As a beginner surfer, often paddling out on a large board,  you’re going to run into some pretty big walls of whitewater. It’s inevitable. You’ll see more advanced surfers on shortboards with the luxury of diving underwater, allowing the rolling waves to pass over them. This is simply called the duck dive. This, of course, isn’t possible on longboards and larger funboards that beginners will typically be learning on. This means you’ll have to learn to navigate these clean up sets from your slow and steady friend, the turtle.

Quick Analysis: Why Waves Are Washing You Back To Shore

-Water will be moving in every direction possible when you are hit by a wall of whitewash and don’t try to dive underwater. The wave will be on a mission to tear that board from your arms.

-With a big board, you won’t be able to push yourself and your board below the wave. The buoyancy of the board will simply keep you floating without being able to break the surface.

– If you were to flip your board over with your arms fully extended, the wave will likely pull the board away from you. You’ll be tossed into what we call the “washing machine,” tumbling about underwater and straight back to the beach.

How To: Do the Turtle Roll the Right Way

These tips below will help you hold onto that board while paddling through breaking waves:

1: You will want to be exactly perpendicular to the wave, at a 90-degree angle.

2: As you are flipping/rolling over, keep your elbows bent. It will give you room to move your arms while the wave is rolling above the board. This makes it easier to absorb the shock.

3: Grab the rails of the board. Try to position your hands close to your chest, pretty much underneath your shoulders. When the wave comes you must flip the board and go underwater right before the face of the wave rushes over you.

Keep your elbows bent and pull the board towards your body as close as you can until the wave passes over.

4: Roll back up on the top of your board and paddle until the next one comes or you make it out the back.

5: Quickly climb back on your board.

6: Keep paddling until the next wave arrives and repeat from step 1, or take a rest when you are finally behind the breaking point.

How to Practice at Home

To drill this in, here’s a simple DIY exercise. Get a food serving tray, or something similar to act as your surfboard.

This exercise will teach you how to keep your arms bent during a nicely executed turtle roll in the whitewash.

1, Put the tray on the floor and lie above it while holding onto its two sides with your hands in the “chicken wing” position.

2, Look up. Imagine the wave coming and roll onto your back. Keep those elbows bent and imagine the wave going over you while holding on to your “board”.

3, As the imagined wave passes by, roll back, still with your elbows bent. Do this by using your core muscles, keeping your core stable and not just using your arms.

4, Repeat this 10 times to commit it your muscle memory. The next time the wave is coming toward you, just remember what the turtle would do.

Using this simple drill, you will have a chance to ride a lot more waves and have more fun surfing. And that is what matters.

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

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