Is it Better to Duck Dive or Turtle Roll While Surfing?

Facing the power of the ocean while surfing can be daunting yet exhilarating. Practicing your technique and understanding different methods is key to gaining more confidence on the water, and more success catching waves! Two of these techniques are the duck dive and turtle roll, but which one is better?

It is better to duck dive under the wave while surfing if possible because it conserves more energy. However, when using a larger surfboard that is difficult to push underwater, or for those with a smaller body mass, a turtle roll might be better. Proper technique will make both methods easier.

After you understand the difference between the two techniques, you will be able to decide which is better for you and how to execute the move.

Duck Dive

The duck dive allows surfers to dive under waves as they go by. The duck dive is typically only done with smaller surfboards because larger or longer surfboards are harder to push underwater.

If you are a smaller person, you may find it very difficult to get a large board under the water. Try using a smaller and shorter surfboard, and practice your technique to maximize the forward momentum of your dive and build strength.

Duck diving a wave that has already broken in front of you is more difficult than duck diving a wave that has not yet broken. These types of waves have forward momentum that is pushing against you. A broken wave will be headed with white water that you will have to go through, and it will be very hard to see while you are going through it.

In an unbroken wave (a wave with no white water), the momentum moves in a circular motion which pushes you through the wave, making it much easier to go through.

How to Duck Dive

  1. First, paddle hardOpens in a new tab. and fast to gain speed.
  2. Start your duck dive about 6 feet, or surfboard’s length from the wave. If you start too soon, you will not make it all the way through the wave, and if you start too late, you might get hit by waves and be dragged back.
  3. Grip onto your surfboard’s rails (the edge of the surfboard) under your chest.
  4. Lean your upper body over the front of the board to push the nose as deep under the water as you can.
  5. Bring the tail (the back end of the board) down so the entire surfboard is underneath the water. Do this by pushing your knee or your foot against the tail while raising up your other leg. If you do not execute this step properly, the board could get pushed out of your hands.
  6. At this point, the wave will be passing over you. Bring your surfboard to your body by bending your arms.
  7. Once the wave passed over you, aim the nose of your surfboard towards the surface of the water. It will float you to the top. Frog kick if you need to get to the surface more quickly.

You can practice this technique in a pool, lake, or ocean.

Turtle Roll

The turtle roll, also known as an Eskimo rollOpens in a new tab., allows you to stay in control of the board and not get pushed back towards the beach while passing through waves. Rather than diving underneath the wave, it helps you get through the wave. The board acts as a barrier between you and the wave. The turtle roll is designed for bigger boards that are too buoyant to dive under the wave.

The turtle roll is often helpful for beginners that are using longboards or foam boards. Beginners also may have a tough time paddling fast enough to duck dive under an unbroken wave.

The turtle roll can also be helpful when getting past large white water waves that are too powerful to duck dive under.

How to Turtle Roll

  1. Approach the wave head-onOpens in a new tab. with your body perpendicular to the wave. Start the turtle roll about 6 feet (surfboard’s length) before the wave.
  2. Grab the rails of your surfboard just in front of your shoulders.
  3. Push your upper body up as if you were doing a push-up and take a deep breath.
  4. Quickly jump off the board, still gripping the rails, and push your feet down into the water on one side of the board.
  5. You should be hanging on underneath your board facing the tail end of your surfboard with your arms bent, and your body almost parallel to the board. Do not try to wrap your legs around the board.
  6. Right as the wave passes over you, perform “the jab” by pushing the board back towards the front of the board.
  7. After the wave passes over you, drop your dominant hand down about a foot towards the tail of the board to give you the leverage to flip the board back over, and pull your body up onto the board. Kick your legs to help you gain momentum to flip back over.
  8. Once you surface, keep paddling and prepare for the next wave.

Which Technique is Better?

While some surfers may try to convince you that the turtle roll is better than the duck dive or vice versa, each technique can be effective depending on the waves, your surfboard, your size, your strength, and your personal preference.

If a particular technique isn’t working for you, try a different one! While those with shortboards generally duck dive and those with longboards generally turtle roll, there are always exceptions! Experiment and do what works best for you.

No matter which technique you use, make sure to never let go of your surfboard if possible. Not only is this bad surfer etiquette, but it could seriously hurt someone if your board pops up and hits someone.

Going through a powerful wave without using proper techniques can leave you feeling like you just went through the “washing machine” and got spat out. It can be frustrating to get pummeled by waves, and you will be totally exhausted the next time you catch a wave.

Once you figure out which technique works for you and your surfboard, surfing will become much more enjoyable for you. After some practice, you will be passing the break with ease in no time.

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