What Is Pearling and How To Avoid It

If there is anything that ruins a great wave, it is when you waited, you paddled, and you stood as you caught the wave but tumbled over your board not more than two seconds after. It is when instead of kissing the wind and the mist from the winds, you’re face to face with saltwater.

Pearling happens to everyone. They are a pretty common phenomenon for anyone learning how to surf. Pearling also happens to professional surfers from time to time.

What is pearling, you ask. Can you avoid it? Find out everything you need to know about pearling and how you can prevent this wipeout from ruining your ride.

What Is Pearling?

Pearling is one of the most common types of a wipeout in surfing. It happens quite often to people who are learning how to surf. It occurs when the riders make it to the lineup but are not yet ready for a standup wave.

It can be a frustrating part of a learner’s journey. After all, it takes a significant amount of effort to paddle and make it to the lineup. Yet, it is there to remind you that you’ve still got a bit to go before you stand up and surf.

Pearling or nosedive happens when the front of your surfboard – the nose, dips into the water when you are trying to catch a wave. It results in getting the nose of your surfboard digging into the water and its back launched up.

Then, you get launched off your board, smacking the waters and having the wave crash right on top of you.

Why Is It Called Pearling?

The wipeout’s name takes after the near-ancient art of pearl diving called pearling. It is a dangerous technique that involves pear hunters jumping off a ship and diving about 100 feet in a single breath.

The way surfers nosedive during a wipeout is the same way the hunters look when they dive into the ocean looking for pearls. That’s why it is called pearling.

How To Avoid Pearling

Nosedives don’t immediately mean you’re doing something wrong in surfing. While it can be particularly embarrassing when you think you’ve got a perfect wave and end up pearling, it happens not just to you but to a good population of surfers.

Most pearling happens in the early stages of learning how to surf. It can also occur when you are adapting to a new surfboard or when steep and fast waves are miscalculated. Moreover, when a surfer’s weight is too far forward, it can cause the board’s nose to dive underwater.

Here are some tips you can try to avoid pearling on your next ride. Remember that as every surfer and wave is different, some suggestions may be more beneficial for some surfers and unalike circumstances. Take what resonates. Leave what doesn’t.

Tip #1. Correct your body position

What is Pearling and How to Avoid it - Different Stages of A Wave

The primary point in avoiding a nosedive is paying attention to your body position when paddling on your surfboard. It is essential to be far up on the board to catch a wave. Not too far up to the nose, but just enough to weigh the board down in the right places.

You do not want to put the weight in the wrong parts of the surfboard, or you’ll end up going under the water and propelling yourself into pearling. The thing about positioning your weight is true to an extent, but it is only an essential starting point guideline.

On smaller wave days, you will need to be as far forward on the board as possible so you can catch anything. Once you catch it and you feel like you’re going to pearl, shift your weight backward. A lot of surfers do this trick and prove it works.

Another method you can try instead of shifting backward is to keep your hands back in a cobra position. This posture distributes your weight on your hips. If done correctly, the place on the surfboard that needs more weight to anchor it down will help prevent the nosedive.

Take note that these tips may not always work all the time. Since you are shifting your weight back, it puts on the breaks and keeps you from catching the wave at all. These approaches are best used if you really feel you are going to Pearl.

Ideally, you have to keep calm and have faith in yourself. Keep paddling to keep the forward momentum. Paddling helps because as the wave peaks and gets steeper, the nose should pop back out of the wave.

Tip #2. Paddle! Paddle! Paddle!

Another factor that may be causing you to pearl is how you paddle. You may either be paddling too slowly or not enough.

When catching a wave, you’re not technically catching it like how a baseball player tries to catch a ball. Baseball players typically run toward the ball then stop and position to let the ball come to them. In terms of the wave, you are more like hopping on the train than catching a ball.

See, when you hop on a train, you need to be running as fast as the train so you can grab it and jump on it as it is moving along. With wave catching, you almost want to try to race the waves to the shore and not let them catch you. Therefore, it is crucial to paddle faster and match the speed of the wave.

By paddling as fast and as efficiently as possible, you’ll go at a speed where the wave can catch you and lift you instead of stumbling on you and beating you down.

Tip #3. Proper Wave Positioning

Proper wave positioning is another critical factor you should not overlook. No matter how fast and efficiently you paddle, if you are too far inside, the wave might be too steep and may tumble over you and send you down.

On the contrary, when you are far outside, you can catch it when it isn’t too steep. It will less likely propel you down and cause a nosedive.

What is Pearling and How to Avoid it - Different Stages of A Wave

There are different stages of a wave. This is why you should decide early on if you want to try catching the wave or not. If you look at the illustration above, a moment too late won’t let you decide on the spot to catch the wave and paddle for it. Stages C to D are usually the pearling zones already.

Tip #4. Angle Correctly on The Takeoff

Slightly angle your surfboard on the takeoff. This trick will keep you from going down the face of the wave and will less likely cause you to tumble down and pearl. However, try not to overdo it as you might not get much power from the wave.

Tip #5. Pop Up Right Away

Timing is significant when you are popping up. It would help if you did not think twice about popping up, or you might end up not popping up fast enough. This will result in the wave pushing you off it and sending you down pearling.

If you feel like the wave will cause you to pearl, pop up as fast as you can. If you’ve already popped up on your board when the wave starts to break, it will be easier to control where exactly to place your weight and avoid pearling.

Tip #6. Focus

Always watch where you are going. Remember that wherever your eyes go, your body and board go too. So, keep your focus. Looking down on your surfboard will only shift your weight down and cause your nose to dive. It is the exact opposite force we are looking for.

Keep your eyes on the wave as you paddle. By doing so, you’ll be better able to tell where your surfboard needs to be and how fast you should be paddling.


You may pearl over 100 times as you try to learn how to surf, and there is nothing wrong with it. As with everything you are trying to achieve, all of the pearling will become worth it once you get to catch and ride your most perfect wave.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Q: Is wiping out such as pearling dangerous?

A: Getting wiped out is all part of learning how to surf. You want to avoid it as much as you can, but it can happen anytime. Not all wipeout is dangerous, especially if you are still learning and on a forgiving whitewater wave.

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