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How to Delay Turns

For a layperson, surfing might seem like a combination of the physical capability of the surfer and the potential of the wave they are riding. When a surfer is capable of making turns, pulling off crazy airs, and pacing themselves on the wave, though, it means one thing: they are timing their ride well.

In surfing, timing is everything. For a good takeoff, high speed, or a proficient turn, you need to get your timing right. That’s why big names often seem like they have time for everything even though the wave looks like it’s in a rush to reach the shore. Knowing when to delay a turn and how to do it is a big part of the surfer’s timing, too.

A Brief History of Delayed Turns

However, the technique of delayed turns is not even that old, and its popularity stemming from the 1980s is mostly owed to Tommy Curren and his bottom turns. A bottom turn has always been a crucial part of surfing and it affects every other aspect of a surfer’s performance, but the surfing world needed a legend like Tommy to come along and revolutionize it. 

Curren had realized that he needed to make bottom turns easier to hit the wave a little bit better, and the way to do it was surfing much nearer to the wave, so he could have more time to make the turn. That way, he was also able to delay his turns, and connect with the wave more firmly. Surfing that close to the lip and pocket of the wave might have been frowned upon before the 1980s, but it’s been allowing pro-surfers to do more with less effort since then.

The Indicators for Bad Timing

In fact, delaying a turn is crucial to get many things right and spare more energy, but not everyone is born with an impeccable sense of timing at their disposal, and there will inevitably be a couple of indicators showing that you are not among those fortunate ones. For example, you might be surfing closer to the wave as you saw pros do, but end up outrunning the wave and then losing momentum to let it catch you. 

Timing your turn wrong will also result in you needlessly forcing your body, and that will manifest itself in joint pains, chronic aches in the lower body, and a stiff upper body due to all that effort. There is a pleasant symptom, too: because you timed your turn wrong, you’ll find yourself in white water or wave foam, and you won’t even be on your board at that time.

All of the above means that you are trying to do the hard work yourself. A good timing of turns, on the other hand, will make the wave do the hard work. In the case of timing a delayed turn, what you do is basically waiting for the wave to curve, so that the curve of the wave will help you with your momentum and direction. 

Okay, you might not find curves or you might not have enough time to wait for the wave to create them every time you need to turn. But turning early on the face of a flat wave will also create more difficulty than ease. One possibility is that you get carried too far from the lip of the wave, so you lose momentum once again. Yet, it’s perfectly normal, and you might see lots of surfers suffering from this problem even in major competitions. And yes, the only way to achieve that sense of timing is practice, but even decades of practice doesn’t guarantee success every time.

How to Improve Delayed Turns

Still, let’s see what you can do to improve your delayed turns and how you should practice for that.

You already know that you should reach the wave base and wait for it to produce a lip for you to turn. Normally, you go into the wave right before that lip is formed. For a good turn, though, you have to wait a little bit longer and do a bottom turn. If it’s the first time you are doing this, you might fear that you entered the wave a little bit later than you should have, but once you are in it, you’ll see that you have more speed than you would have otherwise, and you can manage your turn in a single movement with relative ease. And once you understand the formation of the lip and your timing, the delay will come to you as a default. 

It’s even better when you delay the bottom turn during backhand surfing because the weight shift required for a bottom turn is much easier and more natural when you are doing backside. Therefore, starting the practice on the backside might help boost your self-confidence, which is an integral part of learning. Normally, we angle our takeoffs, but you don’t need that for a delayed backhand bottom turn. Confront the wave face straight up and get closer to the curve (or wait for the curve to get closer to you). Once it’s time to take off, a slight weight on the heel and a little push will be all you need to do the turn proficiently and with enough speed.

Moreover, when you gain enough confidence in your delay abilities, you can wait for the wave to get as steep as possible before taking off. That way, you’ll end up right on the wave base and it’ll give you all the power and direction you need for a good turn. Also, there is a chance of a lip delay to occur when you are delaying. Lip delay means that there is another curve being formed, and you can use that curve to ease the turn further.

How to Practice for Delayed Turns

Of course, none of this is textbook material, and there is no way to teach surfing with a textbook, but these tips and tricks are still important to understand how the waves work. The real education takes place on the wave itself and it’s mostly instinctive. The way to develop all those surfing instincts, like knowing when to delay turns and for how long, takes practice without getting discouraged by failures. No matter what you’re practicing, be ready to face the waves.

For one last tip, I can recommend you ride a single-fin board. Yes, the surfboards of our time are varied and designed with the specific needs of contemporary surfers in mind, so they have multiple fins that grant the surfer a diverse set of controls. Yet, a multi-fin board might make learning difficult for a newbie because of its complexity. 

When you have a single-fin board, on the other hand, your relationship with the wave will have less intermediaries and be more direct. That might help you improve your instinctive understanding of the wave and bring your shortcomings to the fore, so you’d know what to work on going forward. Moreover, since they are less complicated to control, you’ll have more sharpness when it comes to timing and turning. So, good luck with that.

Written by
Jeremy Dean
surf coaching