surfing how to carve
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Carving: Surfing Guide

Knowing a trick or two up your sleeves are pretty handy, especially when you're out with your friends. This article is all about carving and how to you can pull it off.

carving surfing

Alright, so you’ve gone through the basics. You have the board that you want, you’ve learned a few tricks, caught a few waves, and now it’s time to delve into some real surfing techniques.

Carving might sound intimidating, but it’s nothing more than rebalancing your act so that you can make beautiful turns, also known as carves. 

Once you get the hang of things, you should be able to easily carve or trim to either side by simply redistributing your weight on the board. 

Start by getting into your surf stance: not too wide, not too narrow. Just do what feels good. 

Remember, how you choose to distribute your weight makes all the difference in the world. It affects everything from speed to direction, so keep in mind that even the slightest of movements will shift the balance. 

While surfing, you are able to shift your weight in a multitude of ways. The most common one and the easiest one to get the hang of is distributing your weight by placing more pressure on either one of your feet.

From there, you can learn to add different parts of your body to the equation and gain more and more control of your overall balance. 

Once you have your feet technique down, you can start adding your knee, chest, shoulders, and hips. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. 

Be mindful that you’re not actually moving and repositioning your feet just yet; you are simply applying pressure on different spots. 

Weight Distribution

If you lean more on your back foot, then you’re essentially hitting the brakes on a car. You will slow down, and the nose of the board will tend to lift a bit. 

If you want to gain momentum and accelerate, you just have to lean forward and add more weight to your front foot. Simple enough, isn’t it? Press forward to move faster, press back to slow down. 

Now, once you get your front and back foot technique on the level, you should start looking into the variables of your toes and heels. This might put more pressure on the board to the left or the right, but not necessarily because the surf is never a straight line.


Whatever you do, you don’t want to overcompensate on any of these movements because apart from moving too aggressively and breaking your flow, you will tire your muscles before you can say Aloha.

If you decide to put some extra weight on your back heel, you will be going for a left curve, while putting more weight on your back toes should result in a right carve.

There is also trimming. You can trim left by adding more weight to your front heel and trim right by applying more pressure to your front toes. It’s parallel parking all over again. 

The Difference Between Trimming and Carving

By now, you’re probably asking yourself when you should trim, when you could carve, and what the difference between the two is. Well, it’s all about the angles. 

If you need to make a hard and aggressive turn, you’re better off carving. When trimming, it’s not so much about the switch in direction. 

It has more to do with retaining the speed while changing direction. Naturally, the turn will not be as aggressive because the nose of the board will and should stay put. 

The Rail Edge

A very important thing to consider when going for a carve is the rail edge and where it sits. 

The main mistake that beginner surfers make is that they tend to pull their surfboards away from sea level too quickly. 

Remember to keep your balance and have an eye on that rail at all times. If you see that it’s coming up before it's due, correct it by setting more of your weight on your heels. This will sing the rail right back in, and from there, you’ll be able to push off the edge into a perfect carve. 

More on Carving vs. Trimming

In essence, you can always differentiate between a carve and a trim by simply assessing the depth of the turn. Some of the most utilized carves are bottom turns.

Even the slightest adjustments in direction are trims. Trimming is usually done a lot more frequently than carving and is mainly performed by the shoulders and chest rather than the feet. 

When trimming, the surfer does not completely change direction but rather corrects their course.

The Front Foot

Even though your back foot might be considered by most to be the more important of the two, it’s the front foot that makes everything come together. 

Yes, it doesn’t impact rotation as much as the back foot, but without it, you wouldn’t be able to control how quickly you cut. 

This is the main reason why most surfers have a tough time perfecting the art of carving: their front foot technique is underdeveloped. 

Because the tail of the board is the more relaxed part of it, surfers are thought to pay more attention to that part in order to retain the perfect balance. However, once you establish your back foot, the front foot becomes instrumental when it comes to steering the board and setting yourself in position for moves. 

The Fast Breaking Wave

carving surfing

One of the most trying circumstances when it comes to carving turns is the scenario of fast breaking waves. Fast breaking waves are challenging to stay on top of if you don’t spot them at the right time and don’t apply the right trims where needed. 

