Céline Nguyen - France
As a - surfer or a wahine - myself, I have always been surprised to hear French surfers speaking English, with a very strong French pronunciation and sometimes without even knowing they were actually speaking English. Yet they were, as most of the surfing terms in France are American English, since Hollywood movie-maker Peter Viertel brought surfing to Biarritz in the early 1960s. Since then, the French waves are famous all over the world, and the French people who want to learn how to surf attend a surf-school , where they learn comment faire un take off (pronounce take like in patte ), négocier son bottom turn et faire un duckdive pour éviter que le peak de la vague ne vous emporte As every French surfer knows these terms, I was stoked to be able to communicate so easily with Californian surfers I met during my first journey to the USA this summer-American English has truly become the official language for surfers, and I think it is fascinating to see how the lingo coined by some young surfers belonging to surfing subculture made its way into mainstream American English, to finally become the lingua franca of the surfing world community.
The word surf appeared in 1685, and is probably an alteration (with the possible influence of surge) of earlier suffe (1599), but the origin is uncertain. Both surf and suffe were originally used in reference to the coast of India, which suggests an Indian origin for the words. Another hypothesis is that suff may have been a phonetic respelling of sough, originally a rushing sound. It refers to the waves of the sea breaking on the shore. According to the American Heritage Dictionary "surfing" is "the sport of riding on the crest or along the tunnel of a wave, especially on a surfboard."
The sport of surfing originated centuries ago in Polynesia. As the original Hawaiian culture has no formal written history, it is impossible to know exactly when and how it was created. Surfing was practiced by men and women on alaia boards made of lighter woods, while the heavy olo boards were reserved for royalty. In 1778 British explorer James Cook discovered the Sandwich islands, and his journal A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean, Vol.III deals with this first European encounter with the sport of surfing. As it was the first time he had seen such an activity, Cook tried to describe the scene in an 18th century British English, using specialized nautical words as in the sentence ½ their first object is to place themselves on the summit of the largest surge, by which they are driven along with amazing rapidity toward the shore , while a surfer would have respectively used peak and wave.
As there were no specialized words existing in American English to describe the whole art of surfing, new American English terms were coined and they keep evolving even today. Moreover, despite the little equipment needed in the old days, surfing terminology has evolved with the innovations made in this sport. Finally, surfing has affected American English, especially among the youth, attracted by the romance and the rebellion surfing embodies. Today, surfing is part of the American popular culture, and it represents the Californian dream nationwide and worldwide. The development of surfing terminology is rather peculiar, for it is an ancient sport practiced by Islanders with a recent American English vocabulary.
Only a Surfer knows the feeling
The first surfers, who were Hawaiian, had words for every aspects of the sport, to name their favorite surfing locations, such as nuumehalani, " the heavenly site where you are alone ", a surf site on Oahu, or to detail specific surf situations, like kulana nalu, for " the place where a surfer paddles to catch a wave " (Cralle). But the arrival of Bostonian missionaries in 1821 brought about the end of most surfing in Hawaii for almost a century, as native culture was thought to be immoral. Hawaii was then a US territory from 1900 until it became the fiftieth State in 1959. Meanwhile tourism had developed in Hawaii, attracting rich Americans mostly. The unequal interactions between Hawaiian and American English are relevant, insofar it casts a light on the oppression endured by Natives Islanders from Christianism and Americans in general. Some Hawaiian words have been borrowed into American English, such as lei, wahine, luau (1), ukulele (2). But there is a relatively small stock of Hawaiian borrowings into American English compared to the impact of English on Hawaiian language. Most of the Ancient Hawaiian surfing terms have been replaced either by Americanisms, as surfspots were renamed Pipeline, Sunset, or Off The Wall (3), either by Hawaiian Pidgin English, an English-based dialect widely spoken in Hawaii. The sentence " Mahalo, no can, bra " illustrates the process of the pidginization of Hawaiian language. It is composed of a Hawaiian term, mahalo (½ thanks ©) and of the slang Pidgin word Bra (4), with a rudimentary grammar (no can instead of cannot, can't).
In 1907, The Pacific Electric Railroad played an important role in bringing surfing to California, as the company hired an Irish-Hawaiian, George Freeth, to put on surfing exhibitions to attract people. This gave surfing its start in California, and consequently, the beginning of American surfing terms. The very few Ancient and modern Hawaiian surfing terms that crossed the ocean reflect the spirit of surfing, embodied by the word aloha* and the internationally understood sign, the shaka*.
In front of the ever growing popularity of surfing in the USA, especially since the 1950s, American surfers developed a lingo of their own, that was only understood within the surfers community. Though surfing is something very personal and individualistic, surfers belong to a community for they share the same feelings that link them to the ocean and to surfing. Surfing has been often compared to a mystic experience, and surfers have adopted the Hawaiian Kahuna (5) as an imaginary surfing god, which true surfers make sacrifices to when the surf is flat. American surfing vernacular is full of colorful expressions to describe the moment when the surfer gets the ultimate surfing experience, that is to say when he is covered up by a barreling wave. This particular situation is described with religious terms (be in a whirling cathedral, going to the church), or descriptive ones (to clock in the green room, to be in the womb of the ocean, or simply to be in the tube).
Besides, there is one adverb used by every surfer anytime he is overexcited : stoked. The verb to stoke originally means to stir up and feed a fire. It appeared in 1683, and it is a back formation from earlier English stoker, for a person who tends a furnace. It was borrowed from the Middle Dutch stoken (to poke). The figurative sense of stir up or excite is found in 1837, in writings of the British Thomas Hood (Barnhart). But the word stoked is an Americanism, which is mainly found in surfing, as Flexner mentions. This word came into surfing as ½to catch a wave was to stoke the fires of the heart and soul. Hence the terms : to be stoked, the stoked life, degrees of stoke, and pure stoke. © (Grissim), it was first employed in the 1950s but is still very frequently used by surfers I know as well as by writer Duane, who is said to be ½wholly at ease with the word stoked (back cover critics). Other adverbs were formed upon this word, such as stokaboka, surf-stoked. A synomyn for stoked, with the same connotation of light, is amped up (6). Hence, surfers have a wide range of colorful adverbs to describe their particular mood after a surf ride, inspired by various fields in American English.
Surfers are in harmony with the environment, having countless terms to describe the waves, like the eskimos have numerous different terms for the snow and the nomads for the sand. Because they listen to buoy reports (7) and to surf reports given on local stations, they have borrowed some scientific terms. For instance, the height of the swell is given in feet. The swell is a deep wave on water that travels a long distance at sea (AHC) ; for surfers, it is any wave before it breaks, so the word has undergone a generalization. The wave shape is described with four neutral adjectives : clean, good, fair, poor.
Because the relationships surfers have with the ocean is so intense, they coined many new words to describe more passionately the ocean conditions. Those adjectives are Americanisms, often slang. They have undergone a change of meaning, like sucky (8). For a surfer, it means very good ocean conditions, making its passage of conversion from taboo in the 1970s to unblushing youth slang of the 1990s. This adjective has a positive connotation, whereas the verb is still extremely negative, like in the sentence " surfers suck " (an ironic t-shirt logo worn by surfers).
Or they have been specialized, like flat, tubular, fast, and tasty (9). Surfspeak is also composed of many innovative words, such as Gnarly. The original meaning of "gnarl" was simply "a knot in the wood of a tree." According to Webster's, the word gnarly, a variant form of gnarled, was used used in 1829. Among surfers (with whom the word is most commonly identified), gnarly may have first been used at a California surf spot where Torrey pine or Monterey cyprus trees grew. Their gnarled roots and branches may have inspired comparisons with the waves. In California surfer slang, "gnarly" came to be used to describe complicated, rapidly changing surf conditions. And then, by extension, "gnarly" came to mean anything that included a lot of surprisingly intricate detail, bad or scary, outside the surfing usage. There are a lot of other descriptive adjectives, like bumpy, choppy, glassy, mushy. Nouns are also very descriptive, like backwash (10), the line up(11), avalanche (12). As surfers are playful, they speak a humorous language, as Cohen noticed, describing waves like cereals (crunchy, crispy, chewy,). Hence surfers, like the first settlers, coined many descriptive words and expressions to designate the environment, for American English did not describe acutely enough the ocean and its subtilities.
Nature and Technology
The morpheme surf is often treated as a prefix used in compound words. In about 1826 the word surfboard appeared, designating the long, narrow board on which a person stands prone in surfboarding. Then surfboarding has been replaced by its clipped form, to surf, which appeared in 1917 in American English. Later, the term surfriding was coined in the 1970s, but it is the clipped form that has remained today. The term surfboarder has also been replaced by the simplified form, an example of syncope: surfer.
There are several way of riding a wave, the purest being bodysurfing, a sport inspired by marine mammal. There is also the tandem surfing, with a couple riding a wave on the same board.
These terms have been formed with surf, while the other activities are compound words with board as a suffix. Hence, bodyboarding requires a bodyboard (or a Boogy board, the brand name) invented in the 1970s by Tom Morey and consists in a soft foam board that is ridden in prone position. Skimboarding (or under its clipped form skimming) requires a skimboard, which is a rounded plywood or fiberglass board two feet across, used to slide over the shallow water at the waterÆs edge. And last but not least, surfing can be divided into two branches : there are the longboarders, with their surfboards ten feet long, used since the 40s, as opposed to the shortboarders, who ride a lightweight surfboard six feet long designed for high-performance surfing, innovated by Californian George Greenough in the late 60s.
With the technological innovations in surfing equipment, new terms had to be coined to name the new outfits. In the 1950s, Jack OÆNeill, a San Francisco surfer, pioneered the first wetsuit. A wetsuit is a neoprene rubber suit used by surfers as insulation against cold water, that is to say everywhere in the USA, but in Southern California and Hawaii. They are designed to fit snugly but to allow a thin layer of water to enter, so that the water can be warmed by body heat and keep the user warm. Hence the name wetsuit. There are various names describing each brand and style of suit, from the springsuit to the short John (a sleeveless wetsuit with the legs cut off above the knees, as opposed to the long John that has full-length legs).
Surfing terminology has evolved, as terms have been adjusted to follow changing surfboard technology, which now enables surfers to execute moves never before attempted. New maneuvers are given descriptive nouns, such as a spinner (13) or such as the floater (14), but most of the time the technical terms are colorful descriptive compounds. For instance the word takeoff, that designates the act of catching a wave, could be explained by " When an airplane gets up to speed it takes off into the air.When a surfer get his board up to speed, it takes off into the wave. " (Dr. Gabrielson) When a surfer falls off his board while taking off on or riding a wave, it is called a wipe out. This word comes from the Middle English wipen, from the Old English wipian, from the Indo European weip- to turn, vacillate. (AH). Dr Gabrielson explains that the word came into surfspeak because " When someone wipeout(s) badly they used to swim into the beach (no board leashes back then) and sort of stagger around confused for awhile. They looked wiped out, thus wipeout. "; This explanation relies on the slang adjective wiped-out, totally exhausted (AH). This is a classic surfer expression (implying a loss of control of the board) that has migrated to hippie speech and then into mainstream colloquial speech, to mean intoxicated with drugs (a loss of selfcontrol).
Nouns have often undergone a functional shift, as it is the case with duckdive or snake. According to Bartlett's Dictionary of Americanisms, the verb to snake appeared in 1848, meaning to move like a snake. Then "to snake" had two meanings later on. It was applied to someone who got a date with your girlfriend, and also to someone who took off on you. Currently it is usually applied to only someone who takes off on you while surfing. The verb to wax down has also undergone a functional shift. It comes from the noun wax, which is applied on the board to prevent the surferÆs from slipping of his board. In surfing vernacular, as in most of the youth speeches, a word can be used either as a noun or as a verb, as surfers like to simplify language.
Professional surfing was born in the 1970s, establishing new rules, with borrowings from other sports such as the interference penalty, the man on man contest. If the professionals are the most envied men in surfing, the soul surfers are the most admired. They are the men who through choice, or slightly inferior skill, live only to travel and surf (15).
Moreover, aggressive words have entered surfing terminology, as surfers' style tend to be less fluid, and more aerial and powerful. For instance verbs like to shred ( to tear up the waves while surfing), to rip (to perform aggressive maneuvers on a wave) took on slangy meaning that deviated from standard usage in clever ways and made it mainstream, as to shred has become to speed along a route in 1977 (Oxford). In surf lingo all these verbs are complimentary terms since the 1970s in spite of the original negative connotations.
A Counter Culture ?
Many people perceive surf lingo as juvenile, because surfers live at the beach, under the sun, following nature's rythm. Because surfing doesn't produce wealth, they belittle surfing.
