How To Paddle Out In Big Surf

Taking On Big Waves

Let’s be honest — paddling out in big surf is a necessary evil if you want to advance as a surfer. In fact, you will never be confident enough to face bigger waves if you don’t learn the proper wave-dodging techniques.

Whether you fancy riding a shortboard, longboard, or a surf SUP, there are different wave-dodging techniques for each type of surfboard. Once you master your surfboard’s specific technique, paddling out in big surf will no longer be intimidating.

Below, we’ll outline how to paddle out in big surf using the best wave-dodging techniques. From duck diving to turtle rolling, you will learn the correct techniques so you can charge the next big swell without hesitation.

how to paddle out in big surf

Avoid This Wave Dodging Mistake

The biggest mistake inexperienced surfers make when paddling out in big surf is letting go of their surfboards when dodging an incoming set wave. Never let go of your surfboard in the surf. If you do, there is a good chance your surfboard will seriously injure other surfers around you. Therefore, always have control of your surfboard and don’t be a kook. Plus, if you’re ditching your board then you’re wasting time collecting it and paddling back out again, which means you’ll always struggle to make it past the bigger set waves.

A Guide To Dodging Big Waves: Shortboards, Longboards, And Surf SUPs

The wave-dodging techniques described in this guide will take you some time and diligence to master. So don’t give up if you can’t perform them with ease right away. The best way to master any of these techniques is to practice them over and over again in small waves. Actually, the smallest days (1-2 foot to 2-3 foot) will be the best days for you to practice.

best all-around sups

If you’re a beginner surfer, you should not be surfing in big waves. However, if you are determined to learn how to surf big waves over time, then I recommend taking small baby steps. For instance, get comfortable on 2-3 foot days, then 3-4 foot… you get the idea. As a general rule of thumb, don’t ever push yourself beyond your limits. If you’re skeptical about paddling out because the surf looks too big, it’s probably not a good idea.

Shortboard Wave Dodge Technique: Duck Diving

If you ride a shortboard, duck diving is crucial to successfully paddle out in big surf. In fact, duck diving is an essential part of being a competent short boarder. Once you master the duck dive, paddling out in big surf will be no problem.

Duck diving is when a surfer dives under a wave with their surfboard. When performed correctly, this technique ensures that you are never pushed backward by any incoming waves. Ultimately, the bigger and more frequent the waves are, the more important it becomes for you to be skilled at duck diving. 

The fastest way to master the art of duck diving is practicing in small waves.  In fact, you can practice duck diving in just about any type of surf conditions, even when it’s flat. As your duck dive improves, you should go out of your comfort zone and spend time practicing it in bigger waves. If you’re practicing in smaller waves, make sure you’re in deep water so you don’t dive your board into the ocean floor.

Remember that the breaking wave is spinning underwater; the goal here is to position your body and board so that the wave’s momentum pushes you under the water and out the back of the wave. You’ll know you’ve performed the perfect duck dive when you come out the other side with some speed.

how to paddle out in big surf duck dive

How To Duck Dive On A Shortboard

  1. Paddle toward an incoming wave straight on. Make sure you have a decent amount of momentum to get through the white water when it passes over you.
  2. As the wave approaches, place both your hands on your shortboard’s rails and push downward, submerging the nose of your board underwater. Keep your arms straight when pushing down.
  3. As the white water approaches, lean forward and dive your head under to completely submerge yourself and your shortboard, getting your body as close to your board as you can.
  4. Once you and your shortboard are underwater, put pressure on the tail of your surfboard with your knee or foot (use your back leg here) to level your shortboard underwater. Your other foot should point in the air to maximize your downforce.
  5. Angle your shortboard back up to the surface after the wave has passed over you and get ready to paddle immediately.

Extra tip: The correct distance between your body and board underwater takes some experience to master, so keep track of that detail in your mind to find the sweet spot for your board, body, and swell.

If you duck dove correctly, you will pass smoothly under the wave and will be in the perfect position to immediately start paddling again. If you duck dove incorrectly, you will be pushed back by the wave and potentially lose grip of your shortboard. Remember to keep practicing until you get it. Duck diving is a fluid dance that can not be mastered in just a day or even a week.

