Now that we have some fundamentals out of the way, it’s time to talk through the steps of a surf entry and surf exit.
Have your mask around your neck, not on your face, to minimize the chance of losing it in the surf. Neither your regulator nor your snorkel should be in your mouth. I've heard of one diver that got an embolism from inhaling as a wave descended upon them, although I can’t confirm that this is more than urban myth. Admittedly, the timing would have to almost perfect for this to happen. I tell people that they don’t really need it; it wastes air and increases the risk of having the regulator injure your mouth, teeth, and lips if you get tumbled. At the same, if having a regulator in their mouth greatly eases your stress, the benefits may outweigh the risks.
Your fin straps should be set to the proper length BEFORE you enter the surf, so that all you need to do is slip them on. Hold a fin in each hand by something secure, like a strap. A wave can easily rip one from your fingers if you only hold it by the blade. Some fins (such as Scuba Pro Jet Fins) have ‘vents’ near the foot pocket. These provide great holes to slip your fingers through for a better grip, and also allow you to fold the strap back past the heel of the fin to make slipping your foot in easier. If you hold your fins by the blade it’s a good idea to tuck them between your body and elbow when ducking under a wave.
Make sure your BC is fully deflated. If you need to duck under a wave you don't want an inflated 'inner tube' around your body.
Get to the surf zone quickly. Wait for a lull and walk quickly to chest high depth. If you stop shallower the water won't support you, which makes you unstable and more likely to fall over. Be careful to judge "chest deep” at a wave’s lowest point (just before a wave gets to you). Many people stop too soon and then find themselves unexpectedly in knee deep water with a wave heading their way. If you have trouble maintaining contact with the bottom just bounce a bit. If a passing wave moves you towards shore then return to chest high depth before starting to put on your fins.
Never turn your back on a friend; the ocean is your friend. I like to stand almost sideways, so I can keep one eye on the waves. If a wave is a "round one" simply bob over it. If a wave looks like a "flat one" then you must go forward and under it; the backwash will make it impossible to run from all but the smallest waves. To duck under it simply go down on one knee (not two, and don't dive under it head first). This will leave you ideally positioned to stand back up quickly and get going. Ducking under a wave is easier than you might think, because the wave 'sucks' you under it and spits you out the back side (this is also why you can't run from it). If you see a flat wave coming, move at it QUICKLY before ducking under it.
Don your fins quickly. It should take you only a few seconds to put on your fins. That means no fiddling with buckles, straps, or adjustments. You should have your fin straps set to the proper setting before you enter. I even tape mine down (it also keeps them from snagging kelp). This seems to be where new beach divers run into trouble, messing around with all the innovative snaps manufacturers create but that aren't really needed. Put your fins on by having one leg for a "Figure 4", using the straps, with the tops facing inward towards each other, because it seems to work well with the Figure 4. Practice it in a pool, in chest deep water (away from the pool rail) dozens of times until it becomes second nature, taking only a few seconds and without any need to look down. This is especially important in night beach diving.
Go! Once you have your fins on, get on your back, kick hard for 15 - 20 feet, inflating your BC once you're sure you are past the surf zone. Once you are past the surf zone you can put on your mask, adjust your gear, catch your breath and discuss the meaning of life… you get the idea.
Stop in chest deep water. Exiting the ocean is basically just the reverse of a beach entry. I like to swim up to 6’ – 7' of depth before ascending, just to avoid a long surface swim. If you swim towards the beach on the surface, it's a good idea to snorkel in; looking down helps you judge when you’re nearing chest-deep water. If you surface swim in on your back, stop occasionally to “feel” for the bottom with your fins pointed down so that you don’t accidentally end up being too shallow. Just as when you entered, stop in chest-deep water and deflate your BC completely; many people forget this, then panic because they can't touch bottom easily. Once you are certain you are standing securely in chest deep water remove your fins, put your mask around your neck, and take your regulator out of your mouth. If you remove your fins, then find yourself in water a bit too deep, either "bounce" shallower or hold a fin in each hand and paddle a couple times to get to chest deep water.
Slip your fins off quickly. Again, you shouldn’t have to fiddle with buckles unless you simply can't get the darn things off. If all else fails and your buddy is waiting, have them help you. Remember to keep one eye on the waves at all times.
Time your exit. Timing waves on the way out is a bit more difficult, simply because of the lower vantage point, but the process is basically the same as when entering. Wait for a smaller wave then use it to "push" you up towards the beach. If you have to duck under a wave while waiting for the lull, remember that it will push you shallower and you may need to compensate by running back to chest depth. People sometimes do a great job ducking under a wave, forget this, and get pounded by the next big one. Don't be in a hurry to exit after you've ducked a wave or two; I've had to wait out a set of 12 before exiting. New divers sometimes get nervous, then "bolt" for the beach at the wrong time and get knocked down by a wave.
Go! Once you make a decision to exit, it's all “asses and elbows”; Pump your legs hard to get out of the last few feet of water and onto the beach, lifting your knees as you do so to avoid the suction the water creates. NEVER take your eyes off the surf until you are on dry land; I can't tell you how many people do everything right, forget about the last 2 feet of waves, and get knocked over by a small wave that hits them in the back of knees and topples them (like your friends used to do to you in high school). Some people prefer to exit sideways, bouncing out, but I find it faster to run forward looking sideways at the water.
Safety trumps ego. If all else fails and you DO get knocked down, stay calm and crawl like a baby on all 4's; safety, not style, matters. Also try to remember that waves last only a few seconds and that even the most pathetic person can hold their breath for a minute. Finally, write your name and phone number on all your gear; the ocean giveth and the ocean taketh, especially if you are a beach diver!
We are blessed with some of the best shore diving in the world. Knowing a few beach diving basics can help you take advantage of that great shore diving.