The way surfers speak is often laughed at by non surfers, who donÆt understand their speech. They use intensifiers, such as way (like in " way cool ! "), and most of the time they speak with minimal effort expressions, because of their laid-back, unhurried life. Hence what's up became " zup ", to which the reply would be " nuch " ( not much ), " see you later " became "s'later ". nar for gnarly and its variant tonar for totally gnarly, rad for radical. Not only do they shorten expressions, they also use abbreviations, as TK for total killer , and as for surf spots : J-Bay for JeffreyÆs Bay ( South Africa), V-Land for Velzy Land (Hawaii ; named after Dale Velzy, a surfboard manufacturer), and G-Land for Grajagan (Java).
Euphemisms are present in surf lingo. Euphemisms are mild, vague and less offensive expressions for things that are of an unpleasant nature. Since euphemisms are about culturally and subculturally determined taboos of a generation, they give a clear picture of a certain group whose language makes use of them. In the case of the surfers, euphemisms are colorful and humorous. For instance, the act of urinating in oneÆs tight wetsuit is common among surfers, as they spend hours and hours in the water that can be very cold. To talk about this raw aspect of surfing, they speak about a peter heater, an internal heating (because of the warmth generated by urinating in a wetsuit ). And after the surf session, they have a faucet nose (a phenomenom that occurs when you come in after surfing, caused by having water forced up your nose during a wipeout). Those euphemisms are only known within surfers as the raw reality of a surfer's life doesn't please the media, nor the people who imitate them.
Slang is very present in surfing vernacular, as slang is a derision of the dominant culture by subcultures, and its soul is in sarcasm, denial , brutality and metaphorical obscenity. (Forgue). For years, surfers have been despised or feared by society. They were given pejorative nouns such as surfbums (16), gremlins, or surfnazis (17). But the perception of the surfer by society has evolved and today, a surfbum and a surfnazi is someone who is devoted to surfing, while a gremlin is a skillful young surfer. In accepting those derogative nouns and giving them the opposite meaning, surfers have adopted the principle of youthful rebellion of ' what is bad is good, '. This concept has strongly influenced surfing vernacular , as words in use today - such as awesome - signify excellent, though they literally say bad.
Conversely, surfers have coined many derogatory terms for the nonsurfers, such as a Hodad in the 1960s, the geek in the 70s and the dweeb in the 80s. Today, the put-down of choice is Barney. Most of their references come from the mass culture, especially from the cartoons, as the majority of surfers are under 25. For instance, a Kook (18), a Casper (19) are derogatory terms equivalent to a Barney (20), a Fred from the name of characters in a TV cartoon. When it comes to girls, surfers distinguish three kinds of girls. A Wilma is a stupid girl who's afraid of being wet, while a Surf Betty or Betty is a pretty girl who surfs well. To refer to an attractive girl with a more sexual connotation, the term Surf bunnies (21) is employed. Contrary to the other terms, this name comes from the adult magazine Playboy, but it belongs to the mass culture too.
A perfect example of the interactions between surfers and media is the expression Cowabunga. Surfers adopted it from the Howdy Doody Show (1947-1960). This all-purpose expletive and greeting was coined in 1949 by Eddie Kean at a script meeting, and was then used by Baby Boom surfers as a hilarious and exultant shout.(Dalzell) Then it was used by young officers in Vietnam, before Bart Simpson (from the Simpsons cartoon show) used it again in the 1990s. (Cralle)
Surfers inspired the media, for they represent youth, and at the same time, the surferÆs life is attractive to the world because it embodies freedom and a personal relationship to nature. Surf Movies like Gidget, Muscle Beach Party, Point Break depicted surfers as passionate young, inadapted to society and to its rules, and they brought some popular expressions among surfers into youth speech. But surfer slang of the 1960s penetrated deeper into American English with the development of Surf Music. Because they depicted the romantic way of life of surfers, the Beach Boys, Dick Dale,and others introduced words such as wipeout, surfari to the masses. Then, the last important factor that brought surfing vernacular into American English was the Val speak in the 1980s. The vocabulary of the Valley Girl (22) who 'lives in the San Fernando Valley in suburban Los Angeles' was derived in large part from the slang of surfers. Most of the typical expressions of the Valley Girl were borrowed from surfing slang that Valley surfers took home with them, like awesome, gnarly, rad or tubular, used to describe something good. First exported by the tourists coming from the Valley, these expressions are now known everywhere in the USA.
Lastly, the verb to surf has made a remarkable appearance in American English in a field that has no relation whatsoever with the ocean, in cybernetics. It has endured a new specialist meaning, but the notion of freedom remains implied in it.
