Globally abundant wave energy for power generation attracts ever increasing attention. Because of non-linear dynamics and potential uncertainties in ocean energy conversion systems, generation productivity needs to be increased by applying robust control algorithms. This paper focuses on control strategies for a small ocean energy conversion system based on a direct driven permanent magnet synchronous generator (PMSG). It evaluates the performance of two kinds of control strategies, i.e., traditional field-oriented control (FOC) and robust adaptive control. The proposed adaptive control successfully achieves maximum velocity and stable power production, with reduced speed tracking error and system response time. The adaptive control also guarantees global system stability and its superiority over FOC by using a non-linear back-stepping control technique offering a better optimization solution. The robustness of the ocean energy conversion system is further enhanced by investigating the Lyapunov method and the use of a DC-DC boost converter. To overcome system complexity, turbine-generator based power take-off (PTO) is considered. A Matlab/Simulink study verifies the advantages of a non-linear control strategy for an Oscillating Water Column (OWC) based power generation system.