If you do not spot them in a timely manner, you are bound to attempt a last-second correction that will probably have you under sea level. 

The best way to attack a fast breaking wave is to trim as much as possible in order to correct your direction in small steps. In essence, you are chipping away at the angle so that when the moment arrives, you just rely on speed in order to make it through and perform a successful carve turn. 

Of course, the exact opposite goes for slow breaking waves. When the wave is slow to break, then you have a lot more time to make a direction maneuver. Here, you should be able to go for a carve without losing your balance or brilliance.

The Five Key Points 

There are five key points that will almost certainly have you performing amazing curves at any time. Let’s list them, and then we’ll explain why they are so important. 

  • You need to gain momentum and speed before your attempt to perform a carve;

  • Do not panic moves when pulling your board, stay the course, and try to be as relaxed as possible;

  • Focus on keeping your stance balanced and have your feet central on the surfboard;

  • When the time is right, flex your ankles, lift those toes and dig your rail in;

  • You have to push off the sunken rail edge.

Even though there is not one and only one way of performing a successful carve, and different surfers might find some approaches better and easier than others, the common denominator usually comes down to the type of waves that they are surfing. 

There are no quick and sudden moves here. You should always have a well established position before attempting a carve. 

Remember that even if you know what it takes to perform a great carve turn, you still need a ton of practice in order to perfect the move. 

There are a ton of surfers that think that they're doing something wrong, while in reality, they just haven’t put the time in. 

Always get your fundamentals down. They are your foundation, and without them, you won’t be getting anywhere quickly. It’s all about the rotation and the speed and angles at which that rotation is performed. It’s up to you to place yourself in the best position to succeed.

That being said, where you always start is with speed, glorious speed. Without it, there is no carve. The number one priority in performing a good carve should always be your speed. Once you have gained a good deal of down-the-line speed, you can start focusing on the rail.

Of course, no carve would be complete without a good bottom turn that will send you up the wave face. 

Always be ready to switch from your toes to heels at a moment’s notice. You don’t want to get caught in the undertow and end up unable to bring the board around. This will usually ring the board around before it’s due and send you spinning. 

The best way to think about it is to imagine the radius of a beach umbrella, which should give you the perfect angle for the maneuver. 

The Look

Always know where the wave is in relation to you and your stance. So, remember to always look over your shoulder before you commit to a move. 

The main thing is not to alter your balance or position while you’re turning to look and pulling the board around before the time is ripe as a result too early. 

Simply perform a gentle angle sneak peek and then tighten your turn.

Centered Stance

You will almost certainly fail to pull off a good surf carve if you do not keep a centered stance. You’ll be able to achieve a perfect balance by extending and flexing at different points of the surf. 

Always look to expend as little energy as possible in order to maintain a good stance. You’ll need it when you’re performing difficult moves. 

As always, be mindful of where your rails are and how they are positioned in comparison to the sea levels. You have to have a good edge tilt before you are able to push off.

Remember that in surfing, there is no one move that doesn’t correlate with another one. Everything ties in together and has to work in sync. 

When you dial everything down, it just feels like flying. 

Surf Lessons

If you have been trying to nail down a good curve for a certain time but aren’t satisfied with the results, you can always take some surfing lessons. 

At OMBE surf, we accept anyone from preschool kids to elder statesmen, so don’t worry about sticking out like a sore thumb. 

Even if you want to correct habits rather than develop them, we have different programs and courses that cater to different scenarios. So, if you are unsure whether you are doing a carve right and don’t have a professional on hand that can help with your form, then by all means, some surfing lessons can do wonders for your balance and turns. 

A Few Words Before You Go…

So now you know. Surfers are able to change direction rapidly by digging down on their back foot and slightly lifting their surfboard. We know that, as a surfer, you are very concerned about the speed and aren’t too keen on processing radical turns. 

This is understandable, but you’ll find that every surf guide or academy where you can learn to surf will have the anticipation and preparation for the curve among the key points. 

It might not make it into the top five key points, but it certainly is as important as keeping your surfing stance balanced, controlling your line speed, the way you perform your bottom turns, and frontside carves. 

A word to the wise: never cut any corners on carving because it will come back to haunt you in the long run. 

Written by
Jeremy Dean
surf coaching