In order to seduce young people, the media have perfectly understood that surfing is definitely attractive and glamorous. But on the other side, real surfers remain the masters of their own way of life and of their own way of speaking. Surfing still remains a counter culture in a way, insofar as new expressions are constantly created.
Surfing has developed a lingo of its own, a very fresh and humorous speech, because of the youth of the surfers (physically and/or spiritually.) Because surfers do not conform to any particular rule, their language is free-flowing and in constant evolution, as barrel replaced tube in the 70s for instance. It appeals to people who are attracted by the romantic and relaxed life surfers live. In spite of the huge business (Time) it has become today, as Quiksilver is in the Dow Jones, and in spite of its enormous popularity, surfing remains a subculture, as most of surfing terminology is composed of slang words. Yet surfing vernacular is one of the most influential modern American linguistic subcultures, from Alaska to Texas. Most of the vernacular of the extreme sports so popular in recent years owe a huge debt to surfing, and young people keep on enjoying the antiestablishment and antistress ethic embodied in surfing. Hence, Surfish - a blend of surf slang and English, coined by Dr. John Cohen in Surfer Magazine (9/84) - has become the second language of many young people, who keep coining new words and expressions.
1) luau : Originally an Hawaiian feast with music and hula dancers (Elbert). Today, it is an outdoor picnic usually featuring a whole barbecue pig (AH).
2) ukulele : a small four-stringed guitar popularized in Hawaii, uku meaning flea and lele meaning
3) These are famous surf locations (= surfspots) in Hawaii. Sunset Beach was originally called Pau Malu, but it was later named after the Sunset Market just down the road. The other spots were named after their shape.
4) Brah is the abbreviation for bruddah, which is the localized pronunciation of Brother, inspired by the American English abbreviation Bro, mostly used by African Americans. The same mispronunciation of brother gave buddy, probably from its baby talk alteration. Another example of localized pronunciation is the expression " the thing ", Da Kine, meaning almost anything its speaker wants it to, like the American equivalent "whatchamacallit " (Cralle).
5) Kahuna : a Hawaiian priest of mysterious powers and rites.
6) amped up : It comes from the informal amp, for an ampere (a unit of electric current) or an amplifier. Amp was used in the 1960s to refer to amplifiers in rock-n-roll.
7) buoy reports : information from floating weather stations, including wind direction, wind speed, and visibility.
8) Sucky : used for a wave that breaks extremely fast, throwing its lip out in front of itself and creating a space or tube ; caused by the wave passing suddenly over a shallow spot and throwing forward.
9) Tasty : is found in Collegiate , a song written in 1925 by Moe Jaffe and Nat Bonx with the words Hasty, hasty we make life so tasty. and it is definitely a modern-sounding word suggestive of the surfer culture. Employed outside the surfing context, it is a general term used for good, appealing since the 1920s.
10) Backwash : a wave returning to the ocean after crashing on the beach ; also wrongly named undertow. (Cralle)
11) Line up : place where the waves are consistently starting to break, hence where the surfers straddle their boards waiting for waves to begin curling.
12) Avalanche : a rare French borrowing in surfing. For what the white water looks like pouring down the face of a wave.
13) Spinner : in the early days, a spinner was what a coin would do when one twisted it hare on end. Spinning on an old long board was performed with a quick spin, hence the name.
14) Floater : because the surfer seems to float over the top of the breaking wave just before making his move to the bottom (Gabrielson).
15) This way of life is summed up in the Americanism Surfari, which is a blend of surf and safari, that was coined in the 1950s.
16) The word bum first appeared in the 1860s, and it is a backformation of the German bummer idler, loafer . It designates a tramp, or a lazy person who seeks to live solely by otherÆs support. Words such as beach or as surf were added in front of bum to be applied to surfers in the 1950s, who ' ride the waves, eat, sleep, not care in the world.' as Kahoona described himself in the movie Gidget (1959).
17) Gremlins : This term is unflattering as it was the noun given by the British Royal Air Force in 1941 to a mischievous spirit imagined as the cause of mechanical faults. It may derive from the Old English gremman to anger and lin of goblin. But it was more likely formed from Irish gruaimin, bad-tempered little fellow, with the ending of goblin. From this aircraft British English term, gremlin became an Americanism when used in surfing since the 1950s. It designated either an inexperienced or a troublesome surfer under fifteen.. Gremmie, grommet are variations. (Barnhart) Because they worn trench coats on cold winter days, those coats were given the name gremmie coats. But when their coats were ankle-length Luftwaffe officers' coats, gremlins were called surfnazis, in 1960s. They even adopted the iron cross and the swatiska as their emblems. But, as Greg Noll explains, most surfers didnÆt even know what it meant. The swatiska only became a symbol of some surfers because it was a rebellious act, which was shaking the pillars of society. (Cralle)
18) Kook is an especially derogatory term, applied to someone who lives inland and who is always getting in the way of good surfers when they try to surf. It comes from the cartoon character Wilbur Kookmeyer introduced in 1986 in Surfer magazine.