Longboard Wave Dodge Technique: The Turtle Roll

Unfortunately, no matter how hard you try, duck diving will not work with your longboard. Longboards are too big and buoyant for duck diving to work effectively. However, there is a wave-dodging technique specific for bigger boards like longboards that will work well in small and big waves. 

Let me introduce you to the turtle roll. The turtle roll will be your best friend when it comes to dodging bigger waves on your longboard. Just like a duck dive, the turtle roll will take some time to master.

how to paddle out in big surf turtle roll

How To Turtle Roll On A Longboard

  1. Paddle toward a crashing wave straight on with all the speed you can. If your longboard is slightly angled, it will increase the chances of you getting thrown away from your longboard. 
  2. As the wave approaches, grab your longboard’s rails slightly above your shoulders (around the middle of your longboard). Make sure to hold onto your rails super tight. Never grab toward the nose of your board.
  3. Take a deep breath and roll your body to one side. 
  4. Submerge your body underwater while flipping your longboard upside down, fin(s) up. Remember to continue to hold a tight grip on your longboard’s rails to avoid losing it. 
  5. When underwater, try to keep your body vertical with your longboard overhead. Use your body’s weight as an anchor. 
  6. Once the wave has passed, flip your longboard over and hop back on your board.

Turtle Roll Tips:

  • Never grip your longboard’s rails toward the nose when rolling over.
  • Never wrap your legs around your longboard when underwater.
  • For big surf, hold your longboard closer to you underwater. The less water you allow between you and your longboard the easier it will be to hold onto.

Surf SUP Wave Dodge Technique

The most challenging surfboard to dodge big waves on is a surf SUP. These surfboards are the most challenging because you’re standing up while paddling versus lying down on your stomach. This makes dodging any size wave a real challenge because you need exceptional balance and confidence to be successful.

Whatever you do, do not practice dodging waves in a crowded lineup of surfers. In fact, as far as proper surf etiquette goes, you should never be SUP surfing in a crowded lineup of surfers regardless of how well you can dodge waves. 

how to paddle out in big surf SUP

How To Dodge Waves On A Surf SUP

The best way to dodge waves on a surf stand up paddle board is to remain standing on your SUP and punch through the waves nose-first. This is the most natural way to dodge waves since you’re already standing up on your surf SUP while paddling. However, to master and perform this technique properly, you will need proper foot placement, stance, balance, and confidence.

  1. Take a couple of powerful paddle strokes on the toe side of your surf SUP toward the incoming wave. The more momentum you have, the more stable you will be punching through the wave. 
  2. As the wave approaches, lower your center of gravity by bending your knees. In addition, make sure your front foot points toward your SUP’s nose and your back foot remains sideways. It’s a good idea to have your front and back foot slightly staggered for better balance. 

Just before the incoming wave hits, quickly do one more solid paddle stroke and shift your feet toward the back of your surf SUP. Make sure to put all your pressure on your back foot. This makes it easier for your stand up paddle board’s nose to easily slide over the top of the whitewater.

Wrapping Up: How To Paddle Out In Big Surf

For beginner surfers, paddling out in big surf is frightening. In order to feel more confident and comfortable in bigger surf, you need to know how to dodge waves on your surfboard correctly. To do so, you will need to master the wave-dodging techniques above. These techniques will take some time and practice, so don’t give up and keep trying. You will be duck diving and turtle rolling like a pro in no time. Need a new surfboard to tackle the waves? Shop our selection of ​surfboards for sale​! 

Beginner Surfboards
Posted in Surf News, Paddle Board Lifestyle
Douglas Robichaud - Doug is a content writer at ISLE Surf & SUP who has been surfing and paddle boarding for over 10 years. With a degree in English/Journalism, Doug has been an outdoor adventure content writer for over four years. Since joining the ISLE team, he has become a paddle board expert in all topics ranging from products, basic tutorials, tips and tricks, SUP safety, and new trends.