What do you do when a wave is about to break on you?

Do you stress out, panic, bail your board and pray you survive?

Or do you have a game plan, and remain calm and composed in your happy place?

If you’re reading this article I’m guessing you’re leaning towards the “pray you survive” end of the spectrum, if so, you’re in for a treat.

In this article you’ll learn:

  • How to stay chill when a wave breaks on you.
  • How to navigate through breaking waves - over, under & through.
  • How to flip the script, and actually enjoy getting smashed.

And much more.

Keep reading…


This is the number one rule.

Easy in theory, difficult in practice.

Below are four ways to help you stay calm when you’re about to get smashed 👇


If you’re in the impact zone, paddling like a maniac, hyperventilating and gasping for breath already, chances are you’re not going to be very calm when a big wave breaks right on you.

So when the waves are more serious and you’re out of your comfort zone don’t let yourself get to this position.

Manage your energy, be smart, be vigilant and take your time.

And when that ugly wave rears up in front of you about to break on your head, you’ll have a full set of lungs ready to take a deep breath and weather the storm.


Naturally you’ll want to take a deep breath before dealing with a wave that’s about to break on you, and that’s great and all, but there’s a little trick that’ll help you get that extra oxygen in your system to keep you from stressing out.

The secret is in the out-breath before...

You see, if your lungs are already ¾ full of old oxygen and you gasp in that last ¼ before a wave breaks on you it’s not going to be anywhere near as effective as lungs full of fresh oxygen.

This is where breath management comes in, expecting the worst and being prepared.

With experience you’ll be able to tell ahead of time if a wave is going to break on you, and adjust your breathing to clear your lungs first before taking that big deep breath in that you need.

Takes a little forethought, time, and practice, but it’s all in the preparation.

Failure to prepare is preparing to fail.


The quickest, easiest way to stay calm when a wave’s about to break on you is to flip the script.

Let me explain.

I bet the first feeling that comes to mind when a wave is about to break on you is fear, but it doesn’t have to be this way.

Flipping the script means seeing the exact opposite, changing your default response and seeing the funny side.

Yup, getting smashed can be fun I promise.  

It just all depends on your outlook going into it.

I encourage you to create a culture within your surf group that laughs and jokes about getting smashed - there really is nothing funnier than someone getting pounded right? 

Or is that just me 😬

Either way, seeing the funny side of things instantly pacifies any fear, keeping you calm and stress free in the process.

Who said getting smashed can’t be fun anyway?


Do you know how long you can hold your breath for?

If not, get out a stopwatch and give it a go.

Chances are (if you’re like me) your original breath hold will be embarrassing - like sub 30 seconds.

If that’s you, then it’s no wonder things can get a little stressful in sketchy situations when a wave’s about to break on you.

But what if you could comfortably hold your breath for two minutes plus, would that make you feel more calm in the water?

Damn right it would, and it really isn’t that hard either.

In just four days I went from a breath hold record of 27 seconds to 4 minutes 47 seconds - and I hardly put much effort into it either.

And knowing now that I can comfortably hold my breath for two minutes plus makes me much calmer in the water.  

I increased my breath hold capacity practising the Wim Hof method, you can see what it's all about here.


Ok, so now that you're equipped with the skills to stay calm as a wave's about to break on you, you now need the skills to navigate through that breaking wave on your surfboard.

There are basically three ways to do this, let’s take a look at each:


The turtle roll is effective in waves up to about 3-4ft, but it’s not much use in waves much bigger than this.

The turtle roll is a method used by Longboarders for getting under waves it can be pretty effective, ref the image below for how it’s done.


If you ride a shortboard then this is your best option.

A duck dive is where you push the nose of your board underwater, lean down towards your board, then put pressure on your back foot (or knee) to push the tail of the board down and dive underneath the water, just like a duck.

Experienced surfers will use the duck-dive to navigate waves that are about to break on their heads up to around 6ft.

And if you're really, really good at it like Jon Florence below, you can pretty. much duck dive anything!


The bail is where you throw your board behind you and dive underwater to avoid the impact of the wave about to break on you.

The plus side of bailing is that you can often avoid the most turbulent part of the breaking wave, the downside of the bail is that it separates you from your board, and your leash is vulnerable to snapping.

When a big wave is about to break on my head I'm not ashamed to admit that I choose to bail a lot of the time. It's not the most heroic look, but it's served me well up until this point.

But, it's important to be aware of the rules of the game below first.

*Important: If you choose to bail your board you MUST look behind you first to make sure there is nobody behind you.

It is massively frowned upon to bail your board in front of another surfer - and can easily result in angry, aggressive situations.

If you have to choose between you getting smashed trying to duck dive or turtle roll a wave vs bailing and ditching your board in front of another surfer you must always hold onto your equipment and take the beating yourself rather than endangering another surfer.


You should now have a clear game plan of exactly what to do when a wave breaks on you - how to stay calm, and how to navigate the chaos.

So next time you’re in the water and you’re in a tricky situation about to get smashed, action what you’ve learned here to navigate it with ease.

And heck, maybe now you'll even enjoy the whole ordeal!


Rowan 🤙


Rowan is the technical nerd behind the scenes. A lover of everything entrepreneurial, and living a minimal, simple life.

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}


World class tuition, taught by world class teachers.


Last minute deals on surf charters, camps & retreats.


Sign up for last minute deals & new content weekly: