Floods impede gas (O2 and CO2) exchange between plants and the environment. A mechanism to enhance plant gas exchange under water comprises gas films on hydrophobic leaves, but the genetic regulation of this mechanism is unknown. We used a rice mutant (dripping wet leaf 7, drp7) which does not retain gas films on leaves, and its wild-type (Kinmaze), in gene discovery for this trait. Gene complementation was tested in transgenic lines. Functional properties of leaves as related to gas film retention and underwater photosynthesis were evaluated. Leaf Gas Film 1 (LGF1) was identified as the gene determining leaf gas films. LGF1 regulates C30 primary alcohol synthesis, which is necessary for abundant epicuticular wax platelets, leaf hydrophobicity and gas films on submerged leaves. This trait enhanced underwater photosynthesis 8.2-fold and contributes to submergence tolerance. Gene function was verified by a complementation test of LGF1 expressed in the drp7 mutant background, which restored C30 primary alcohol synthesis, wax platelet abundance, leaf hydrophobicity, gas film retention, and underwater photosynthesis. The discovery of LGF1 provides an opportunity to better understand variation amongst rice genotypes for gas film retention ability and to target various alleles in breeding for improved submergence tolerance for yield stability in flood-prone areas.