How To Duck Dive And Turtle Roll

The duck dive and the turtle roll are two techniques that are essential to paddling out into the lineup. Not only will they keep you from exhausting yourself or getting hurt, but they will keep you from hurting other people, or from upsetting other surfers. These techniques are necessary components to being a competent surfer, and to being courteous, safe, and responsible in the water.

The goal of a duck dive or a turtle roll is to get your board under a crashing or broken wave, so that you can come out on the other side and keep paddling out until you have reached the lineup. I have created this step by step tutorial to teach you how to master these crucial maneuvers.

The Duck Dive


Understand what a duck dive is- A duck dive is simply a swimmer’s dive under a wave, except you are taking your board along with you. A great way to get the hang of this is to go for a swim without your board first. Take some time to dive under a few waves and get a feel for the energy of the water. Once you have that under control, you are ready to face a paddle out with your board. You know it is time to duck dive when you see a crashing wave or a broken wave heading straight toward you.

Commit- When you see that wall of white water heading your way, you have a choice. You can either give up and paddle toward the shore ending your session, or you can duck dive under the wave and keep paddling out. The only choice in between will definitely result in an exhausting or dangerous wipeout. So if you are ready to duck dive, COMMIT! Start paddling toward the wave.

Create momentum- The most effective way to duck dive is to get some forward motion first. After you commit to your duck dive, charge toward the wave with full force. Get a few really strong paddles in so that you are really moving with velocity toward the wave.

Sink the nose- When you are paddling toward the wave with your full momentum, it is time to sink the nose of your board. Push down with both hands on the rails of your board on either side of your rib cage. When you feel the front half of your board submerge, let your upper body follow. Hold on tight! Waves have a tendency to want to steal your board right out of your hands.

Sink the tail- Use one knee, or for even deeper dives, one foot to push the tail of your board down  fully submerging yourself and your board deep under the wave.

Timing- Timing is everything when it comes to duck diving. You want to give yourself enough time to completely sink your board before the wave hits you, but you don’t want to dive so early that you pop right back up before the wave even gets to you. This part takes the most practice, so try it a few times in smaller waves before you paddle out on an overhead day.

After the wave passes- Tilt the nose of your board upward, and let the buoyancy of your board bring you back up to the surface. If you do this correctly, it will not only seem effortless due to the circular energy of the wave, but you will even gain some forward momentum to continue your paddle out with power.


The Turtle Roll (Eskimo Roll)

Understand what a turtle roll is- If you ride a longboard, you will not be able to duck dive due to the girth and the buoyancy of your board. This is where the turtle roll comes into play. Turtle rolling is the safest and most effective way to get past a crashing or broken wave with a longboard.

Create momentum- When you see the wall of white water heading your way, you have to either commit to the turtle roll, or turn around and paddle back to shore ending your session. Just like I discussed with the duck dive, the only option between these two choices will certainly end up in a  wipeout or exhaustion, so make a decision and stick to it! Once you are committed to the turtle roll, it is time to gain momentum. Start paddling as hard as you can toward the wave until you gain some speed.

Flip your board- Nose of the board facing the wave and fins facing the sky. Channel your inner turtle.

Get your body vertical- Grab your board by the rails somewhere near the middle of the board or closer to the tail. You want your body vertical (perpendicular to the board). This way, your body will serve as an anchor and you will remain below the surface of the white water.

Hold tight- This is very important, especially with a heavy longboard. Hold on for your life! Losing your board is not only dangerous to you and other surfers, but it defeats the entire purpose of the turtle roll.

After wave passes- Flip the board back over, jump on as quickly as possible, and get as many paddles in as you can before you have to turtle roll again. Stay constant in your efforts and don’t give up. You will reach the lineup!

Don’t do’s-

  • Don’t hold on to the nose of your board when turtle rolling unless you want to know what it feels like to be a human slingshot. Trust me on this one.
  • Don’t underestimate the strength it takes to push the nose of your board down when duck diving. You don’t  need to be a bodybuilder to do it, but go at it with intentional power. Push with all of your might! Not doing this could result in hitting yourself in the face with your board.
  • Don’t forget to take a deep breath before you head under. Some waves take longer than you think to pass.
  • Don’t panic. If you freak out, everything is more difficult. It’s just water. Have faith in yourself. After all, you are super prepared from reading this blog post.
  • Don’t ever ditch your board. This is a rookie move and it will not only upset other surfers, but it could be very dangerous. It is your responsibility to control your board in the water, and it is also your responsibility to get out of the way of surfers on the incoming waves.
  • Don’t overthink it. Duck diving and turtle rolling make sense physically, and they should feel like a fluid motion. Read these steps that I have written out for you, practice a few times, and then leave it up to your body to memorize the motion.
  • Don’t get frustrated. You are probably not going to get it right the first time. Keep practicing and stay humble until you are ready!


Just like learning anything, learning to duck dive and turtle roll takes practice, patience, and perseverance. It never hurts to get familiar with your board and with duck diving in still water before you head out into the surf. Every board is different and will therefore cause every duck dive and turtle roll to feel different. Once you master this skill (and you will!), your surfing experience will drastically improve.


-Emily Shoemaker


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