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Saturday, November 26, 2011

Turtle Rolls


Now, about those turtle rolls. Can I just tell you one thing? I really really don't like turtle rolls. I know that hate is a strong word but I am pretty close to hating turtle rolls. Yet, if you ride a long board like me, turtle rolls are a necessary evil.

With a long board, you can't really duck dive under the waves. The boards are too big and buoyant that it is nearly impossible to submerge the whole board, and with control, to get them under the waves. So what do you do? Hopefully, you've watched the waves and waited for a lull so that you can paddle out with dry hair. Maybe you even found a rip current to help carry you out the back. You've timed your paddle out such that you are able to weave in and around the waves to get over its shoulder before it gets too steep or else do a press-up and over the tops of waves before they break, maybe punching through the last one or two waves. However, there will be times when you are caught paddling out and your timing isn't perfect. A set starts to roll in and you are caught in the impact zone. You have two choices - 1) turn around and go back to shore, or 2) battle your way out.

Basically, a turtle roll involves flipping the board over so that you are beneath your board underwater as the wave passes over the top of the board. Once the wave passes, you then flip the board back over and hop back on and continue paddling. Sounds interesting, right? That's what I thought. I basically laughed out loud when my coaches began describing this technique. You want me to paddle straight into an oncoming wave at maximum speed, flip myself over, hang out underwater while the wave passes and then just nonchalantly get myself back up on the board and keep going? Sure.

My sessions would go something like this.

Coach: Right, we're just going to roll right through this one.

Me: OK (turtle roll, swallow a bunch of water, climb back on my board breathing heavily, stunned and scared)

Coach: Great. Now climb back on top and paddle. We're just going to roll through the next one too. 3, 2, 1 and roll.

Me: (repeat above, a bit more flustered and mumbling to myself, OMG OMG OMG)

Coach: Great. Keep paddling. Keep going. 3, 2, 1 and roll.

Me: (repeat above, even more fluster)

Coach: Fantastic. Now, just one or two more and we're almost out there. Keep paddling. Here comes another one. 3, 2, 1 and roll.

Me: AGH!!!!!!!!!!!!

I seriously thought that turtle rolls were going to be the one thing that kept me from surfing. They are taxing. Physically, my shoulders were screaming after a couple of sessions paddling out. Psychologically, I didn't think that I could do it. Even as a strong swimmer, I would find myself completely out of breath once I made it through one wave only to be faced with another wall of whitewater. Oh yeah, and that fear of the ocean thing starts to kick in pretty strongly when you're hanging off a surfboard underwater.

But I know that turtle rolls are an important tool I need to have and we came to an understanding. They still aren't my favorite but I don't necessarily dread them in the same way. I know that I can manage about 4-5 turtle rolls before I start to think about going to shore. OK, maybe more like 4. Each time I do them, I try to work on one specific part of the technique. This helps to take my focus away from my fear and anxiety and gives me a concrete task to concentrate on.

Smack. Oops again.

As for technique, here's what I learned.

1) Paddle into the oncoming wave. You want to make sure that you are paddling straight with some speed, as opposed to lying on your board and waiting for the wave to get to you. If you do the latter, the wave will definitely knock you off your board and tumble you around.

2) When the oncoming whitewater is about a board's length away, that's when you begin the turtle roll. After a couple of tries, you begin to get the feel for how long it take you to get off your board, flip over and punch through the wave.

3) Grab the rails of your board. Bring your hands back down towards your ribs so that your elbows stick out like chicken wings. Bringing your hands back is super important and will ensure that you will be in the right spot when you get back on your board. Hold tight!!

4) Despite the "turtle roll" moniker, you don't just want to roll off your board. Push up slightly with your hands and then jump your legs down off one side of your board. You want your body to be as pin straight as possible in the water so it helps if you are able to jump down with a bit of force. That way, your body acts as a bit of an anchor, keeping your board in place and keeping you from being knocked around by the turbulence of the wave. When I just roll off my board, I find that my body immediately goes horizontal and I'm much more likely to get thrown around and/or lose my grip on my board.

5) Now, you're hanging off your board underwater. You've flipped yourself so that your face is facing towards the shore and your back is facing the on-coming wave. Holding on the rails of your board, forcefully move the board over your head in a backwards stabbing motion. Basically, it's like you are trying to pierce through the oncoming wave with your board. Sounds weird, I know, but the force helps to punch through the wave, again reducing the amount of turbulence you are likely to experience from the ongoing wave and whitewater.

6) Once the wave has passed by (and I promise you will know when that is), roll back over onto your board. Remember, your board is pretty damn buoyant so when you bring the first rail under water, you can guide it down into the water and in towards your body. You can then kind of scoop your body up with the edge of the board as it rights itself in the water. Then you don't need to exert as much energy getting yourself back up on the board.

7) Get back on your board and keep paddling. Even if it seems impossible, try to get a few paddles in before the next turtle roll. That will help you keep making some forward progress to the outside!

8) Last thing, don't let go of your board! Not only is that a no-no, it's super dangerous and you could seriously injure another surfer in the water. I know it happens sometimes but try your hardest to hold on to your board!

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At November 27, 2011 at 2:01 PM , Blogger Surfing Grandma of OC said...

I have been surfing for 2 years and almost 5 months. I still HATE turtle rolling. I have learned to punch through the wave as best I can, I kind of do a duck dive technique. I push my nose down into the oncoming wave best I can and punch though it. OR I do the push up on the deck and let the wave go through me and my board. IF I have to do a turtle roll I will.BUT I STILL CANT GET BACK ON MY BOARD AFTER. I don't know how they do it. Most of my friends do not turtle roll. I was watching a guy(actually a lead singer of a well known band, I will respect his privacy) Head out last Friday in big surf. He walked his board out and instead of turtle rolling. he just put his board over his head and let the wave go over him and used it as a shield. I thought well that is a technique I have not seen before. AND he got out to the break in no time. So don't feel bad, I think most people I know try not to turtle roll and I have yet to see anyone do it gracefully as it should be done. ;-)!.. LOVE THIS BLOG Christine..look forward to reading more.

At November 27, 2011 at 8:12 PM , Blogger Christine said...

Thanks so much and glad to know that I'm not alone in my anti-turtle roll stance :-) Luckily, at home in NYC, there really isn't much of a paddle out. I'm glad you like the blog too. I've just started writing it and am still feeling my way along so I appreciate your comments.

At January 16, 2012 at 9:33 AM , Blogger luschen said...

This is a great blog - I am reading it to the end. I have to say that the only thing worse than doing a turtle roll is not doing a turtle roll when you were supposed to. Like Grandma, I usually try to push up on the deck for smaller waves. And sometimes if the wave is just starting to break you can punch through even with a long board. But sometimes a turtle roll is the only thing that will work. Sometimes I try to push my luck with one of the other methods on a wave that broke too early or is too big and the wave ends up pushing my board backwards/sideways. At this point I usually fall off and get pushed halfway back to the beach with a headful of seawater - "why didn't I just do the dang turtle roll?!?"


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