The best thing about having your formative years as a surfer in the early 90’s was that boards floated… about 6 inches below the surface.
Boards were so thin that, sure, you couldn’t paddle, and hey, catching waves wasn’t necessarily a thing, but you could duck dive your surfboard like a legend!
These days, volume is much more sensible, boards float and thus paddle. Handy! But the flip side is that duck-diving is tougher. Especially in the summer months, when you might be riding a log, mid-length, surf school foamie or other such paddley, floaty raft to deal with small waves.
Which is all fun and games when you’re streaking gloriously shoreward across a shimmering wave face, shit-eating grin on your dial, but less so when faced with making the return journey through rolls of whitewater. The thing with a big floaty board is, even the tiniest of whitewaters want to toss it back to terra firma.
So, what gives?
"Those soupy, rolling fluffy white bastards don’t seem to want to release you after your duck-dive fail"
Perhaps even more unjust to the most newly-jazzed of cats, to very recent #shredlyfe inductees, is that often the softer, more beginner-type breaks that pack less punch are somehow the worst to try and get out through.
A powerful beachie kinda explodes and releases, whereas those soupy, rolling fluffy white bastards don’t seem to want to release you after your duckdive fail, like a rugby league tackle where you’re doing the worm, he’s still on top of you, hot violent breath on the nape of your neck, and the ref, curiously, won’t blow.
'Huey..... fuck..... off!' you shout for lack of a more articulate lament, legs akimbo, coughing up saline lungwater as you're inexplicably dragged back by a whitewater so modest a small child could hop over it absentmindedly whilst playing Lego, again.
Well not any more. Here are our sure fire tips for duck-diving boards that don't duck-dive.
- Timing. Waiting for a lull should always be Plan A, although any lulls that actually happen are often more down to luck than planning. If you do get a lull, you get out the back, you don't, and it's wrestling the croc time - such is the is random, whimsical nature of our oceanic mistress. If there are no lulls, then you’re just gonna have to gun it. Listen, the board won't duckdive, but it's a fast paddler - that's the deal you've made with the devil - so you're gonna have to make sure you make more forward progress between waves than you get rolled back by them. Simples.
"The turtle roll thingy... seen plenty of people do it, and have never, ever thought 'Yes! That's it!"
- Can you dip the nose a bit? This might be relative rather than absolute… it’s hard to dip a board as you scale up in size from having just ridden a smaller one, whereas the reverse is true as you quiver down from your 11ft tandem board to the relative sleekness of say, a mid-length egg. Surf Europe’s own Billy Wilson borrowed my 7’5” Grace singlefin aka the Purple Headed Warrior (which duckdives fine, btw) and admitted, outta breath, to be struggling to duck-dive, mid sesh a couple weeks back on a beauty of a rip bowl left in Seignosse. Actually, not admit so much as accuse, along the lines of "This thing doesn't duck-dive, does it?"
I decided not to dignify that with a response, much less allow him to infect my well-honed groove with bad shred vibrations. Later, Billy tendered his resignation, rather than live with the shame and dishonour he'd visited upon this hitherto esteemed publication. I said, "That’s taking it a bit far, soft lad" and urged him to wait a few weeks until this article was finished, instead.
I guess the moral of the story is that even hardcore intermediates struggle, too.
- If not, and the board really doesn't submerge at all, try to at least to get some kind of nose up, tail down projection mojo as you encounter the soupy onslaught. What you really want to avoid is head on impact, or being somehow simultaneously on the surface, but also underwater. If you can raise that nose, take the whitewash hit in the belly of the board just in front of the fins, hopefully you'll rock back a touch atop the whitewater, but not be pinged back too far by it.
"Try to at least to get some kind of nose up, tail down projection mojo as you encounter the onslaught"
- Speed up your paddling just before you encounter the wave, not slow down. This will not only help your attempt at the previous, to get over the soup, but also mean you're meeting your adversary on more level terms. Having no lineup-ward momentum, the paddle out equivalent of being a lame duck, is asking for trouble.
- Give up. Quitting has been given a bad rep, mainly by American TV shows "I always though you were a lot of things, but I never thought... etc". But as Sudhir Vankatesh, author of Why Do Drug Dealers Live With Their Moms? and What Do a Street Prostitute and a Department Store Santa Have in Common? whose research into quitting is examined in the Super Freakonomics podcast, quitting is often the best for positive outcomes. If you're getting pummelled wave after wave, turn around, head back to the beach and take a breather. Don't get distracted by drugs or prostitutes, just re-set, re-group, maybe walk a bit up or down the beach, and try again.
Jimmicane / Vans
- The Turtle Roll thingy (you know, holding on to the rails and rolling underwater water like a canoeist)… hmmm. Like a lawyer when asked to respond to a client who admits intending to break the law, “I can’t advise you on that” feels like the best advice here. Never tried it, hope I never do. Seen plenty of people do it, and never, ever thought, ‘Yes! That's it!’
- Schadenfreude and surfing go hand in hand. When you realise you’re making it over a fifteen wave set, but look back upon a hapless friend who isn’t, feel free to revel in that shameful pleasure. There’s nothing you can do for them, now. Cackling loudly, from the sanctity of your becalmed lineup, as they undergo the legs akimbo, lungwater spewing, cursing, croc wrestling private hell is not only your inalienable right, it's a time-honoured tradition. oh they'll get cha back, don't worry.
- Under no circumstance wax the rails with duckdive wax. Just don’t. If you work in an eel processing factory and surf after your shift, with the slipperiest hands in the world, well... don’t.