Ask an expert surfer what the most important maneuver is in surfing, and chances are they’ll say the bottom turn. The bottom turn is an integral part of surfing a wave because it anticipates and dictates the possibilities for a surfer’s entire ride. Although great surfers understandably draw the most attention for nifty tricks like airs and tail wafts, at the core of each of those maneuvers is a strong bottom turn.
A surfer should adjust each bottom turn to maximize the wave’s potential for future maneuvers, whether it’s a nose ride, a turn, a barrel ride, or an air. In its simplicity, the bottom turn is a drawn-out turn performed at the bottom, or trough of a wave. In a word, the goal and purpose of the bottom turn is to project the surfer towards a particular destination on the wave.
Depending on the shape of the wave itself, as well as how the surfer intends to ride the wave, a bottom turn may be short and snappy or long and arching. Here are the basic points to keep in mind when executing a bottom turn:
- Adjust the angle of the turn according to the wave and be conscious of where you want to be positioned on the wave’s face. A sharp-angled bottom turn will send you on a more vertical trajectory towards the lip, while a long, drawn out turn can be used to get around a section, or to set up a maneuver such as a cutback.
- Keep your eyes forward, and look where you want to go. Anticipate how your bottom turn will affect your speed towards the oncoming section.
- Bend your knees and commit your rear inside rail to adjust the angle of your turn.
- Keep your arms low and loose. Flailing limbs compromise balance.
Back Side vs. Front Side
Although the basic principles of both the front side (facing the wave) and back side (back turned to the wave) bottom turns are the same, there are a few differences that are important to keep in mind.We’ll start with the front side bottom turn:
For most surfers, the front side bottom turn is the easier of the two because you can easily see the wave in front of you, and because toe-side turns just feel more natural. The main focus of any turn, the front side bottom turn not excluded, is body positioning. Stay low, keep your legs bent, and focus on keeping your weight on the back end of your toe-side rail. Remember to keep your head up and your eyes forward. Your front arm should loosely point to where you want to go. Some surfers also like to place their back hand on or near the surface of the water as they pivot back toward the wave face.
The backside bottom turn is a bit more difficult to master than the front side variation, but with some practice you’ll feel equally comfortable going either way on a wave. The basic keys to a back side bottom turn are as follows:
As with the front side bottom turn, the goal is to project towards a particular section of the wave, be it a sloped wave face perfect for a swooping carve or an impending barrel section. Again, the same rules of the front side bottom turn apply: maintain a low center of gravity by bending your legs, and keep your eyes and head forward. Your weight should be focused towards your heels, keeping the board’s inside rail engaged with the water.
Lift your back arm to help balance your body and elevate your front arm to help direct where you want to go. Some surfers like to drop their front arm down toward the water’s surface to function as a pivot point. Also, expert surfers sometimes add style points (and a bit of functionality) to the back side bottom turn by grabbing the outside rail with the rear hand.
Style Master Tom Curren
Looking for some inspiration on how to execute a smooth and stylish bottom turn? No surfer better embodies all the key elements of the bottom turn than California's Tom Curren. His impeccably perfect body positioning and patented hand drag are practically hallmarks of the sport of surfing.
Finding Your Balance
As you work to improve your bottom turn, you will inevitably learn both the timing of the turn and the “feel” of the proper weight distribution through a trial and error process. Placing too much weight on your inside rail will result in the board digging into the water, usually causing a wipe out. Without enough weight on the inside rail, you’ll simply go too straight, losing your speed and ability to project back towards the wave.
Although it’s not considered a highly technical maneuver, a good bottom turn takes years to polish into a great bottom turn. The novice surfer should be constantly working to improve his or her bottom turn, both front side and back side, in order to eventually build and develop other more complex maneuvers.