Longboards and Big waves, advice please.

Happy New Year!

It has brought some good swells to Wales and much fun. However my 9’2" is getting hard to get out through the whitewater. I’ve read the books and watched video and still have not worked out the best way of surviving the big white stuff.

Generally when a big set (lets say double overhead) comes through I roll off the board and dive as deep as possible, obviously I can only get as deep as the leash is long, but that’s fine. As the wave passes it tugs the leash and I surface. NOW I KNOW that may be considered bad practice when there are other surfers in the water and so in that case I dip the nose and hang on for grim death and take the pounding. I do think that in big stuff any surfer who sits or paddles out close in line astern of another is asking for trouble. There will always be a wave that wrenches you board from your grasp.

I suppose some will say that not going out is best, but there are times when a session is fine until the big set arrives, what then?

What do you experts do?

Roll under holding firmly your board over you.

Do a turtle roll. Roll over with your board so the fin is sticking up and you are under the board facing upward. Hold onto the rails at the point where the nose of your board is about six inches past the top of your head. As soon as the wave is about to hit move your arms forward and push the nose of the board into the wave. You will be surprised at how big of a wave you can go under using this method.

Note: This method is best for crumbling waves. If a big tubing wave hits right in front of you, then you may need to just ditch you board. The person behind you will not be happy though.

The best bet is to be able to paddle around the wave (but that never seems to work for me). I always seem to end up doing the turtle roll and I can usually make it out in some fairly large surf. The key is to make sure the board is close to you so you can quickly roll back on top of the board and get out of the impact zone.

I like longboards in big waves. Like you’ve found, though, the problems are obvious.

First, you should really think about where you paddle out. Even at the most wicked closeout-beachbreak, there’s got to be a deep channel somewhere so all the water piling up on the beach can go back out to sea. It might be diagonal or even zig-zag from the beach. Don’t just paddle where everyone else (shortboarders) is going. Watch for a while, read the water, look for the soft spots and the currents & use them to your advantage.

You other advantage is your board’s paddling speed. Put in down the beach & paddle out & around the long way. An extra 10 minutes of paddling will leave you in much better shape to surf than will taking 10 waves on the head.

Finally, learn to duckdive it. With a little practice & a willingness to really throw yourself into it, its completely possible to duckdive a longboard. You have to charge at the oncoming wave, jump way up to the nose & drive it down hard with both hands, then press the tail down hard with your foot as you extend your hands back out to move the nose ahead & up, under water. Its harder to do than the turtle roll, but it also gets you back into paddling position a lot faster, so you might end up only having to do it a couple times, when you might have turtled 5 times, or you might have used your current technique 10 times.

But best of all is to avoid the problem by going around or finding the seams. Don’t give up - its worth it.

Rolling under is the way to go but it must be done with a heavy board (minimum 25 pounds) . I have found that with a heavy board I can get through bigger stuff (triple overhead) as fast as the shortboarders who are duckdiving . . . better in long period swells and not quite as well in short period swells .


Practice turning turtle. The key is to punch your board through as previously mentioned. As you get better, you will be aboe to roll over, punch and roll back on top in one fluid movement. Keep in mind, at least for me, that you do not want to do a complete circle. Roll over then roll back.

Bailing your board can be bad practice even if by yourself because your going to break your leash and trash your board. Sometimes it is unavoidable though. Where I surf, I am usually one of those sitting outside, so I really have to worry about hitting someone. But yesterday, I just missed getting a wave, turned around and had a set wave bearing down on me. I could only take a stroke or two but realized I had to bail. quick glance inside and everyone was way inside. Bailed my board but only got about 2 strokes under under wave. Damn thing suck me over the falls. Was lucky I didn’t hit anyone. Suppose I should have bailed sooner, but I always try to make it my last choice.

If it is crowded look around before you bail your board.Only be a hero when you have to be.Where I live you end up with bloody finger nails if you try to hold on in the impact zone.I can duck dive all my big boards if it is just white water.

First get up to ramming speed.

Then turn your board side ways at a 80 degree angle to the water and sink your rail.

Now scoop your nose up and sink the tail with your knee-foot.

I duck dive so much the first thing to go on my wet suit is the knees.

Have fun,


timing is everything.

roll and hold only when you need to.

abandon the board and dive for the bottom only if you’re facing serious bodily injury and it’s a last resort.

but my goal is always to make it out to the lineup with my hair still dry.

i usually succeed.

longboards + big surf = sooooo much fun.

I like the tipping the board on an angle and sinking rail first method. Much easier than trying to push a flat longboard underwater. If a wave is about to break and I just need to punch through and think I may not get the tail all the way through before it breaks on it, I kind of dive off my board near the nose, turning the board towards me and pulling it down and forward with my arms. It’s a pretty cool feeling when it works and is faster getting back on and paddling again than a full turtle roll.

Another thing one can do when faced with a medium sized wall of just broken wave white water is to turn around towards shore, still sitting on the board, and sink the tail way down and nose way up. Hang on to the rails with your hands and since your tail is under water, the wave will mostly pass right by you (like the waves passing by all those beginners trying to catch waves from too far back on their boards). You’ve got to turn around once it’s over but hey, when I’m worn out from paddling or duck diving and don’t feel like taking a big breath and going under again, I do the sit and hang on method since my head stays out of water, ha! It looks kooky, I must admit. I’m too kooky to care.

