how to cut back surfing
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Tricks of Intermediate Surfing: How to Cut Back

Cutbacks are not only important because they’re easy on the eye, but also they’re an essential aspect of intermediate surfing. Learn how to perform a cutback through our guide.

You probably spent the first couple of weeks of your surfing journey just by trying to stay on the water, learning how to balance yourself on your board, how to generate speed, and riding in a straight line on small and mushy waves. But that gets old quite easily, doesn't it? You want to know what it's really about; you at least want to perform some cutbacks and return to the shore with your head hanging high.

That's not only the case when you want to become a pro, either. Even in recreational surfing, riding waves blandly isn't going to satisfy you after a point. Moreover, you run the risk of someone approaching you on the shore, like: "Oi, mate, me nan has more tricks on the subway than you on the waves!" That's surely a fate to avoid.

Don't worry, though—the OMBE team is here, and we're not going to let that fate befall you. At the end of this article, you'll surely be better than some rando's nan.

 how to cut back surfing

What Is a Cutback?

A cutback is a surfing maneuver with which you change your direction on the rail by going back to the breaking part of the wave. See, when you're at full speed, there's a big chance that you're getting away from the breaking wave and heading towards the flat spots of the shoulder that don't have the intrinsic power to carry you. So, you'll lose speed, and you'll need to get back to the wave to gain as much speed as you can. That's when you should perform a cutback.

In that sense, a cutback isn't only an aesthetic move, as it gets you back to the power source of the wave: its curl. Rather, it's a must for wave-riding in the intermediate stages of surfing, and it's one of the most crucial surfing moves for intermediate surfers to master.

As we said in the intro, when you're a beginner, you only surf on small and mellow waves, and the shoulder of a breaking wave is quite similar to those waves: it's peaceful out there. That's why many intermediate surfers instinctively find themselves going for the shoulder, following the foam ball of the breaking wave. However, there's no power in the shoulders that'll allow them to surf with enough speed. The power is at your back, in the lip.

Once they realize that they’ve lost power and speed, a sign that says "an error occurred" lights up in their minds, and they start wobbling their boards to generate more speed, which doesn't help. The rest is panic and subsequently a wipeout. To prevent those from happening, you need to learn how to perform a cutback.

Types of Cutbacks

As you might have observed by now while watching surfing competitions or your fellow surfers on the ocean, there isn't only one type of cutback. There are actually three types of cutbacks that are defined by the angle with which you accomplish the turn and which rail you're applying pressure on: forehand cutback, backside cutback, and roundhouse cutback. Now, let's see what those are:

  • Forehand cutback: A forehand (or frontside) cutback is when the turn is performed as your chest is facing the wave.
  • Backside cutback: A backhand (or backside) cutback is when the turn is performed as your back is turned to the wave.

Roundhouse Cutback 

Both in forehand and backhand cutbacks, you basically draw an "S" shape on the water. You are on the open wave face, you return to the trough, and then keep on riding. The roundhouse cutback takes things a step further: you need to draw an "8" on the water. You start on the white water breaking from the wave with maximum speed, cut back to the power source of the wave, and return to the white water where you have started the move. The roundhouse cutback is more advanced, and it requires perfect timing and composure from the surfer.

For an intermediate surfer, the important ones are forehand and backside cutbacks. You can come back (or cut back) and learn more about roundhouse cutbacks when you're an advanced surfer.

How to Perform a Cutback: A Step-by-Step Guide

how to perform a cutback

How to Perform a Forehand Cutback

Step #1: Generate speed 

We're talking about climbing to the trough of the wave, and you cannot do that if you're surfing slowly. You need to reach your maximum speed while slightly angling down the shoulder.

Step #2: Do a shallow bottom turn

One thing you need to know about doing turns in surfing is that you should never do that with your upper body. Instead, you need to distribute your weight with little movements of hips and knees - in this case, to the back foot. Then compress your body with a bend in the knees and shift your weight with subtle movements from the toe-side rail (or the front rail) to the heel-side rail.

Step #3: Rotate with your leading arm as a pivot point 

Another crucial aspect of turning is the sense of direction, and that sense of direction is achieved by keeping your eyes on where you want to go and pointing your leading hand in that direction. Your body should follow your eyes and the leading arm. The leading arm will determine the extent and angle of your turn, so be careful not to overdo it.

Step #4: Apply light pressure on your front foot 

As you're turning, you need to apply a certain level of pressure on your front foot to avoid losing speed. However, if you don't get the level of pressure right, there's a big chance that your board's nose will get buried in the water.

Step #5: Return to the lip 

Now that you've turned back towards the trough without losing speed, you can hit the lip of the wave and start surfing in the pocket where there's power.

How to Perform a Backhand Cutback

The steps of a successful backhand cutback are no different than those of the forehand cutback. The only difference is that you need to perform it with your back to the wave and do a toe-side turn instead of a heel-side turn, which is, honestly speaking, more natural. However, this allows us to reiterate the basics you need to be careful about:

Generate enough speed

Mind that you're going to perform a cutback on the shoulder of the wave where there isn't much power. Therefore, you need all the speed you can generate to accomplish the turn.

Compress and decompress

Surfboards don't have a gas pedal, and although some surfers prefer big back leg moves like kicking the tail, that's not how you gain speed or change the direction of your board at all. Compression is key to accelerating and turning. Make your body smaller without straining your upper body and entrust your movements into the hands of subtlety. Once you achieve the turn, you can decompress.

Make sure you have a pivot point

More often than not, if you're doing such a complicated turn for the first time, your arms will likely be all over the place. However, they should be employed as pivot points, and you should be in control of them as a tightrope walker.

Wrapping Up...

A cutback is not at all similar to standing in balance or generating speed on white water. It's quite an advanced maneuver that will take lots of time and practice. If you make sure you're getting everything we told you above right, there's a good chance that you'll minimize that time, and your practice sessions will be more fun and effective in the long run.

Written by
Jeremy Dean
surf coaching