How to “Turtle Roll”

How to get past white water waves using the Turtle Roll / Eskimo Roll technique.

illustration turtle roll

The “Turtle Roll”, sometimes called the “Eskimo Roll”, is the best technique to get past bigger whitewater waves that are too powerful for the “punch through” method. Longboards and foamboards offer a lot of floatation, which is great for learning, but makes it almost impossible to sink your board underwater to do a “duck dive”.

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Turtle Roll

How to get passed white water waves using the Turtle Roll technique.

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The Turtle Roll is a great technique for you to stay in control of your board and not get pushed back too much by the white water.

illustration turtle roll

Walk out in the ocean until you have water up to your chest. You should hold the surfboard by its nose, and keep it perpendicular to the waves. Once you have walked to chest-deep water, take a look at the horizon. Only start paddling when bigger sets of waves have passed you and when the ocean looks calmer.

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illustration turtle roll

Flip upside down. About 6 feet (2 metres) before a white water wave gets to you, grab the rails beside your pectorals and turn yourself and the board upside down. Don’t forget to take a good breath before flipping under!

illustration turtle roll

Underwater, leave some space between your body and the board and make sure the surfboard’s nose is sunk in the water. Your arms should have a slight bend in them, your head should not be close to the board and your board should be sealed to the water, with no space between the surface of the water and your surfboard. Just relax and wait for the wave to pass over you.

illustration turtle roll

When the white water comes to you, your surfboard should be 100% perpendicular to the wave (90 degrees). Just a slight angle can ruin your turtle roll: the white water will hit the side of your surfboard and throw it out of your hands.

To flip the board back up, pull one rail with one hand, push the other with your other hand. Kick your legs to help you back up.

Common Mistakes

  • Not having your surfboard perpendicular to the wave. If the white water hits your surfboard on its side, it will get knocked out of your hands.
  • Not having your surfboard sealed in the water, or having your surfboard’s nose out of the water. If some parts of your surfboard are out of the water at the moment of contact with the wave, especially if the nose is out, the white water will push your board back and you will lose control of it.
  • Keeping your arms too stiff and too straight underwater. This leaves you no room to absorb the shock when the white water goes over you, making it easier to lose your surfboard.
  • Turning upside down too soon. For example, if you flip 8 seconds before the wave comes, you will probably not be perpendicular to the wave when it gets to you 8 seconds later. Currents will move you to the side, but how will you notice? You will be underwater!
  • Turning upside down too late. You can’t be in the process of flipping upside down when the white water hits you. If you are not ready, with your board upside down and underwater, the white water wave will push your board around. You will either lose your surfboard or get pushed back by a good distance.
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