Hi Rikds,

I think that ditching a board is really something that should be avoided altogether. Every once in a while there’s a situation where you might really get hurt if you don’t but these times are very seldom. I just assume that it’s not an option and take the beating.

A little while back a good friend of mine got slammed pretty hard in the back of the head with a longboard he didn’t see coming because someone ditched their board and the leash broke. The guy was very apologetic but it got us both pretty steamed as you might imagine. In fact, I try to surf as though I’m not wearing a leash at all. Then if my leash breaks it’s less likely that I’ll be swimming in.

A freind of mine once was paddling his malibu out next to me when a solid 10’ of whitewater came through. I nearly drowned laughing when he turned his board around in “fin first take off” position and paddled for the wave. it was gnarly and he got axed. Very Courages though.

Thanks everybody, there are some good ideas to work on. I have tried most of these but OBVIOUSLY without enough DETERMINATION!

So on a nice quiet day if you see some old git desperately floundering around and you wonder what the f’ he’s doing…you’ll know its me practising your techniques. Doesn’t matter where you surf, I’ll be there, trying for all it’s worth to get a longboard through the rough stuff. I’m omnipresent in my incompetance!!

Have a good year


I try to surf as though I'm not wearing a leash at all. Then if my leash breaks it's less likely that I'll be swimming in.

ditto that


All of the tips from the thoughtful folks about turtling, not ditching, looking for the channel or paddling around (my fav) are correct and good. But once, no twice – I saw a move that I’d love to add to my bag of tricks.

If the whitewash isn’t too huge, there’s a way a knee paddler can surf up and over the wash before it blows you back to shore. It involves knee paddling a little aft of the center of gravity of you board so the nose sticks up a bit, a lightning-quick popup, and then shifting weight from the back toward the front of your longboard as the wave washes underneath. Walking up the board to keep the nose at the water (as opposed to flicking back into your face).

Saw one guy pull this move at SanO and thought it was some kind of eyeball->brain malfunction, till he did it again. Saw someone else pull this on a big day at OB. This last sighting makes me think it’s possible to pull it in pretty big wash.

Anyone see or try this? Is there a name for it?

Not to put too fine a point on it but if you really want a longboard for big waves get one of these. . . … sooner or later this design is going to find its way to Pipeline and then the truth will come out. . . the board is a tubemonster.

Hi Rikds,

       I'm no longboard expert in fact I only ride one as a change in small or micro surf. However this much I do know, there are far to many people taking out long and funboards into crowded surf who can't control them. When it's 6', (double overhead), plus it gets harder to hold on even to a shortboard sometimes but you should always try to. Mind you here in Cornwall when it's that big and the crowd thins right out so bailing is less of a danger, also as most of our waves are beach breaks it's rare to see a longboard out at that size. I suppose what I'm trying to say is if you are'nt confident that you can keep your board under reasonable control don't go out where there are other people. Wait until you've mastered board control skills away from any crowds.


Sparksbrand, in the above post, has given you some very sound advice. Well worth paying attention to.

People are saying not to bail your board because it will be a hazard to people behind you. I would say there is also a point where the wave or the whitewash is big enough that if you hold on it will you send YOU AND YOUR BOARD tumbling backward. :slight_smile: Ever go end over end with a death grip on your board? If I knew one of those objects was bearing down on me, what would I do? Bail my board and dive as deep as possible!

Timing is everything on the paddle out. Find out the set frequency then wait in the marginal impact zone for your opening. Don’t just rush out.

If it’s big, the only salvation is ditching. Get a big, thick,long leash…12 ft + length. But be prepared for an underwater sleigh ride. The longer leash will allow you to dive deeper and get under the foam ball. You need to put distance between you and the board. There are no heros in trying to duck dive or turtle when its big. (actually duck diving can be a huge issue, i.e., if you duck dive through a large face, and try to pop up to soon, or too late you can get sucked back over the falls…underwater. Think about that…missing the surface pop up by 12 inches, just to get sucked back over the falls, and have a 30 second hold down.) A rule of thumb is that you should be able to hold on to your board to double overhead. When it’s big you usually don’t have to worry about people behind you, most of the people are on the shore watching.

I’m not much into longboarding, so I don’t know about the turtle thing, but it would seem that your going to get a board shoved into your face if you roll over on a big wave.

When it’s big, there’s no holding on to your board…it’s impossible. The issue is if you want to swim in and get your board, or if you want to get dragged under water for 50 yards. If it’s just a rolling foam ball, you can turn your back to the wave (face inland) scoot down to the tail of the board with the nose sticking straight up, and let the wave hit you in the back. The force of the wave will push you in, but a lot of the energy will go around you. You will squirt out, and loose ground but you will still be attached to your board…then you do the timing thing again, and hopefull you will hit it right.

If the wave is getting ready to break in front of you, get off your board and shove it up or into the face and hopefully it will be somewhat next to you when you come up…and hopefully there won’t be 6 more waves behind it. If there is go back to plan B, wave hitting you on the back, and relook at that timing issue.

Or, better yet. Surf some place where there is a channel.