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The first surfing maneuver you need to know

February 26, 2014 1 Comment

Once you learn to surf down the line, along the open face of a wave, you’ve opened up an infinite number of possibilities and sensations that surfing provides. This is the most exciting time in a new surfer’s life. From here the options are endless and your mind becomes the grand designer of your very own, self-driven roller coaster. With every impulse sent from your brain to your feet, your board reacts in kind. Now is the time to start building your arsenal of maneuvers. While a bottom turn is almost second nature and is an essential starting point for moving across the face of the wave, it’s the frontside gouge that you must learn first if you’re going to start anywhere.

Here is an intensive look into the art of a properly executed frontside top turn.

The bottom turn

Everything begins with the bottom turn. You’ll need a bit of speed going into the turn to maintain your momentum. If you’re setting up your bottom turn by gaining down the line speed, set your back foot over your front fins, then, as you begin your turn, scoot your back foot back, almost over the back fin. The further back you set that foot, the more easily you’ll be able to pivot your board. Use your quads, knees slightly bent, to build energy off the bottom. As you begin your ascent to the lip, relax your stance a little bit, taking your weight off your back foot so that you can crank it down once you’ve set up the top turn.

Keep your shoulders back, eyes on the prize

Once you’ve started your upward arc towards the part of the wave where you’ll crank your turn, shift your weight from your front foot back to your back foot. Next, rotate your foot pressure from your toes back to your heals. 

Pay attention to this part. Through the entire course of your top turn, keep your shoulders relaxed and keep your head up, eye on the prize. Let your legs do the work and they’ll create tons of drive through the turn. A hunched stance won’t allow your legs to transfer power through your turn.

Pivot off the tail

Your foot pressure will dictate what kind of top turn you’re going to complete. If you want a full rotation turn that gouges the power pocket of the wave, you’ll need to shift your weight to your back foot. To add to this idea of rotation, your turn will follow the torque of your torso. Guide your turn by leading with your front arm and rotating it all the way behind you in the direction you’d like to go. At this point, your turn is being guided by the rotation of your core.


Spread your wings

If you’d like to extend your turn into a longer arc, apply a little pressure with your front foot, but less than the pressure you’re applying with your back foot. Mick Fanning sheds light on a little secret behind longer, drawn out arcs. Open your front hand palm towards the direction you want to rotate. Somehow this open hand actually closes the front shoulder slightly, slowing down the rotation of the torso. Again, chest and eyes up and open!

Stay tall
It’s actually much more difficult to handle the force of a sharp turn if your knees are bent. Think about a weightlifter doing squats… if your knees are just slightly bent, you can support a LOT of weight, or in this case, force. The bottom of the squat puts an insane amount of force on your spine, upper legs, and calves. You’ll also find it much easier to transition back over your toes as you straighten out and rotate over to your next bottom turn.


Here’s your checklist, give it a go!

  • Down the line speed with back foot slight forward
  • Speedy bottom turn with back foot shifted back
  • Take your back foot off the gas
  • Chest open, head up, weight shifts to heals and back foot
  • Guide your rotation with your front hand
  • Back foot pressure tightens the arc
  • Slight front foot pressure and open palm for a longer arc
  • Legs only slightly bent
  • Rinse and repeat!

I chose my favorite somewhat recent J-Bay session with the Coffin brother's and Tanner Gudauskus to demonstrate the art of the top turn. Notice the speed and flow associated with top and bottom linked turns.

1 Response


December 30, 2016

Good read. I find myself doing too much down the line surfing, and not enough bottom turn to off the top surfing. How do I force myself to not race down the face, getting to far ahead of the wave?

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