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Mick Fanning performing a cutback at Lower Trestles. Photos by Rian Castillo

The move is completed when a surfer guides his/her board opposite the direction of the wave's breaking motion. This move is completed on the wave's open face by applying pressure on the inside rail and usually maintaining weight on the tail and fins with the intent to change direction 180 degrees. After changing direction (or cutting back), the surfer will attempt to bounce off the whitewater or angle into the wave's trough with the intent of returning to the original direction.


The heyday of the true cutback came about in the 80's. This display of acrobatics and power began its rise under the direction of pro surfing heroes like Rabbit Bartholemew, Mark Richards, and Shawn Thompson, but to the tune of the Talking Heads and Hoodoo Gurus and in the age of mullets and Reagan, it became the move of choice among the world's top pros.

If you were a surfer after 1979, you marveled at freaks like Richard Cram and Martin Potter who sculpted perfect figure-eights with force and precision. Underground shredder Dave Parmenter dragged his hand and stood firm-footed as he ricocheted back into the power section. For many though, it was Tom Curren who set the bar. His slithering slice of rail-burying perfection gave no hint of wasted movement.

While the roundhouse seemed to fall out of cool during the 90's and surfers opted to lay back and spin out in one spasmodic motion and thus squandering forward momentum, Kelly Slater, Taylor Knox, and others have, however, carried the torch into today's surfing era of function and flare. Now, the roundhouse cutback is once again planted firmly in surfing's repertoire.

How to

Frontside cutback

  1. As with all of surfing’s glorious possibilities, speed is the key. Generate as much speed possible, using the high point of the wave as your catalyst. Riding high up near the lip or crest and then quickly veering downward creates a stockpile of power for your next move.
  2. Your move actually begins at the bottom of the wave as you approach the shoulder. Since you can’t create a truly arching roundhouse without approaching from a semi-bottom turn, you must veer off the bottom of the wave, paying special attention not to lose any speed. You want the most possible speed. I can’t reiterate that enough.
  3. Always keep your eyes on where you want to execute the change of direction. You don’t want to make your turn too early when the wave is too vertical, but you also don’t want to glide too far out beyond the shoulder where the wave is too flat to push you back into the white water.
  4. As you lift from your bottom turn, keeping your board flat on the wave face to retain full speed, unweight your foot and lean slightly back. But always abide by surfing’s golden rule of keeping most of your weight and body over the midpoint of your surfboard.
  5. Just as you feel the friction of the water grabbing your momentum but before lost much speed, begin your turn. Push down on your heels and lift the balls of your feet, thus submerging a small portion your inside rail to give added traction and avoid spinning out. Please allow me to repeat: Always abide by surfing’s golden rule of keeping most of your weight and body over the midpoint of your surfboard.
  6. As your board changes direction, so must your body and mind. Another golden rule of wave riding: Where your eyes look, your board will follow. This means that you must turn your head and upper body back toward the whitewater as your board turns. As you get more advanced, you might want to touch the water with your inside hand. I find this gives a me a greater connection with the wave and even adds a little more stability and style to the cutback itself.
  7. Once you have completed your turn and the nose of your board is pointed toward the oncoming whitewater, you are faced with a choice. Depending on the size and power of the wave, you can either aim high for the crest of the white water and essentially end your cutback with a lip re-entry or aim for the mid-section and feel the brunt of the wave’s power and guts (This requires some serious body and board stabilizing in big surf). Or you can aim low and attempt to avoid the wave’s power and avoid being knock down by the swirling foam. This may the safest route in bigger surf, but it does offer the best chance of losing the face of the wave and being left in the whitewater.


Roundhouse cutback

A roundhouse is a cutty where you do a cutback and then keep going until you do a backhand Reo off the wash that is coming at you. A good roundhouse will be one that is done in one single motion, not a series of little ones to get all the way round, it will have lots of spray and your will do your backside Reo at the end of the turn high off the wash!

You might be doing a cutback with a little slide at the end then the lip hits you in the back but you’re not doing a roundhouse until you are going all the way round in a figure 8 and hitting the wash at the end.

Doing a Roundhouse correctly is a lot to do with positioning and taking the correct line! Start you cutback in the wrong place and you will never get all the way round or you will lose all your speed before you have a chance to get all the way round!

See also