your board so both your body and board go under the force of the wave, keeping pressure on the back of your board with your leg so that you control the level of the board
  • As the wave passes over, start to come back up by using your arms to push/pull the nose of the board up while using your knee, shin or foot (if going really deep or using a longer board) to push and guide from the back of the board
  • Try to make your duck dive one nice, fluid, scooping motion
  • When your duck dive is complete, continue paddling out until you meet the next wave or take your spot in the line-up
how to duck dive

Pic: Michael Napoleon (Flickr CC)

5 tips on how to duck dive

1. Speed up into the wave

When a wave is approaching, you want to meet it with significant speed and force. Paddle into the wave in order to keep your forward momentum up when you actually duck dive.

2. Time your duck dive right

Adjust your speed so you are able to dive underwater before you meet the wave. Try to time it so you get under all the white water. If you’re too late the wave will hit you in the face. For waves that haven’t yet broken, you can duck dive at the last minute in order to avoid the crest or lip of the wave. The more white water there is the earlier you should start your dive.


3. Make sure your positioning is good

Exactly how you position your body on your surfboard while duck diving will depend on the size of your board (and its size in relation to your body’s size). However, there are some hard and fast rules in order to make sure you don’t mess up your dive or (even worse) lose balance and fall off your board.

For example, when bringing your knee up, make sure your leg and knee stay in the centre of the board so you don’t loose balance and flip over. Move your knee forward in a straight line under your hip and not to the side.

4. Keep aware of the wave

This will become easier as you learn the different characteristics of wave water. Keep your eyes open if possible as you dive so you can avoid the more turbulent white water.

5. Watch the video

As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. In this case it’s a video, so it’s got both words and pictures and they move. So check it out and ask a surf school about learning how to duck dive.


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