how to bottom turn in surfing
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Bottom Turn Surfing

We'll discuss an important step in tapping into the wave's power to generate speed: how to do a perfect bottom turn. We'll discuss its types, and the necessary steps to execute it seamlessly.

bottom turn surfing

Bottom turn surfing is widely regarded as one of the most prominent and valuable techniques across the surfing community. In many ways, it’s the foundation on which everything more dangerous and sophisticated hangs its wings. 

There are no two ways about it—if you want to develop good technique and wow some people out there, a good solid bottom turn has to be among your go-to moves. 

That being said, the bottom turn is not something that you learn and then have in your arsenal to unleash at any given moment. It’s more along the lines of a shooting form for basketball players or a swinging form for baseballers. 

You know the motion to the very last detail, you’ve done it a million times, and yet, there is still something unattainable there, something that you will never fully master, something that ebbs and flows just like the ocean beneath or above. 

So, how do you paint the picture of a bottom turn to someone that has never seen or heard of one? Well, you can start by describing the dazzling inertia that the pull of the wave sets off. Every ounce of your body wants to go along with it. However, mid-flow, you decide that you want to switch gears, and instead of going vertically, you take a dash for the horizontal, changing both speed and direction. It might seem like a simple move, but there is a lot to it. 

In this article, we are going to dissect the bottom turn along with everything that goes with it. This is not to say that after reading this article, you’ll be able to perform one sight unseen, but it might get you pretty darn close. 

Types of Bottom Turns

There are two main types of bottom turns: the forehand and the backside turn. In theory, It’s simple; the forehand bottom turn consists of pretty much the same motion as the backside turn. The main difference is that the surfer is facing the wave during the forehand turn and the backhand bottom turn is when the surfer has their back to the wave on the run. 

In real life? It’s a whole different ball game. Surfers are able to engage in what is called major and minor backhand turns. 

When performing a minor turn, the rider is diagonal to the wave’s face. The minor bottom turns are usually deployed on waves with a shifter shoulder. 

The major bottom turns are riskier and are usually performed by surfers that have been around the block a couple of times. 

This is because they are riding the full momentum of the wave going down before snapping and rotating. The major bottom turn is more of a vertical than a diagonal affair. 

So, which one should you go for? Well, first things first; if you consider yourself a beginner or even an intermediate without a lot of experience with vertical swings, then you should probably stick with the minor turn until you have it down to second nature. 

Once you start feeling good about your minor turns and want to challenge yourself, try to move a bit towards the steeper end of the wave and try to pull off a vertical maneuver on the turn while changing direction.

Let’s break this down.

Position One - Get as Much Speed as Possible

Alright, so the first step towards a successful bottom turn is getting the timing right. Once you see a wave on the cusp of breaking and coming undone, it’s time to go into full throttle mode and position yourself in the best and most stable frame for a turn. 

Position Two - Compress Down, Knees Bent

The second step is pushing down and compressing. It’s sort of like getting ready for a bounce, but not all the way. Bend your knees a bit and flex the core of your body so that you are ready to explode into a turn at a moment's notice. 

It’s very important that you keep pressing down until the final moment when you go for that turn. Maintain your balance as best you can and keep your focus sharp. 

Position Three - Back Foot Weight Distribution

When you think that the moment is upon you, go even lower on your board, tuck your knees in, and make sure that you are at the peak of your balance. This means that your weight should be distributed equally across both feet. Take a look in the direction that you are going to turn, but don’t turn your body while doing this. 

When it's time, drag the inside of your rails. At this point, the inside rail (the one that is closer to the wave should go into the water and the other one should rise above the surface. 

When the inside rail digs into the water, it will cause a turning motion that will make you compensate in some direction. Don’t panic—this is normal; just don’t overdo it. Keep your balance and your focus on your stability. 

At this point, gravity will do its part and propel you into a flow of momentum that you simply have to go through. 

As the inside rail moves deeper and deeper into the wave, there is a point where you have to make the bottom turn. When is that point? Well, you should be able to feel it. 

Feeling the Momentum

Things will slow down just a bit. This is because there is enough momentum to sling you out into the sky. However, because you’re pushing down and compressing, you are using that momentum to your advantage. Basically, the momentum and pull is the force that gives your dash more speed. 

Once you reach the pinnacle, it’s go time. However, let’s consider the digging-in movement a bit more. In order to execute the perfect dig, you’ll need to subtly nudge your body into the wave.