19) A Casper is a tourist who comes out to the beach with a very pale complexion, looking as white as theTV cartoon character Casper, the Friendly Ghost.
20) Barney : the Flinstones influenced surfers a lot, as they gave the characters' names as derogatory terms, for instance a Barney or a Fred is a stupid young man who doesn't surf (Fred is the hero of the cartoon and Barney Rubble his best friend), while Wilma is Fred's wife. Conversely Betty is the beautiful woman of the cartoon.
21) Surf bunnies are girls who hang out with surfers. The term bunnies comes from the Playboy clubs, where club's waitresses worn scanty uniforms with white cotton tails. By the mid 1960s, bunny meant any sexually attractive girl, especially one who attached herself to a sport because she enjoyed the social life and the men found with it. (Felxner)
22) Valley girl : popularized by Frank Zappa's ' Valley Girl ' inspired from talks heard by his daughter Moon Unit, at the Sherman Oaks Galleria, and by the recent film Clueless. She is the typical teenage girl, from middle class to wealthy families, today all over America.
Aloha : This interjection is chiefly used in Hawaii, as a traditional greeting or farewell, according to the American Heritage College Dictionary. It is the acronym of a whole way of life :
Akahai : tenderness.
Lokahi : harmony.
OluÆOlu : kindness.
HaÆahaÆa : humility.
Ahonui : patience.
There are several explanations for the origin of shaka. The gesture is believed to have been invented by Hamana Kalili, a Hawaiian folk hero, fisherman, tug-of-war champion, hukilau (party) organizer, and resident of Laie (Oahu), who used the sign - not the word- as a short blessing and community calling. His right hand was missing three fingers ; the thumb and the little finger were all that was left. Kalili is said to have lost his fingers from using dynamite to kill fish ; being smashed in the rollers at Kahuku Sugar Mill ; or being bitten by a ferocious shark.
The word shaka was used in the 1960s by Lippy Espinda, a Honolulu used-car salesman and TV movie host. But it may have derived from much earlier times, for instance from the Buddha named ½ Shakyamuni, © who prayed with his fingers folded except for his little finger and his thumb. And some old-time Japanese residents of Hawaii say that shaka dates back to the 1880s ; they claim it means ' Praise the Lord ' and was used when someone did something good. (Surfin-ary)
*How to Duckdive ? (Wahine Magazine)
Start a duck dive by paddling towards an oncoming wave with as much speed as you can muster. As with most aspects of surfing, timing is crucial when duck diving. Avoid the breaking top if at all possible. Either sneak just under it or time it so it breaks about five feet in front of you. This will allow you to penetrate under the wave while the power of the lip has exploded skyward, giving you a window of opportunity. Start your duck dive a few seconds before the wave impacts you so that you have adequate time to submerge yourself.
Wrap your hands around the rails just under your shoulders and put your strongest foot on the tail. Simultaneously dip your nose, straighten your elbows, and roll onto your toes while sticking your butt as high in the air as possible. Some people prefer to put their knee on the tail rather than their foot, but you lose a lot of leverage with this method. As your board starts to sink take your leg which is not on the tail and thrust it skyward. As the wave rolls over you, slam your weight onto the tail through your toes as you push your nose forward and up to the surface. Use the leg which is not on the tail to counterbalance once you're underwater. On the way up to the surface I like to use a scissor or frog kick with my legs to propel myself.
There's no doubt learning to duck dive is a lot of trial and error. Practice in flat water with an undersized board that's easy to submerge. Once you feel you understand the motion practice duck diving through small, less powerful white water. The biggest mistake I see people make is submerging the nose but never getting the tail down so the wave pushes them backwards. They don't complete the whole motion of the duck dive. The quality of the duck dive is a fluid scooping motion. It would look like a U if drawn. Thus the motion needs to be complete from the top to of the U through the undercurve to the end of the U. Persevere and learn how to do it properly and you'll catch more waves and expend less energy getting back out.
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