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  • Writer's pictureLaura Day

The progression of surf turns: Before you can do this, you need to do that

If you're frustrated with your progress in the surf you may need to go back to the fundamentals. Sure, it's fun to think about that day you'll be able to throw spray or get your toes on the nose but focusing on goals that are currently out of your reach is likely holding you back from achieving them.

Before you can achieve either of those goals you need to master the fundamentals of a turn.

Perfecting the turn will set you up for any maneuver you want to perform as well as allow you to squeeze the most fun out of every wave.

Turns can range from simple roller coaster turns to vertical moves like off-the-lips or long sweeping cutbacks on a longboard. These turns will allow you to speed up or slow down so that you can position yourself in the correct part of the wave to perform your desired maneuvers.

If you have your eye on that nose ride or barrel and you've been frustrated with your progress here is the progression of turns you should start working on.

1. The S-Turn aka Roller Coaster Turn

The S-Turn, also known as The Roller Coaster Turn, is fundamental to every turn. learning how to perform the S-Turn will teach you how to gain control of your board through simple body movements which will eventually set you up for the All Important Bottom Turn.

If you've graduated from surfing straight and you're riding an open-face wave this is the turn that you want to focus on. The S-Turn is what Official Surf Société Mentor Kim 'Danger Woman' Hamrock calls "the move between the moves."

You can perform the S-Turn by weighting and unweighting your board as you ride down the line. Think of the movement of a roller coaster that has dips and builds momentum before a big loop or drop. The S-Turn will allow you to create speed so that you can progress into your next maneuver.

2. The all-important Bottom Turn

Once you've mastered the S-Turn you're ready to graduate to the all-important Bottom Turn. You'll know you're ready when you know how to weight, unweight, pivot, and generate speed with your S-Turns.

The bottom turn is considered to be the most important maneuver because it sets you up for all your other turns. You can use the bottom turn to project you out of a turn, drive you down the line, slow yourself down, or generate speed.

When performing the bottom turn you'll want to drop all the way to the bottom of the way and compress really low. As you're compressing you'll want to choose your target by looking directly at and pointing your front shoulder to where you want to go. Your target will be determined by what maneuver you want to perform next. This could be a top turn, off-the-lip, or a cutback. The bottom turn can also set you up for a tube ride or nose ride.

3. Top Turns

A good top turn must start with a solid bottom turn. So once that bottom turn is dialed in you're ready to set your goals on the top turn.

In order to perform the top turn, you must be able to generate enough speed and the wave must have enough steepness. You can think of a top turn as surfing up and down on a wave vs. across the wave (roller coaster turns).

As you come out of your bottom turn you'll want to choose your target. The size, shape, and speed of the wave will determine where you want your top-turn target to be. Once you've chosen your target, you must aim for it. Pretend your eyes are on your front shoulder and the tips of your fingers and point your eyes where you want to go and perform that Top Turn maneuver.

4. Off-The-Lips

Off-the-Lips require the same body mechanics as a top turn but are performed in a more critical part of the wave with more power and more speed. So naturally, before you can perform an off-the-lip you must master the top turn.

In an off-the-lip, your target should be on the pitching lip of a wave that is much steeper than your standard top turn. Explosive maneuvers like off-the-lips are all about timing and understanding when to compress, project, weight, lift, and rotate. All of these components need to be timed in the correct place of the wave. Turning too soon can put you in a bad position causing a weak turn, loss of speed, a wipeout, or a board slamming right into your face.

5. The Cutback

The cutback allows you to squeeze the most out of every wave you catch by learning how to stay in the power of the wave. To execute the cutback you will need to connect a combination of turns to bring you back to the pocket so that you can ride as long as possible.

You can think of it as a smooth figure eight requiring you to know how to weight, unweight, compress, extend, pivot, generate speed, slow your speed, and choose your target.

Final Thoughts:

If you want to learn the nose ride or get barrelled, you cannot ignore the fundamentals of the turn! Oftentimes, it's easy for us to focus on big goals while forgetting about the baby steps that build our foundation.

If you're surfing at a beyond beginner to intermediate skill levels and can ride down the line, choose the turn that matches your ability level and make that your baby step goal. As you master one, move on to the next and soon enough you will have built a foundation to get barrelled or cross-step up to that nose.

If you want to learn how to perform these maneuvers and join a community of supportive women in the process, Become a member at The Surf Société and attend our 3-part October workshop series.

October Workshop Series:

Perfecting the Turn: How to Generate Speed, Perform Intermediate Maneuvers, and Develop Your Surf Style with Turns taught by Official Surf Société Mentor Kim 'Danger Woman' Hamrock.

Workshop 1: S-Turns & Bottom Turns

Generate Speed with the S-Turn & Perform the Essential Bottom Turn to Set You Up for the Next Maneuver

Workshop 2: Top Turns & Off-the-Lips

Generate Speed with the S-Turn & Perform the Essential Bottom Turn to Set You Up for the Next Maneuver

Workshop 3: The Cutback

Stay with the power of the wave and have more fun with every ride

All workshops are available as virtual workshops and replays.

To join live or watch the recordings become a member: See Membership Plans Here.

disclaimer: Visitors who use this site and rely on any information do so at their own risk. Surfing is a dangerous sport, participate at your own risk.


Learn how to perfect your turns in The Surf Société.

The Surf Société is our online women's surf community dedicated to empowering women in the lineup through progressing our surf skills, building confidence, and pushing ourselves in challenging surf conditions.

We do this through virtual workshops and Q+As with experts in our community.

Won't you join us? Learn More Here

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