'Surf passage' is one of the most iconic and formidable parts of US Navy SEAL training — here's what it looks like

US Navy

The US Naval Special Warfare Center is very close-mouthed about how it trains future Navy SEALs.

Photos and videos are rare, and oftentimes the only information available to the public is through firsthand accounts of those who’ve endured one of the world’s most arduous training regimens.

But there is at least one type of training into which the Navy has given the public a glimpse: surf passage, where small teams of SEAL candidates paddle inflatable boats through waves crashing into San Diego’s Silver Strand.

“Surf Passage is one of our more iconic training evolutions,” Lt. Trevor Davids, a public affairs officer at the Naval Special Warfare Center, told Business Insider.

“It’s first addressed within the first week of Naval Special Warfare Orientation,” Davids said, adding that candidates from both the Special Warfare Combatant Craft Crewman and Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL programs participate in the training.

Here’s what they do:

If the teams of usually 6-7 trainees start back a ways from the ocean, they will carry their boats above their heads.

US Navy

Sometimes the BUD/S trainers will even make the trainees get wet and cover themselves in sand to “make them really uncomfortable,” Davids said.

US Navy

“It sounds laughable,” Davids said, but “people’s performance cuts off quickly when they’re uncomfortable” and it’s all about testing whether they can perform under tough situations.

The teams bring the boat down to waist-level before they enter the water.

US Navy

And then jump in and start paddling towards the ocean breakers.

US Navy

And this is what they’re up against.

US Navy

They must pass through huge waves, as if they’re Tom Hanks in the movie “Cast Away.”

US Navy

Davids said the waves are usually three to five feet high, but can get bigger.

US Navy

“Typically every boat team is successful in paddling out past the surf,” Davids said. “Boats that don’t make it will have failed the evolution and will receive remedial training and additional physical training.”

US Navy

But Davids added that it’s not uncommon to witness what he called a “yard sale,” in which boats flip, and bodies, oars and helmets go everywhere. Sometimes boats even crash into each other.

US Navy

“There was a hard and fast rule that during a wipe out each student was to hold onto his paddle,” former Navy SEAL Mark Divine wrote.

“Invariably, someone would lose his during a wipe out,” Divine wrote. “Some students had teeth knocked out, others had large gashes inflicted on their faces or elsewhere from free paddles.”

If a team is tough enough to make it past the last surf, then all they have to do is just ride the waves back.

US Navy

But it’s not always as easy as it looks — even for Olympians.

US NavyMichael Phelps, upper right, and members of the U.S. National Swim Team participate Thursday, March 19, 2004, in Surf Passage at Naval Special Warfare Center at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado.

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