Believe it or not, duck diving a longboard can be done in certain circumstances, but it can also be substantially different than duck diving a shortboard.
I surf mostly at a beach break (Ocean Beach, San Francisco). It can get really big (triple-O). There’s not really any channels, and not always a handy rip, so grueling paddles can be more normal than not. I’ve surfed it with everything between a 6/6 to 10/4, and I’ll go out up to solid double-O conditions.
Here’s the key difference between long and short. Duck diving a shortboard gets you under the wave and squirted out the back. With the right wave shape, the lip will help push you through as you take the lip right about on your backside. You can learn to come out paddling.
Duck diving your longboard
With a longboard, your focus isn’t getting under the wave so much as maintaining control of the board as you take the white water pretty much in the face, so that you can resume paddling as fast as possible. Here’s how:
- paddle as hard as you can into the wave
- plant the nose right where the white water meets the green
- grab the board *tightly* on the rails and push your body up. The board isn’t going to under the water so much. You want the water to go through your arms.
- Get as much of your body off the board and in the air as possible, letting the whitewater go through your arms and under your body. I keep one set of toes on the board and put the other foot in the air for balance and to act as a “rudder.”
- As soon as the whitewater gets under you, “plant” the tail of the board as deep as you can and roll it down forward. If you’ve ever used a post hole digger, it’s the same sort of motion. The natural bouyancy of the board will tend to want to push you forward as the tail comes back up. You’re going to be too far up the board to paddle without perling, so when you come back down, get repositioned for fast paddling asap.
If the whitewater is stacked more than about 3 foot, you’re better off turtling and rolling back over. This is not that easy either and it’s hard to hold on to the board in bigger water. And you have to get back on the board and figure out which way to paddle afterward.
If the wave face is standing up pretty good, paddle as far and as fast up the face of it as you can, then stick the nose through the lip duck dive style, right before it curls over. You can do this pretty high on the wave and not get sucked over the falls.
In this last case, you want to think “Michael Phelps” and give it that extra effort; paddle as hard as you can all the way up the face and through the lip. If you slack off… you risk going right back over the falls and getting blown back to the beach. With an out-of-control longboard coming down who knows where.
Since I’m on a roll…
Advanced duck diving
DON’T try this crap if you aren’t comfortable in the water and don’t know your break, and don’t have some rapport with your fellow surfers. I’m just putting it out here because it’s what I see in practice at OB. In practice… by old dudes 60+ yo who go out in big conditions on their big boards. I was asking one of them (M____) this winter how he managed it and he told me: “If it’s too gnarly I just swim it out.”
If the surf is big enough to matter (10′-11′+), and the Big Boys got their Big Toys out, watch what they do. I’ve seen a lot of ditching and swimming, and to be fair, when it’s big, you are NOT going to be able to hold on to the board directly, the white water will tear it from you. Conversely, when it’s 8′,9′,10′+ and you’re caught paddling straight into the peak on an outer bar, the safest place for you to be—for everyone involved—is swimming straight down to the bottom as hard as you can. This turns you into a “boat anchor,” keeping you from getting blown back to shore in a giant spin cycle, and believe it or not, helps control your board. It won’t go flopping all over the place when your pulling down as hard as you can from the end of the leash 9 foot under water.
Otherwise, trying to hold your board under big, snarling whitewater is just going to get it ripping uncontrollably out of your hands, may get you a torn shoulder or cut by a fin, knock you unconscious, or hurt someone else in any of a myriad of ways.
However, you can often control the board pretty well by holding where the leash is fastened to the tail. If you’re getting worked bad, this is a good way to get back in without hurting yourself or anyone else. The other surfers will watch you to see whether you’re in trouble, but if you’re holding on and getting washed in, everybody’s cool.
Don’t be a kook
Obviously, do NOT even do any of this with anyone in the general vicinity. Take your lumps back to the beach and try again. This last winter (2008-2009), I was denied at OB probably 4 times, and once it took me 5 tries to get out. I’ve seen people paddle continuously for close to an hour… then get blown back to the beach. It happens. It’s worth it.
If you do ditch your board in small conditions, and when it’s crowded people are going to think you’re lame and they’re going treat you like a kook. I learned all this stuff by paddling out in really crappy conditions when it wasn’t crowded, and finding my own peak ride on.