What is a Turtle Roll or Eskimo Roll in Surfing?

Implementing a turtle roll into your surfing armoury is very important, especially if you're using a longboard and a straightforward duck dive won't save you!

A turtle roll also known as a eskimo roll is your ticket out back to catch those sweet sets!

We go into detail explaining what a turtle roll is as well as a step by step guide on how to successfully carry out a turtle roll.

What is a Turtle Roll?

A turtle roll in surfing involves flipping the board upside down to minimise resistance and let oncoming waves pass over, especially useful for longboards in larger waves.

It's a technique that enables surfers to navigate through waves without being pushed back, offering an alternative to duck diving.

Interested in learning all the surfing world lingo, check out our surfing terms glossary to help!

Turtle Roll in Surfing

Surfing's turtle roll is a nifty manoeuvre that surfers use to navigate through oncoming waves, particularly when riding a longboard. 

During a turtle roll, the surfer flips the board upside down, presenting its smoother bottom side to the approaching wave. 

This technique minimises resistance, allowing the wave to pass over the board, helping the surfer avoid being pushed back by the breaking wave. Turtle rolls come in handy in larger waves where traditional techniques like duck diving may not be as effective.

Is There a Difference Between a Turtle and Eskimo Roll?

The eskimo roll is more commonly associated with whitewater kayaking, however surfers often say eskimo roll and mean turtle roll. In kayaking, an eskimo roll is a skill used to right a capsized kayak without exiting the boat. 

The key difference lies in their respective sports and purposes: the turtle roll is a surfing manoeuvre to navigate waves, while the eskimo roll is a kayaking technique for recovering from a capsized position. 

Each serves its purpose within its specific water sport context.

Eskimo Roll or Turtle Roll - Rolling Your Surfboard to Get Under Waves

Why is Learning to Turtle Roll Important

Learning the turtle roll in surfing is crucial for several reasons. 

Firstly, it's an effective skill for surfers riding longboards in larger waves, allowing them to gracefully navigate through the surf without being hindered by powerful waves. 

Mastering the turtle roll enhances a surfer's ability to handle diverse wave conditions reaching waves outback others can’t and allowing you to avoid crowds and back paddlers! 

Additionally, it offers an alternative to techniques like duck diving, proving particularly valuable when the size of the waves makes duck diving less practical. 

Overall, mastering the turtle roll contributes to a surfer's versatility and confidence in the water.

When Should I Turtle Roll?

Knowing when to execute a turtle roll in surfing is essential for effectively navigating oncoming waves. Turtle rolling is particularly advantageous in the following situations:

Large Waves

Turtle rolling becomes especially useful in larger waves where the size and force make traditional techniques like duck diving less effective. The manoeuvre allows surfers on longboards to pass through the waves more smoothly.

Longboard Riding

If you're riding a longboard, which is generally more buoyant and challenging to duck dive, the turtle roll is a preferred method for getting through breaking waves.

Avoiding Impact

When faced with powerful waves that might push you back if you try to paddle straight through, a well-timed turtle roll can help you avoid the impact and maintain control over your board.

Conserving Energy

Turtle rolling can be less physically demanding than repeatedly attempting to paddle through large waves. It allows surfers to conserve energy and stay more composed in challenging conditions.

Why Waves Keep Washing You Into The Beach

When waves are washing you back to shore, several factors come into play, contributing to the challenge of maintaining your position in the water:

Whitewash Impact: When hit by a wall of whitewash, water is in motion in every possible direction. Failing to dive underwater during this impact allows the wave to exert its force, making it determined to separate you from your board.

Buoyancy Challenge with Big Boards: Using a larger board adds a layer of complexity. The buoyancy of a big board makes it difficult to push both yourself and the board beneath the oncoming wave. This lack of submersion prevents you from effectively breaking the surface and staying in control.

Risk of Losing Control: Attempting to flip your board with fully extended arms may backfire. The wave's force is likely to pull the board away from you, plunging you into what surfers term the "washing machine." In this turbulent underwater environment, you'll be tossed and tumbled, rapidly carried back towards the shore.

Step-by-Step Guide How to Turtle Roll

  1. Approach the Wave

Paddle hard towards an oncoming wave, ensuring you are facing it directly and using strong, controlled strokes. Be perpendicular to the wave, maintaining a 90-degree angle.

  1. Prepare for the Roll

As the wave gets closer (about 2-3 metres away), grab the rails at chest to shoulder height and take a deep breath. Keep your elbows bent for flexibility during the roll.

  1. Execute the Roll

Grip the rails firmly, roll yourself off the board, and flip it upside down in one fluid motion. This should place you completely underwater with the board upside down, facing the deck. This motion helps absorb the wave's impact.

  1. Maintain Control

Pull your body close to the board, keeping your arms bent to prevent the wave from ripping the board away. Hold on until the turbulence from the passing wave subsides.

  1. Right Yourself

Straighten one arm, kick your legs, and climb back onto the board right side up. This process allows you to regain control and prepare for the next wave.

  1. Make Adjustments

Once back on the board, make any necessary adjustments to ensure you're ready to paddle towards the lineup. It may feel challenging initially, but practice will make it easier.

  1. Repeat if Necessary

Paddle towards the next wave and repeat the process if the wave has already broken. Maintain a 90-degree angle to the wave, and when the wave comes, execute the turtle roll by flipping the board underwater. Repeat the steps as needed until you reach a safe position behind the breaking point or take a rest.

