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Tofino surfschool: The duck dive & the Turtle Roll

by Jayson Bowers, Tofino

the letter 'T'The duck dive and the turtle roll have got to be two of the hardest maneuvers to learn and perform properly in the early stages of your surfing career.

If you want to surf our coastline, especially in the winter, you will have to perfect these two maneu­vers, or end up riding inside foam balls for 9 months of the year. Oh, don’t worry… you’ll have tons of time to practice on your 15 minute paddle out tomorrow.

I’ll try to keep it simple.

Duck dive; Short Board.

  1. Paddling out, a wave is approaching. Keep paddling, approach the wave with speed and momentum. Without momentum the wave has the upper hand before you even try to get under it. If you can, find the weakest part of the wave to duck under; avoid the spot where the lip of the wave lands.

  2. Now, about 3⁄4 of the way up your board or just in front of your shoulders, grab the rails, straighten your arms and plunge the nose and your body under the wave as deeply as you can.

  3. As the wave washes over you, push your knee or your foot (preferably your foot, it does less damage to your board over time) into the tail of the board to direct the nose to the surface. Look up, open your eyes and see where you will surface.

  4. With your eyes open, the surface in sight, and your foot still on the tail, Pull the board towards your chest. If you’ve done this correctly the mo­men­tum of the wave should suck you under and to the surface.

  5. You now have your board under your chest. Break the surface and start paddling.

  6. Repeat this as many times as it takes. You’ll probably lose count!

Turtle roll: Long Board.

Long boards are a great addition to any quiver, but getting them out can be a humbling mission. Because the boards are so big and buoyant, a duck dive is next to impossible. A turtle roll is the next best thing. The idea is to get under the board and let the wave pass over you. Before you attempt this make sure there is no one behind you incase the board gets ripped from your hands.

  1. Paddle as hard as you can. Momentum.

  2. With the wave starting to break about 3 seconds in front of you, Tightly grab the rails near the nose. Holding the board, flip your body into the water so the board is on the surface and you’re under it.

  3. Wrap your legs over it or clench the rails with your knees and pull the nose of the board further underwater. This will allow the wave to flow over the board without going under and ripping it out of your hands.

  4. You’re set up; hold on and let the wave pass over you.

  5. Once the wave passes, let go of your board and surface. Flip your board over. Pull yourself back up and start to paddle. You should be out in no time.

As with any thing with this sport, it takes a lot of practice, but without the duck dive or the Ole’ turtle roll, you won’t be going any where near the line up any time soon. One of the worst things you can do is ditch your board to swim under the wave. Not only will you eventually bring harm to some one and ruin their session or their new board but will also cut your surf session in half by the amount of energy you spend chucking your board and trying to get back on it, time and time again.

Jay Bowers is a surf instructor and runs Pacific
Surf School in Tofino. You can reach him by email at

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Tofino in December 2009: An overview of what's happening this month in Tofino, compiled by Adam Buskard for Tofino Time Magazine.

tofino time december 2009