6 Things To Do When a Wave Breaks on You

If you’re a novice and just getting the hang of maintaining balance, chances are you’ll be curious about riding those big waves and the aftermath of a wipeout. Your first wave break might be a pretty scary experience for you, especially if you don’t understand wave patterns and how to manage them.

The worst part is that wave sizes are usually unexpected where you might encounter several huge ones in one instant followed by a set of small and medium-sized waves. So, how exactly do you master wipeouts without the anxiety crippling you?

1. Stay calm

Of course, this is easier said than done. When you’re out on the battlefield, trying to convince your brain that everything will be all right will be the hardest thing you’ll have to do. However, with the right strategies listed below, you can master this art immediately. 

2. Do not resist

Remember that panicking at that crucial moment will not serve you and will instead make you waste precious time. Additionally, one of the most important strategies to best handle a wave break is to take a deep breath, a feat impossible to achieve if you’re hyperventilating. Instead, loosen up and let the wave carry you as it pleases until it finally clears. 

3. Practice breath holds

If you can hold your breath for less than a minute at a time, you need to practice this skill and try to enhance it to reach anywhere between 1 to 2 minutes. A higher lung capacity will help you feel relaxed while in a challenging environment. You can improve this by maintaining a good posture and breathing with your belly so that your abdominal muscles and stomach work in sync to enhance your inhaling capacity. 

4. Master these maneuvers

Things To Do When a Wave Breaks on You

If you ask any professional surfer, they’ll tell you how hard these can be to master. This is because there are proper techniques that you will have to follow to ensure that the incoming wave doesn’t knock your board out of your hands or push you around like a rag doll.

You should be able to time your maneuver precisely keeping in mind the wave movement, deciding beforehand which maneuver will suit you best, and planning how to position yourself with respect to the wave. Here are two strategies that you can use to best handle waves as they break:

Duck diving

This is ideal if you have a shortboard. The basic essence of this maneuver is that you have to approach and get under the wave. For this, it’s essential to paddle towards it and maintain the right posture. You’ll have to hold the rails of your board with your elbows sticking up. Next, your knees will be bent towards the end of the board.

As the wave approaches you, you’d want to push your board in the forward and downward direction to be able to get under it. Once this is achieved, the next step will just be to relax and let buoyancy do its work. 

Turtle roll

Turtle roll, also known as the Eskimo roll, is an especially great technique if you possess a longboard or a foamboard because it makes it hard to duck dive. This is because of the buoyancy that keeps pulling you to the surface. In order to perfect the turtle roll, you need to be perpendicular to the incoming whitewater wave.

Hold your board tightly close to you, bend your elbows, and then flip over to get underwater right when the wave approaches. This position helps ensure that you remain stable and in control throughout instead of getting pushed around. Wait until the wave has completely passed. You can then roll over right side up safely.   

5. Get back on your board

This part is relatively easy. You can try one of the two approaches for this but remember that whichever method you choose, you need to practice it out on the sand to know which one will suit you best. 

If you are energetic enough and not too tired with the maneuver that you just performed, you can stand up in a single motion by jumping on your feet. While quicker, a downside to this method is that you can easily lose balance.

You can also try a less rapid approach that involves bending your knees and then eventually rising to your feet.

6. Simply bail out when the wave is too big

Maneuvers such as duck diving will not come in handy for waves that are huge. If you want to save yourself from getting into an unfortunate accident, you should instead bail out. Bailing out involves diving into the wave. Take a deep breath and dive feet first so that your head always remains close to the surface and it's easier for you to get out.

While this seems pretty straightforward, remember that panicking in this situation doesn’t help. You’ll end up wasting precious energy that you should instead be using in this procedure. If you feel a drastic increase in water pressure, your arms can be positioned around your head while you get dragged around with the tide until it clears. 

Important considerations for newbie surfers 

Breaking waves are not always a pleasant experience and can even prove to be fatal. For example, a shorebreak can result in an onshore wipeout. Therefore, it’s important to read surf reports so that you know what wave type you’ll be encountering on any particular day.

Additionally, beginners should probably use a longboard since a larger surface area can help provide a better balance and a greater ability to tackle wave breaks as they come. 

It always helps to have a chat with professional surfers to get an idea of how they work out wave breaks. Getting to know a direct and personal experience never hurts and helps you better develop your own skills.   

James Davis

Written by James Davis

I'm a true California local, and I've spent my life riding the waves along our stunning coastline. Surfing has always been my greatest love, and in my writing, I try to capture its genuine essence. My words aim to transport you into the heart of the surf culture, where the ocean and surfers come together in perfect harmony.

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