No, do not change direction or redistribute your weight between your feet. You just need to move in nuance. Go slightly towards your toes and bring your inside hand lower. 

You should look like you’re leaning for the inside of the wave. You can use your hand as a cardinal point on your turn as well. Just make sure that you’re not overdoing any of these, or you will get sprawled into a liquid hurricane.  

Position Five - The Wave Face

Alright, the moment is upon you, and it’s time to start turning. Move your body towards the face of the wave and distribute more of your weight onto your back foot (the one that’s closer to the tail of the board). Keep your core nice and tight and rotate your hips. This is it—the baptism by fire. You should be turning. 

If you are a beginner or don’t have much expertise in bottom turns, then focus on your back foot at all times. It’s often that beginners and even intermediate surfers get caught up in the moment and forget to press down with that back foot. 

You want to do a turn, not a jump. If you apply less pressure on the back foot when you initiate the turn, you will probably go into a diagonal jump rather than a turn. However, that’s a different lesson altogether. Now, don’t break your focus. 

Position Six - Decompress and Turn

Alright, so to actually make the turn, you will need to back it up a bit from that back foot that has you glued to the wave's surface. Stand up a bit taller, although not all the way, and drag the board in the direction that you want to turn in. 

That's it! Your first bottom turn. How did that go? If you’ve attempted it and you’re still here reading this, it means that it wasn’t all that bad, right?  

Backside Bottom Turn

When you want to attempt a backside bottom turn, keep in mind that for the most part, you already have the basics of it down. There are just a few slight differences that we are going to sort out. 

Once you get the motions of performing a bottom turn down, then the backside bottom turns shouldn’t come as much of a challenge. 

Everything starts off the same: You come down, knees bent; focus on your balance and apply downward pressure to the board. Your weight is then equally distributed, and you’re ready for the turn.

Main Differences

Where this takes a turn is when you come to the point when you should initiate the change in direction. However, this time, instead of moving towards your toes, you’ll need to move in the opposite direction—towards the backside and place more of the weight on your heels.

It’s very important to take a second look over your shoulder because you have your back turned, and you want to know what the situation is behind you before you make a go for it. Ever backed up from a garage? Same thing. 

Once you are at the pinnacle point of your back weight distribution, lean into the wave with the hand that’s in front of you and keep your shoulders square. 

That’s it. You should be well on your way. Remember not to turn your whole body like a robot. Instead, guide your movements with your chest and shoulders. Your back shoulder and front arm should end up pointing at the wave.

Common Mistakes

Let’s iron out those bad habits that cause you to fly into the waves or go into a water roll that meets the sand. One of the most important things to consider is the depth at which the turn is made. Most of the time, inexperienced surfers will pull the trigger before time or wait for too long because they don’t trust their senses and overthink everything. 

Don’t think how much you should be turning. Just move gently in accordance with the momentum. Don’t keep your shoulders flat. Relax while maintaining compression and balance. Does that make sense?  

Don’t put a lot of weight on your front foot, either. Yes, I know that when there is slight turbulence, and you naturally want to compensate for that because your balance goes a bit off. However, it’s much better to stay put and weather the storm. 

Most of the time, you will put too much weight on that front foot and then overcompensate on the back foot and completely go off balance. Don’t bury the nose of the board in the water under any circumstances unless you want to be catapulted into outer orbit. 

Trust the Process

The wave's face will tell you when it’s the perfect time to make a move. You can rely on muscle memory for the moment of the turn. Don’t think about it, just ride.  

The more you lean forward, the more speed you will get. The more you lean backwards and put the weight on that back leg, the more pressure you will put on the rail and the surfboard. 

More advanced surfers know that a breaking wave will result in losing speed, so they position their body nicely and have their weight evenly distributed before they enter diagonally for a good bottom turn.

A Few Words Before You Go…

Trust the break; it’s almost always perfect. You are a sports car flying across an empty highway. The slightest of direction changes are a big deal, so don’t overdo anything—a subtle nudge here, some more weight there—that’s about it. 

Use your hands. Your hands should always be purposefully placed in order to aid you in all the stages before, during, and after the turn. If you reach down in front of you, that will set a rotating momentum in motion. I

f you want things to straighten up in the opposite direction then bring your arm to face the top of the wave. The wave face and pivot point that’s established with the leading arm on a bottom turn provide for maximum speed before you reach the bottom of the wave.

All in all, as with many other relatively advanced techniques, it essentially all comes down to surfing smarter—not harder, and we’re here to help you with that

Written by
Jeremy Dean
surf coaching