There is always going to be that moment, when the horizon goes dark and despite your best scramble paddle, you realise there is zero chance of a successful duck dive. The wave is too big, too powerful, too far out and there is zero chance of holding onto the board and 100% chance of a flogging. Your only recourse is to jump off the board and dive AKA “bail”.
The universal rule of any surfboard bail and this applies to all levels – is never bail with someone directly behind you. This can lead to entanglement, a damaged board or far worse, serious injury to that person. If possible, always paddle at an angle that will take you to the side of the person behind you. If they have any sense, they would have paddled the opposite direction.
The next step is the bail action itself.
You see all sorts, from the aborted duck dive board eject to the stand and swallow dive. Personally, I have always gone for the slide off the side of the board, followed by a head first dive into the water to get as deep as possible. This has served me well countless of times in normal sized waves with normal sized boards.
The rules however, are different in big paddle conditions, larger equipment and a lot more water to deal with. After being caught inside of a sizeable amount of whitewater at an offshore bombora, I ended up with a broken board and a long swim for my troubles. A day later, the same thing happened to a mate at the same break using the same technique. The white water had effectively pushed and folded the 3 inch thick boards in half because of the way they were laying on the water.
Feedback from big wave surfers has shown, the best way to bail your surfboard, is to slide off the board and place it parallel to the incoming wave. This ensures it is flipped/rolled sideways rather than lengthways and minimises breakage. Before ducking under the water, push it slightly away from your body.
Time for a good breath.
The next phase is to get off the surface and out of the way of the incoming thunder. Most of us (me included) would do a head first dive to the depths. Consensus however, is the best method is to drop in feet first and then use your arms to propel yourself deeper, a bit like a squid. This keeps your head closer to the surface and oxygen and away from things like reefs/rocks.
Its then all about wearing your beating without expending too much effort and oxygen. Check out our article on BET on ways to do this.
So in summary.
– Avoid people behind you
– Bail the board parallel to the wave
– Take a breath
– Duck feet first
– Dont panic
Has spent over 30 years of his middle aged life trying to spend more time in the ocean. Likes to surf, bodysurf, free dive and pretend he enjoys chasing big waves.