Bottom turn

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Patrick Gudauskas performing a bottom turn at Lower Trestles. Photos by Rian Castillo

The bottom turn is the first turn you make after dropping in to a wave, and it is the turn that transforms your vertical falling energy into horizontal speed down the line. It is also a way in which the surfer can position himself for sections and maneuvers further down the line: a quick pump off the bottom can get you high onto the face in time for an upcoming floater, or a long drawn-out bottom turn burns a little time to wait for that lip to fall over to get you in position for the tube. Bottom line: without a good bottom turn, you've got nothing.



How to

There are two types of bottom turns, the frontside and backside bottom turn. You are trying to accomplish the same thing regardless of whether you're surfing frontside or backside. The key is to hold onto your speed and generate a smooth, powerful transition with your turn. The smoother the better! This is a move that you'll use every time you ride a wave, and each time you set yourself up for a maneuver.

Foot placement:

  • Keep your feet centered along the stringer
  • Don't place your rear foot too far back

Weight Distribution:

  • Keep a low center of gravity, crouch, bend your knees
  • With your legs crouched, you'll be able to extend them through the turn and power through the turn
  • Try to distribute your weight evenly over your board
  • Too much weight on your back foot and you'll risk losing control of the turn, or you'll stall the surfboard and lose your speed.

Try to keep your speed up as much as you can throughout the maneuver. Once you start making the turn, keep the same smooth line right the way through to maximise speed.

Frontside Bottom Turn

Catch a frontside wave and ride down to the bottom of the wave, where the water starts to go flat. Make sure your foot placement and weight distribution are as described above. To start making the turn, lean forward and place your weight onto your toes. Take care not to drag your toes in the water. Turn your shoulders into the wave and focus on where you want to go.

Get the rail of your surfboard into the water, and you'll start to turn. Keep your knees bent and drive off the bottom of the wave, use your speed through the transition. Push with your back foot as you come off the bottom, extend all the way through your turn.

Backside Bottom Turn

Catch a backside wave and ride down the face of the wave to the flats. As with the frontside turn, keep you weight distribution and foot placement as described above. Start making the turn by leaning back a little, putting weight on your heels. Make sure you've got your knees nicely bent, and turn your head round to look over your leading shoulder, back into the wave. Follow this with a turn of your shoulders.

Get the rail into the water and start turning back into the wave. Put your weight onto your back foot and turn the board smoothly and powerfully.

Types of Turns

You have to judge the type of turn to make depending on the wave. If it's a big wave and there is a section of whitewater in front of you, you'll need a big drawn out arc bottom turn. If the wave is peeling off ahead fast and walling up, but you're in danger of not making it to the shoulder, then you'll hardly need a bottom turn at all. (and certainly won't need to turn on the flats) If it's a small wave and you want to hit the lip quite close to your take off point, then you need to do a sharp arc bottom turn. This turn will take you out into the flats far enough to allow you to hit the lip more square on, and be able to really lean into it to throw some spray.

As with anything you want improve on, get plenty of practice. Concentrate on keeping up the speed, and really commit to the turn.


I think a good bottom turn really does set the pace for the whole wave. You want to get really low over your board as you begin your turn. You can generate a lot more power out of your legs that way. It’s kind of like pumping on a half pipe with a skateboard; you bend your knees in the transition and kind of push down as you’re coming out of it.

- John Florence

A lot of surfers are initiating the turn too far out in the flats. It’s a common-but-easily-correctable mistake that many of us make. The majority of the wave’s power is in the top two-thirds of the wave. If you can begin your bottom turn just a little bit earlier, before you reach the flats, you’ll gain a lot more speed and drive off the bottom and that speed can be used to transition into your next turn.

- Pancho Sullivan

See also