What to do when you wipe out

If you’ve been surfing for a month or longer, the experience of wiping out is probably very familiar to you by now. So here are tips on what to do when you wipe out!

If you’ve never been surfing on your own before, however, the sheer power and impact of the waves, and turbulence created beneath the water’s surface, can be quite scary in waves of any size.

At the toughest, most critical section, it’s difficult to describe wiping out or compare it to anything other than the feeling of being tumbled in a very strong washing machine.

It feels like an utter thrashing. By the time you do manage to come up, you can feel very discombobulated, short of breath, and you may have to prepare to take on another series of waves behind it.

As a beginner, once you have lost control and fallen off your board, there’s little one can do to prevent what happens next — I say little because experienced surfers will tell you that there are ways to lessen the impact — catapult yourself into the next section of whitewash, stretch out or expand your body to create more surface area, etc. — but it takes a lot of knowledge and expertise in the water to achieve this level of awareness.

Regardless of level and experience, all surfers have to handle taking wipeouts in the ocean. It’s part of the sport.

As you may have already guessed, the most important thing to remember to do if you wipe out is to remain calm. This is easier said than done.

Try and focus on slowing down your breath and relaxing your mind. This will allow you to stay underwater for longer without panicking, and when you come to the surface you’ll have more oxygen.

Relax your body and don’t try to kick or fight to the surface until you are freed from the force of the waves.

If you are wearing a leash, you may feel like you’re being pulled by your board underwater. This results when your board is carried by the wave. It is not generally recommended to remove your leash, as you will lose your board and have to swim for it.

Where is the worst place on the wave to wipeout?

It is in your best interest to know what it means to go over the falls.

This simply means to be picked up as the wave is curling, and get dumped as the wave breaks into the ocean. This is without a doubt the worst place to wipe out.

You can imagine it like the experience of being on a rollercoaster or carnival ride right before a steep drop: the wave scoops you, so that you’re in the air, at the point where you almost feel weightless, right before dumping you back down.

Sometimes the best thing to do in this situation is to bail your board immediately when you can sense this happening, and pin drop, or land feet first, as opposed to nose diving, or pearling, and getting spun around upside down.

However, there are some exceptions to this:

Depending on where you are surfing, there may be shallow reef below you.

If this is the case, you DO NOT want to land vertically, feet first, straight on the reef. Try and fall horizontally, so that when you make contact with the water you won’t be landing directly on the reef. From there, do what you can to protect your face.

When you do come to the surface, always cover your head. This is a crucial part of knowing what to do when you wipe out!

This is especially true in crowded line ups. You want to come up using two arms to cover your head. You don’t want your own board, or other boards, to hit you in the head.

Related to this, try and hang out to your board when you do fall, if at all possible.

This especially applies to longboards, which can cause more serious injury to another person. Simply flailing your board can pose a hazard to people further on the inside, who are either sitting in place or paddling back out.

Surfing is a dangerous enough sport that you absolutely do not want to be the person who causes injury to another.

Paddle back out towards the channel. By this point, you will likely be out of position and also not near the channel to paddle back out. This is what you do when you wipe out to stay safe!

Instead of fighting back through on-coming set waves, paddle either left or right, in the direction of the channel, and then paddle back straight out, where you are not in line with where the waves are breaking.

Take your time. You will probably be out of breath at this point and racing to get back out into the lineup will serve little purpose and you will probably be more gassed by the time you get back to the break than if you used the time to regain a sense of calm and composure.

Anticipate the nose drip… Sounds gross, but is all too real.

Especially if you’ve wiped out a number of times in a session, you have a lot of water in your nose. Flipping upside down or “touching your toes” when you end your session is a good idea to eliminate some of this excess water, however, be aware that you may experience nose drip up to hours after your surf session! 

Speaking from someone who worked as a hostess and would cram surf sessions in immediately beforehand, having water dripping from your nose in public at unexpected times can be a bit embarrassing! Just something to keep in mind. It’s normal!

When in doubt, don’t go out.

This is a rule of thumb whenever you’re surfing.

If you question whether or not you should paddle out, the answer is no. If you are not able to handle the conditions that day, you will likely not have much fun even if you do make it out unscathed.

Remember, that you are dealing with ever changing, unpredictable forces of nature that are beyond our control. Try out that new surf spot, but exercise caution! Especially if you are solo, you do not want to take the risk if you are hesitant or doubtful.

What other tips can you share on what to do when you wipe out? Leave us some suggestions!


Check out this post to find out about Mission beach as a great place to surf!

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