Gone Outdoors

How to Properly Fall While Surfing a Reef Break

by Beth Rifkin

Though wipeouts are a common occurrence in surfing, they can be dangerous and cause damage to your board and multiple and serious body and head injuries. The risk for injury increases if you take a tumble while surfing a reef break, which combines shallow water near a coral reef or rock outcropping. Familiarity with your surf spot and maintaining presence of mind can help to keep your injuries to a minimum.

1. Know your surf spot. Observe the break and ask friends or other surfers about the conditions before going out in the water.

2. Protect yourself from your falling surfboard. Jump or fall away from the surfboard, if capable. Put one hand up when falling in case the surfboard is about to topple on top of you.

3. Enter the water butt first when falling, if possible. The butt usually provides more cushion than the head or feet. Bend your legs and bring your knees into your chest to prevent any ankle sprains or breaks. Alternatively, spread your body out like a starfish, face up, with your arms and legs extended out from your body. The starfish position slows your fall and helps to keep you closer to the surface of the water.

4. Cover your head with one or two arms. Head injuries that occur during surfing can be dangerous and may cause concussions or even brain damage. Hitting your head on a sharp and spiked reef is particularly concerning. Better to have your arms and hands cut than your head.

5. Rise out of the water slowly. Instinct may say to fly up out of the water as fast as you fell in, but you will likely be disoriented and unaware of people, your board, rocks, reefs or anything else that may be around you. Stay calm and put one arm up above you as you rise out of the water.


  • Assume the water is shallow. You may think you’re falling into a spot with deeper water but the reef or floor of the ocean may only be 2 or 3 feet below. Observe caution and assume that dangerous elements are not too far below.
  • Keep your eyes open as much as possible during and after the fall. Knowing the depth of the water and the things that are around you, such as sharp reefs, can help you to react appropriately for your specific conditions.
  • Stay calm during the wipeout. Remaining relaxed can help you to maintain presence of mind and act in a safe manner.


  • Avoid falls as much as possible when surfing shallow reef breaks to avoid injury, or avoid surfing them altogether, especially if you are an inexperienced surfer.

Photo Credits

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