How to duckdive like a pro

Duckdiving has always been my surfing achilles heel… I’ve never been able to do it right, at best I end up getting thrown off my board or dragged back and at worst I’d hit myself in the face with my board.  Yet it’s the most efficient way to get through a set, and I’m bored of getting frustrated at taking longer to get out back than everyone else, so I’ve made it my mission to finally learn how to duck dive properly once and for all this year. 

But I’ve tried watching people in the sea and on YouTube, but it’s one of those things that is hard to learn from just watching people… and how do you even know if they’re doing it right?

Chris Phillips Mellow WavesSo I have enlisted the help of my friend Chris, who regularly takes on waves like Porthleven for fun. He’s listed out his top tips to make your duckdiving more efficient and ultimately easier. Some of the tips are just genius, the sort of ones that you just wish someone had told you from the start and then you’d have been duckdiving like a pro for years already… so without further ado, take it away Chris…

So, here I am sat in a Scottish pub next to an open fire, sipping a single malt to thaw out after a 4 hour surf, when I get a message asking me to write a piece about duckdiving. Sure I think, should be pretty simple. Then I tried to breakdown how I do it….maybe not as simple as I first thought!

It seems like surfings dark art doesn’t it? Whilst you’re flailing around getting pounded in the shore break, someone glides past you, effortlessly slips under the oncoming storm of whitewater, and paddles gracefully out the back. You’re probably thinking “If I could get to those waves, I could surf them!!”…..well, here’s how to get to them!

1. Do you even need to duckdive?

Sounds stupid, but why put yourself through it if you don’t need to? Look for rips and channels where the water is rushing back out to sea, and use that as your conveyor belt. Water will always take the path of least resistance, which means even if you do have to duckdive, it should be easier. Believe me, it’s better to paddle out 200yards away from the peak, and paddle across to it, than it is to duckdive your way through a solid set!

2. Watch the waves (here comes the science…)

I bet you spend ages watching waves don’t you? Looking for the right size, shape, ways of paddling out etc. But now, REALLY watch the waves. See how the white water isn’t a ruler straight line, but it kind of bounces toward shore? Well, that’s the key. With that bounce comes a dispersion of energy, which, believe it or not, creates “pockets” beneath the surface. If you can find one of these pockets, you’re quids in! Try to time your duckdive at a point where the water has just bounced, and is heading upward. Believe it or not, this is why it’s actually easier to duckdive a wave that breaks right in front of you, than is one that breaks 5-10yards in front of you….the initial release of energy creates a pocket for you to slip right through! I have to credit Nick Carroll for this one, check out his book, The Complete Guide to Surfing Your Best.

3. Commit

You know when you paddle into a wave, and take a late drop? If you’re half hearted, you eat it, right? Well, duckdivng is the same. If you’re going to do it, DO IT! You’ve got to commit, and give it everything. Once you get a bit better, you’ll be able to judge how deep you need to go, but for now, give it 100%. And remember, fear ALWAYS makes the wolf look bigger……But it also gives you adrenaline!

4. Momentum

You don’t need to be a gym freak, or muscle bound Amazonian to duckdive. Momentum trumps strength every time. The faster you’re moving toward the wave, the less deep you need to go, as you just slip right underneath. It’s REALLY similar to paddling into waves….paddle hard toward the wave, then at the last minute, stick a couple of extra hard paddles in too. Its really tricky this, and takes great timing and committment, but that comes with practice…..Also, when you pop out of the back of the wave, start paddling before you can even see or open your eyes….don’t lose that momentum!

5. Legs, Bums and Tums!

Most people think duckdivng is all about the upper body, triceps and shoulders. Not so. Don’t get me wrong, that’s important, bu your legs play a huge part too. When you paddle toward a wave, a split second before you push the nose down, lift your weakest leg up from the hip, straight up in the air. Use your bum muslces to do it (glutes). By doing this, you put more of your weight through your arms, making it easier to sink the board! It’s really important to do it just before you push the nose down, and most people do it too late.

6. Sink the nose

Hard isn’t it? You paddle like mad, go to sink the nose and it doesn’t really go that deep, or you just lift yourself off the board instead! Its especially difficult if you’re riding anything other than a toothpick shortboard! Well, how about trying to sink one rail and then the other, instead of both at once? When you do that, you only have to displace about half as much water, so it’s twice as easy! You’ll also find the nose kind of slides under the water then too. Oh, and make sure you grab hold of the rails, not put your hands flat on the deck….you need that for control.

7. Foot not knee

When you go to sink the tail of the board, bring your strongest leg through into the space left by raising your other leg, put your toes on the tail, and push down….Simples! If you use your knee, not only will you wreck the deck of your board with compressions, but you don’t get as much leverage either. If you’re surfing somewhere warm without boots, you might find this hurts the tops of your toes a bit….easy answer, fit a deck grip!

8. Go swimming!

Remember those summer days you spent swimming in the sea and diving under waves as a kid? Do it again! Not only will you get an amazing sense of nostalgia, but you’ll begin to understand the dynamics of how to get underneath a wave. (HINT: You dive in a kind of semi circle/half moon under the wave when you swim….it’s exactly the same with a surfboard!).

9. Watch Kelly

Sounds stupid, but watch his paddling and duckdiving technique….there’s a reason he’s an x11 time World Champ….

So, there you go, my top tips on duckdiving, hope they’re useful for you. As with anything in surfing, practice, practice, practice! See you in the line up!

What do you think… let us know if you’ve got any other tips, and we’d love to hear if they help you get better at duckdiving!


Author: Amy Lambert

Share This Post On


  1. Hi there. Would appreciate some tips and tricks like above on turtle rolls and wiping out with minimalibu (particulary im riding 7.6 one)

    Post a Reply
    • Hey Dima, no worries, will see what we can do 🙂

      Post a Reply
  2. very nice points are listed here for duck-diving. We should be caring those things to avoid any unexpected things.

    Post a Reply

Leave a Reply