Most plants do poorly when flooded. Certain rice varieties, known as deepwater rice, survive periodic flooding and consequent oxygen deficiency by activating internode growth of stems to keep above the water. Here, we identify the gibberellin biosynthesis gene, SD1 (SEMIDWARF1), whose loss-of-function allele catapulted the rice Green Revolution, as being responsible for submergence-induced internode elongation. When submerged, plants carrying the deepwater rice–specific SD1 haplotype amplify a signaling relay in which the SD1 gene is transcriptionally activated by an ethylene-responsive transcription factor, OsEIL1a. The SD1 protein directs increased synthesis of gibberellins, largely GA4, which promote internode elongation. Evolutionary analysis shows that the deepwater rice–specific haplotype was derived from standing variation in wild rice and selected for deepwater rice cultivation in Bangladesh.