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Paddling Out, Duck Diving, and the Pop Up

How to Master these Surfing Essentials

There are three main fundamentals of surfing you must master during your initial stages of learning how to surf for beginners, including:

  • Paddling out
  • How to duck dive
  • How to pop up for surfing

This article will provide in-depth resources as to how you can conquer these surfing basics to propel your skill sets and have you ripping in no time.

Make sure to read the first piece to this surfing-education series “How to Surf for Beginners- Part 1. Basic Surfing Tips and Surfing Etiquette” before digging into the information contained within this article for the most effective approach at pursuing your intro to surfing.

Paddling Out

Considering a majority of time surfing is spent paddling out, the proper surf paddle technique is vital to paddling out into the lineup and catching waves.

Paddling is a combination of surfing fitness, proper board positioning in relation to your body, and the right arm motions.

Surfing Fitness and Paddling Out

Paddling out is a strenuous physical activity that makes up a majority of our time surfing. With this, the first step in learning how to paddle is to ensure your fitness levels are capable of propelling the surfboard past breaking waves. Curating a personal surfing fitness routine outside of surfing will significantly help your paddle abilities, and this should focus on a merger of strength training, cardio, and balance training.

Before paddling out, always take a few moments to stretch with a pre-surf warm-up routine to avoid strain or injury.

With paddling resembling swimming, swimming is one of the best methods to help master these techniques while simultaneously building strength.

Board and Body Positioning

Mastering the right body positioning on your surfboard is crucial to paddling out and learning how to pop up for surfing. If you are too far forward on the surfboard, the nose will dive into the water and create drag in the front, whereas being too far back will lift the nose in the air, push the tail too far in the water, and will create drag in the back that makes paddling near impossible.

How to Master Surf Paddle Technique

One of the best methods for understanding proper surf paddle technique is to practice in flat or calm water, even in a pool!

  1. With the surfboard on a calm surface, place your body in the middle of the board without leaning too far on one side. Paddle around and see how the surfboard responds, and take mental notes if you feel like the board is tilting too far forward or back. Work to find the perfect equilibrium in the middle of the board, both horizontally and vertically, in relation to your body. You will know when you've found the sweet spot when the surfboard responds to your paddle motions by effortlessly gliding across the surface.
  2. Next, you must work to practice the correct body positioning. You don't want to lay flat on the surfboard and don't keep your head down. Instead, create a nice arch in your back by raising your chest and keeping your head raised so you continue looking forward.
  3. Lift your feet out of the water and bring them together to lessen drag.
  4. Cup your hands to increase pressure against your palms as you paddle. Using one arm at a time, arch them in motions similar to swimming so that your arms protrude into the water for deep, strong paddles with a long reach.
  5. Continue practicing your paddle, as practice is the only way to truly hone in on your paddle abilities!

How to Duck Dive

Duck Diving is the act of a surfer pushing their board and body below a crashing wave to avoid the turbulence and to make it out the other side until you reach the lineup.

If you don't learn how to duck dive, surfing will be dang near impossible. You'll never get to practice how to pop up for surfing on a wave if you can't make it to the lineup, and duck diving is key.

Note: Duck diving is meant for smaller boards, whereas larger surfboards like fun shapes or longboards will require a technique known as turtle rolling. With turtle rolling, you will generate speed by paddling towards the wave, and when the wave is about 4-6 feet in front of you, you will flip your body and board around. Your body is now underwater, and your fins are facing towards the sky. Hold on tight to your surfboard as the whitewash passes over, and flip the board around again to continue paddling once the wave has passed.

When learning how to surf for beginners, many choose to throw their board to the side to avoid oncoming waves. This is dangerous for both yourself and other surfers, so please remain conscious of this fact and utilize duck diving or turtle rolling instead.

Duck Diving isn't easy and will take time and experience to truly master. After you have gained a full understanding of surf paddle technique, it's time to practice your duck dives. The best way to learn how to duck dive is to again practice in flat water or a pool, and then in small conditions.

