Surf Tips for Intermediate: How to perform a top turn

April 04, 2024

Every surfer, no matter what type of board you are riding, needs to learn how to perform the basic top turn. Along with the cutback, a top turn is a functional maneuver that will help you optimize every part of the wave. Knowing how to top turn will also set a baseline for you to begin even more radical maneuvers like off the lips, snaps, and even airs. The goal of this blog is to help you have more fun by mastering these progressive maneuvers. 

Part One: Roller Coasters

Our philosophy in teaching surfing is to start slow, gradually building up toward more advanced maneuvers. If you try to jump too quickly beyond your progression level, you will miss out on valuable aspects of wave riding, such as mastering technique, wave reading, etc.  This couldn't be more true for the top turn. So before you learn to top turn, first learn how to "roller coaster." A roller coaster means performing high and low lines on an open wave face.

To perform one, make sure the wave is running down the line with speed. Once you've found the proper wave, perform a shallow bottom turn by bending your knees, leaning slightly up the wave face, and eyeing the section. Once you are at the top, or crest, of the wave, allow gravity to bring you back down. Repeat this motion until the wave diminishes.

Part Two: Accentuate Bottom and Initiate Top Turn 

Once you mastered the basic roller coaster, you can add the top turn. Begin in the same way you would for a roller coaster - locate the section and initiate your bottom turn. As you bottom turn, bend your knees to get even lower and lean a little more on your rail than you would for a roller coaster. This more accentuated bottom turn will allow you to turn up the wave face more vertically. Once you've reached the top of the wave, keeping your knees bent, transition your weight from your toes edge to heel edge (or heel to toe if backside). Lean into your turn back down the wave face. Last, if the wave allows it, be ready to perform another top turn with the speed you will be carrying from the first one. 

The type of top turn might change based on the section. If there is a bit of a lip on the wave, you can bank off the top and back down. If the wave it a bit more open face and less steep, it might look more like a down carve. You can try this simple technique on multiple sections to add a different flair to your top turn. 


  • Timing is key. If you find the outside rail catching on a frontside top turn, or inside rail on a backside turn, you've likely mistimed the section because it is not steep enough. 
  • Similarly, if you are air dropping on the way down or if the wave breaks on you as you are turning up the wave face, the section is too steep and you went up too late. 
  • Shorter boards will be easier when performing a top turn, but they are still very possible on high performance longboards like our Ultimate longboard
  • Medium sized waves open face waves (in the 3-6 ft range) are the easiest waves to learn how to top turn. The bigger the wave, the easier it will be to time the section and extend your bottom turns. 

Last, we would love to help you find the right board for your skill level! Feel free to give us a call at (800)-920-2363 or email us at 

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