Maya Gabeira in her home away from home. Photo: Red Bull/ Brian Bielmann

Maya Gabeira gets a scientific mood boost from the water. Photo: Red Bull/ Brian Bielmann

The Inertia

The duck dive is one of the most basic skills any and every surfer must learn. It has nothing to do with actually riding down the face of a wave, but it’s an integral piece in keeping you safe and getting you into position to catch all those waves.

Many surfers use a shortboard and have the luxury of diving under water like a duck, allowing the wave to roll right over them. Alas, the name “duck dive.” (If your board is too big for a duck dive, the turtle roll is the right move for you).

Duck diving is similar to any movement in that it seems effortless when everything is performed correctly, but you will get thrashed by the waves if any part is done wrong. The most common mistake is not diving deep enough under the wave, or that you start to come up to the surface too soon. In both cases, you will find yourself being dragged back towards the beach.

Duck diving is one of our hardest skills to learn correctly, and part of getting the duck dive is correct is understanding the mechanics of a wave. Waves are not just moving towards the beach, but rolling and spinning around under the surface of the water. Right after the wave builds up the lip crashes down, creating a circular energy. This circular energy will help and send you to the right direction.

So how do you duck dive the right way?

Phase 1: Paddling Toward the Wave

The faster you paddle and approach the wave, the easier it will be to dive into the water. Do not wait for the wave, paddle towards it.

Phase 2: Dipping the Nose of the Board Underwater

Grab the rails on both sides of your board. Stick your elbows up in the air like chicken wings. Before the wave hits you, you’ll push yourself up to a prone cobra pose. From there, put pressure on the board and dip your head and shoulders downward. Imagine that you want to sink yourself right under the wave.

Phase 3: Foot or Knee Placement

Your foot or knee comes up onto the tail of the board for stability and drive. Drive the board down and forward in the direction you want to pass under the wave. Imagine you want to push through the tail.
Bring your body close to the board so you can maintain more depth. Relax and let yourself come back up to the surface naturally. Once you’ve broken the surface, paddle toward the next wave.

How to practice the duck dive at home:

To drill this in, you can do this simple exercise at home.

1. Assume the standard paddling position.

2. Place your hands right below your lower ribs in the “chicken wings” position.

3. Start pushing yourself up to the cobra position.

If you are a regular foot, place your right leg up in the air. This will help you build momentum to push down. For goofies, do the mirrored version of this.

4. Extend your arms and assume the cobra position so you can push down the board more in a few moments.

5. Start pushing your butt up in the air.

Try to put more pressure on your palms and shoulders (in yoga we call this the downward dog).

Extend the back feet and lift the right feet up in the air as much as you can. This is the top position, from here on you will push down.

6. Lower yourself towards the ground

Squeeze the elbows to your ribs as like you would perform a narrow push up. Arch your back and push your body forward in between your palms back to the starting position.

You will now be underwater and both legs will be on the board. Bring your body close to the board so you can maintain more depth. Relax and let yourself come back up.

Repeat this 10x to commit to muscle memory. If the drill is too hard for you with the back leg straight, place your knee on the ground instead of your feet.

Let me know if this helped you, or what you want me to cover next by emailing me at



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