  1. Make sure that you maintain the proper body position on your surfboard- stable and in the middle.
  2. Gain speed by initiating a few strong paddles
  3. Grip the sides of the surfboard rails with your hands, slightly more towards the front of the board versus your hand positioning when popping up. Think of lining your hands up close to your pectoral muscles.
  4. Take a deep breath, and use your arms to push the nose of the surfboard down into the water, leaning your body forward by diving into the surface and keeping your arms nice and straight.
  5. Once underwater, use your foot or your knee to push the surfboard further under. When under the whitewash, press the back of the tail down with your foot to straighten it out so that it is now parallel to the water's surface. This movement should follow immediately after pushing the board down with your arms, a quick one-two.
  6. Once the whitewash has passed, hold onto the board, and angle it upwards to float your body and board back onto the surface.

Work to practice this motion again and again in flat water before progressing into small waves. Once duck diving under the waves, keep a few things in mind:

  • Paddle as hard as you can towards the breaking wave to generate speed and increase the depth of your duck dive.
  • Begin your duck dive about 4-6 feet in front of the whitewash
  • Don't let the wave pull your surfboard away from your body.

How to Pop Up for Surfing

So, you've learned the right surf paddle technique, and you feel like you maintain a decent understanding of how to duck dive. If you can make it to the lineup, then the next step is to finally learn how to pop up on your board to catch a wave.

Learning the basics of how to pop up for surfing is best practiced on the sand before an actual wave. To do this, set the surfboard on the sand with the fins removed.

How to Practice Pop Up In Surfing on the Sand

  1. Position yourself in the correct surf paddle technique described above, with your body parallel to the surfboard and your head facing forward.
  2. Plant your hands near the rails of your surfboard close to your rib cage, not as far up the deck as when duck diving, as you need to maintain stability, and arch your chest and back upwards.
  3. Like a pushup, without using your toes or feet, twist your body and sweep your front leg forward underneath you in one fluid motion by using your upper body strength.
  4. Your feet should not drag across the board, and both feet should simultaneously leave the board when popping up.
  5. Plant the front and back foot in their respective positions (back foot on the tail pad and front foot slightly further than shoulder-width apart). Your feet should land in the middle of the board, along the stringer, and your toes must point towards the rails.
  6. Bend your knees and maintain balance in the standing position.

The key to learning how to pop up for surfing is to do this in one quick and fluent motion. Practice this movement over and over again on the sand. Work hard to master the pop up in one fluid motion, and don't let yourself build the habit of using your knees to help you up.

Once you have your pop up dialed on the sand, it's time to get out there and master this movement when catching a wave! Check out our next article, "How to Catch a Wave," to learn exactly how and when to initiate your pop up when practicing in actual conditions.

For a brief summary, you want to paddle powerfully into the peak wave until you feel the power take you.

Once the force of the wave begins to push you forward, lift your head and chest up to keep the surfboard from diving into the water in a nosedive. Take this moment to determine the direction of the wave you are going to ride. Initiate your pop up as quickly and smoothly as possible, and bend your knees to maintain balance.

Overall, the best way to learn how to pop up for surfing is to practice again and again on the right beginner surfboard and the right beginner waves after you master the motion on the sand. It's going to take time, so never allow yourself to become frustrated, as we've all been there!

If you want to learn how to improve your pop up, try asking some fellow surfers for advice or watch video resources to better visualize this motion in action. If someone can take a video of you on the beach, this is a great way to determine what you might be doing wrong.

The Summary

Learning these basics of surfing is absolutely vital. In a three-step system, you need to learn paddling out, duck diving/turtle rolling, and then your pop up, as each works in harmony with the other to catch a wave.

Once you've practiced plenty in the sand and in flat conditions, it's time to try things out in small, safe conditions, never pushing yourself past reasonable limits and always adhering to proper surf etiquette.

Take your time, and enjoy every moment of the process, as you only get to learn how to surf once, so don't take this beautiful introduction time into your surfing journey for granted. Refer to the next piece in the series “A Step by Step Guide on How to Catch a Wave” for your next milestone, and always reach out to your friends at Boardcave if you have questions!