Common Turtle Roll Mistakes 

  • Poor Timing: Incorrectly gauging when to initiate the turtle roll can lead to mistimed attempts, making it challenging to execute the manoeuvre successfully.
  • Insufficient Paddle Power: Inadequate paddling towards the wave diminishes the effectiveness of the turtle roll, reducing the surfer's ability to position themselves optimally.
  • Lack of Board Control: Failing to grip the rails securely or keep the board close during the roll increases the risk of losing control, especially when the wave passes over.
  • Incomplete Submersion: If the board isn't flipped completely upside down, the surfer may not be fully submerged, limiting the effectiveness of the turtle roll in larger waves.
  • Inadequate Breath Control: Insufficient breath control can result in discomfort or panic during the underwater phase of the turtle roll, affecting the surfer's ability to navigate through the wave.
  • Failure to Read Wave Patterns: Not accurately reading wave patterns may lead to mistimed rolls, making it challenging to anticipate and execute the turtle roll effectively.
  • Inconsistent Technique: Inconsistencies in the rolling motion and body positioning can hinder the fluidity of the turtle roll, making it less efficient in navigating through oncoming waves.
  • Over Reliance on Turtle Rolling: Depending solely on turtle rolling in inappropriate wave conditions, such as extremely large waves, can lead to difficulties, and surfers should be willing to employ alternative techniques when necessary.
  • Neglecting Practice: Lack of dedicated practice in various conditions may hinder a surfer's proficiency in executing the turtle roll, as muscle memory and timing are crucial aspects of mastering the technique.
  • Ignoring Wave Size and Conditions: Attempting a turtle roll without considering the size and power of the waves can result in ineffective execution, especially in conditions where alternative techniques might be more suitable.

How to Practise a Turtle Roll at Home

To practise turtle rolling at home, simulate the motion on a stable surface, focusing on the sequential movements involved. 

This allows you to build muscle memory and refine your technique for a smoother execution in the water. Try these exercises! 

Can You Turtle Roll Big Waves?

Turtle rolling in big waves can be challenging but effective, especially for surfers on longboards. 

The buoyancy of longer boards may make complete submersion difficult, so timing is crucial. 

Success relies on flipping the board just before the wave arrives, allowing the smoother bottom side to face the oncoming wave and minimising resistance.

How To Turtle Roll Big Waves 

To turtle roll in big waves, follow the same step-by-step process outlined earlier, emphasising precise timing, gripping the rails securely, and maintaining control throughout the underwater phase. 

For big waves, consider these bonus tips:

  • Focus on building upper body strength for better control
  • Practice in varying wave sizes to enhance adaptability
  • Prioritise wave reading skills to anticipate and execute timely turtle rolls effectively

What Height Waves/Whitewash Can You Perform a Turtle Roll?

Surfers can effectively perform a turtle roll in waves up to head-high or slightly overhead, with the technique proving most practical in moderate-sized waves and whitewash. 

As wave height increases, executing a successful turtle roll becomes more challenging due to the buoyancy of the board. 

In larger and more powerful conditions, surfers often opt for alternative techniques such as duck diving or strategic wipeouts for better control and safety. 

Turtle Roll or Duck Dive

Knowing when to turtle roll and when to duck dive in surfing is crucial for navigating different wave conditions:

Turtle Roll

Longboards and Larger Waves: Turtle rolling is effective when riding longboards, especially in larger waves where the buoyancy of the board makes duck diving challenging.

Moderate Whitewash: It's suitable for navigating moderate-sized whitewash where the wave is not too powerful, allowing the surfer to flip the board and pass through.

Duck Dive

Shortboards and Smaller Waves: Duck diving is ideal for shortboards, providing the ability to push the nose underwater and pass through smaller waves more efficiently.

Powerful Waves: In powerful and steep waves, duck diving is often the preferred technique, enabling surfers to dive below the breaking part of the wave and maintain control.

Ultimately, the choice between turtle rolling and duck diving depends on factors like board type, wave size, and the surfer's skill level.

How To Duck Dive

Check out this very simple guide on how to duck dive. This is a different technique to a turtle roll but with the same outcome of avoiding being washed into the shore.

Both are good to learn so you can effectively paddle out on a long and short board. 

Summing It Up: What To Do Now

Once you're confident in performing the turtle roll aim to master the duck dive too. Both of these will save you getting noodle arms and stay energised to catch your next wave!

If your interested in learning more about surfing discover our many guides that will inform you on your surfing journey. Don't forget to follow us on Facebook & Instagram to stay informed on our amazing surf shots and stories shared from surf creators around the world!

Frequently Asked Questions

Should I duck dive or turtle roll?

The choice between duck diving and turtle rolling depends on your board type and the size of the waves. Duck diving is effective for shorter boards in smaller waves, while turtle rolling is more suitable for longer boards in larger waves.

Can you turtle roll a short board?

Turtle rolling is not typically used for short boards. It's more effective for longer boards. Short boards are better suited for duck diving, a technique where the surfer pushes the nose of the board underwater to pass through oncoming waves.

Why can't I duck dive?

Inability to duck dive may be due to a few reasons such as board size, technique, or wave conditions. Ensure your board is suitable for duck diving, practise the proper technique, and consider seeking guidance from experienced surfers for improvement.

Does Turtle Roll work?

Yes, turtle rolling is a technique used to manoeuvre through breaking waves with a longboard or a similar large board. It involves flipping the board upside down to minimise resistance and allow the wave to pass over.

How do you roll Eskimo surfing?

Eskimo rolling is not a term commonly associated with surfing. It might refer to a kayak rolling technique used in whitewater kayaking. If you're referring to a specific surfing technique or term, please provide more context.

Can you turtle roll a foam board?

While it's technically possible to turtle roll a foam board, it's not the most effective method. Foam boards are generally more buoyant and can be challenging to flip quickly. It's recommended to use other techniques like pushing through waves or turning the board sideways.

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