How To Duck Dive

Learn to Duck Dive properly, Step by Step.

Learn to Duck Dive properly, Step by Step.

The duck dive is the technique used by surfers to sink their surfboards underwater so they can dive under waves with their surfboard.

It takes years of practice to develop a great duck dive technique, so don’t get discouraged. The good news is that you can practise these steps in many environments: in a pool, in a lake, in the ocean, etc. Once you’re able to do proper duck dives, you waste less energy passing the break, keeping your paddle power to catch more waves.

First, is your board small enough?

First things first: do you have a surfboard that you can properly sink underwater? Surfboards with a lot of volume are very difficult to push underwater, sometimes they are impossible to duck dive with because they float too much.

The duck dive is usually done with shortboards, hybrid boards or small “fish” type surfboards. It’s usually better to turtle roll when trying to pass the break with a bigger surfboard.

2 types of waves you will Duck Dive:

Depending on the type of wave you duck dive, there’s a distinctive energy and different flow of water beneath the wave.

White Water Duck Dive
A wave that’s already broken (White Water)

Duck diving a wave that has already broken in front of you means you are trying to go under and passed a white-water wave. These waves are sometimes hard to get through, because the energy is going forward, towards you. Also, the white water extends beneath the surface. You want to try to go under all the white water, but sometimes you go through the bubbles underwater.

Vortex Unbroken Wave Duck Dive
A wave that hasn’t broken yet.

The energy of an unbroken wave goes in a circular motion. This vortex helps you get through the wave, as you get “pulled” towards the wave, and “pushed” out the back.

Step 1

Paddle Hard To Gain Speed

It’s impossible to duck dive a powerful white water wave without proper speed. You need a forward momentum to be able to go all the way through.

Extra tip: Get into “attack mode”: don’t hesitate, go straight (perpendicular) to the wave, with loads of speed.

Step 2

Start 2 Metres Before Hitting The Wave

Only stop paddling and grab your surfboard’s rails beneath your pectorals when you are a surfboard’s length away from the wave.

Step 3

Push The Front Part of The Board Down & Forward

After grabbing the rails under your pectorals, lean your upper body over the front part of the board and use your shoulder’s strength to dig the nose under water. You want to bring your board deep and forward, using the speed you have gained from paddling intensely prior the duck dive.

Extra tip: Keeping your arms straight will help get more of the board under the water.

Step 4

Push on Tail with your Foot (or Knee)

At this stage, you need to bring the tail down so that the whole surfboard can sink underwater. Once you brought your nose deep and forward underwater, push the tail of your board down using your foot or knee on the traction pad.

Pushing down on your traction will bring your surfboard parallel to the bottom. This is particularly important when the wave passes over you.

Keep the forward momentum. Pushing the tail down comes quickly after sinking the nose, and together they look like one single motion. Do this quickly to keep moving forward underwater.

Gab Duck Dive Scorpion
Gab Duck Dive Scorpion

Step 5

Bring your Body to your Board

Once your surfboard is deep and parallel to the bottom, bend your arms and bring your body to your surfboard as the wave passes over you.

If you’re going through bubbles of white water beneath a wave, you need to penetrate parallel to the bottom. If your surfboard’s nose is still pointing downwards (like on the Step 3 picture), the board could get pushed out of your hands when you hit the bubbles.

Be sure to bring your body to the surfboard, not your surfboard to your body. If you pull your surfboard up to your body, you won’t be sinking deep enough to go through powerful waves.

Step 6

Resurface

Only after the wave has passed over you, you can aim the nose towards the surface. The natural buoyancy of the board will bring you up, even giving you momentum to paddle back.

Be careful not to come back up too soon. If you haven’t properly passed the whole wave, its power could pull you back behind.

Extra Tip: You can frog kick with your legs to come back up quicker if needed.

More Advice:

Timing is everything.

If you start your duck dive too soon, for example 4 metres before the wave, you won’t have the speed and momentum to go downward and forward under the wave. Because of your surfboard’s buoyancy, will start coming back up too soon and get hit by the wave. 

If you start your duck dive too late, your board won’t have the time to get parallel to the bottom and the white water will push your board out of your hands. Remember to start your duck dive when you are a surfboard’s distance from the wave.

  • Get as much paddle speed as you can. Get into attack mode and go deep! You can’t have too much speed.
  • Don’t rush to the surface. Take your time to resurface, or you’ll get pulled back.
  • Keep your eyes open under water. This can sometimes help you avoid some turbulence as you find the best path through the bubbles. Advanced surfers can prevent accidents in heavy waves breaking on a shallow reef bottom by opening their eyes while duck diving. 
  • Kick hard on the traction pad: Really think about bringing your board “deep and parallel to the bottom”, while still moving forward. 
  • Practise in a pool: Try to keep your balance underwater, sinking your nose with your hands, then your tail with your foot while moving down and forward underwater.
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