Abstract The instantaneous turbulent velocity field created by the breaking of spilling regular waves on a plane slope was measured in a plane running parallel to the slope using particle image velocimetry. The measurement plane was located at a height of about 1 mm above the bed. The measurement area encompassed the region where the large eddies generated at incipient wave breaking impinged on the bottom inside the surf zone. A total of 30 trials were conducted under identical experimental conditions. In each trial, six consecutive wave cycles were recorded. The measured velocity fields were separated into a mean flow and a turbulence component by ensemble averaging. The instantaneous turbulent velocity fields were analyzed to determine the occurrence frequency, location, geometry and evolution of the large eddies, and their contributions to instantaneous shear stresses, turbulent kinetic energy and turbulence energy fluxes. The motion of single glass spheres along the bed was also investigated. The two-phase flow measurements showed that the velocity and displacement of large solid particles on a smooth bed were significantly affected by the magnitude and direction of turbulence velocities. Overall, this study has examined the kinematic and dynamic properties of large eddies impinging on the bed and the interaction of these large-scale turbulent flow structures with the mean flow. The study has also highlighted the important role of large eddies in sediment transport.