How to Survive a Wipeout


You are on a perfect wave (or at least it seems pretty good). Maybe you are about to get barreled, or maybe it’s just a big closeout. All of the sudden you lose your balance. You find yourself being sucked over the falls of the wave, held under water, becoming disoriented and losing track of which way is up. You feel like a rag doll being tossed around in a washing machine, you have no idea if you are about to hit the bottom of the ocean, another surfer, or your board. All of this is happening while you are running out of air! You are completely helpless at the mercy of the crashing wave. Or are you?


Ironically one of the greatest parts of surfing is being humbled by the ocean and being reminded of how small you actually are.  Wiping out is a skill, and it takes preparation, practice, and perseverance to master it.  Just like any unexpected life experience, you might leave a wipeout with cuts and bruises on your body, board, and ego, or you could leave it stronger and more prepared for the next time.  And trust me, there WILL be a next time.  Here are some tips for surviving a wipeout with minimum damage:


Wipeout Prevention:

One of the best ways to survive a wipeout is to not have one. So just don’t do it. Ok go surfing now. You’re welcome!

Alright. It’s not that simple. Here are some really great ways to prevent a wipeout from happening in the first place:



  • Stay realistic. Nobody is more aware of your skill level than you. The ocean is bigger and stronger than you and it is no joke. If you are not ready for double overhead surf, don’t let your ego get you into a life threatening situation. You have a lifetime to improve your surfing. Don’t rush to step too far out of your comfort zone.
  • Know where you are surfing. Keep an eye out for rocks, shallow reef, channels, and currents. If you are planning to paddle out in a new spot, take a few minutes and watch people paddling in and out to get the lay of the land. One of the biggest rookie mistakes is to paddle out in the wrong spot.
  • Have patience and be courteous. Once you get out into the lineup, take a few minutes to catch your breath and observe a few other surfers catching waves. Take note of the wave patterns and order of the lineup.
  • Learn surfing etiquette. This is very important. if you don’t wipeout because of this, someone might knock you out.
  • Watch for other surfers. There may be surfers in the water who don’t know surfing etiquette, so make sure you take note of who those surfers might be. Steer clear of these kooks. They are wipeouts waiting to happen.
  • Prepare your body. Surfing is a sport that requires fitness. Cardio exercise increases your lung capacity, and yoga helps you stay flexible and calm during wipeouts. Do not underestimate the benefit of preparing physically when it comes to surfing.
  • Know when to call it quits. When your body is exhausted, your reaction time decreases. Don’t stay out so long that you are completely helpless when you need to be agile. This can be the hardest part, especially if its firing!



When Wiping Out:

You can prepare all you want, but a wipeout is bound to happen sooner or later. You will be flung over the falls, held under water, you will be hit by another surfer, or you may meet rocks, reef, or a pier. Generally, if you are competent in the water, you can think quickly, and you are aware of your surroundings, you are going to be ok.  Here are some tips for surviving a wipeout with minimum damage:


  • Take a deep breath. As soon as you know you are going to eat it, take the biggest breath you can. You may be held under for a while.
  • Jump over the wave. You may not always have the choice to do this, but if you can, jump over the wave away from the beach. This could save you anywhere between two and twenty tumbles.
  • Jump away from your board. Your board is the most dangerous object in a wipeout. Get as far away from that thing as you can.
  • Jump shallow or dive deep. This strategy goes back to knowing where you are surfing. If you are surfing a beach break with deep water, dive down below the white water as far as possible. If you are surfing a shallow beach or a reef break, you should “starfish”. This means landing butt first with your arms and legs spread wide. This technique will prevent you from spraining your ankle or slicing your face, hands, and feet on the reef. Your butt has the most padding on your body, and it can keep you safe.
  • Stay calm. If you panic, your body uses more oxygen. Don’t fight. Go with the flow. The waves is stronger than you, and you will not win a fight against it. You have to let it run its course. Eventually you will come to the surface and you will stop tumbling. This is a mental technique that could save your life. Channel your inner jellyfish while protecting your face.
  • Protect your head, neck, face, and teeth. Tuck your chin, bring your arms around your face and head, and close your lips tightly. You never know what you might hit while you are tumbling.
  • Emerge slowly. NEVER come out of the water face first without looking or protecting yourself. It can be helpful to count to three before coming out of the water. Ball up slowly protecting your head, open your eyes, find your board, and then take a breath.
  • Get back on your board quickly. Whether you plan to paddle back to shore ending your session or you are ready to take on more waves, make a decision quickly, get back on your board, and get out of the high impact zone as quickly as possible. Knowing how to duck dive and turtle roll will be very helpful here.


Yes, there are dangers associated with any extreme sport. A bad wipeout can leave you injured or worse. Don’t let this scare you away from surfing, because the rewards far outweigh the risks. Just make sure you always have respect for the ocean, and come prepared and aware. Surfing is an extreme sport.  It doesn’t matter if you are a beginner or if you are Kelly Slater, every surfer on the planet has wipeouts. As brutal as it can be, it can also be a great part of the surfing experience if it is approached in the right way.


    -Emily Shoemaker


Surfers love sharing wipeout stories. Have you ever experienced a bad wipeout? Please comment and share below!