Learn the Steps to do Cutbacks & Roundhouse Cutbacks

Cutback Definition

When a surfer changes direction with a turn using his rails to go back towards the breaking part of the wave (curl). It’s a crucial manoeuvre as it positions the surfer back to the “power source”: the steepest, most enjoyable part of the wave.

Surfer level: Intermediate to Experts

Roundhouse Cutback Definition

A complete 180-degree direction change from the shoulder to the curl, drawing a figure “8” on the face of the wave. Usually ends with a bounce back in the white water.

Surfer level: Advanced to Experts

Your cutback must be in function of the wave

  • Small, weak wave = tight and quick cutback, in order not to lose speed.
  • Powerful, clean waves = wide, smooth, powerful turn from further down the shoulder, all the way back to the curl (or pocket).
Step by Step:

*Note that pictures below are from an “advanced level” roundhouse cutback, but the same techniques are applied to an intermediate, basic cutback. The advanced cutback simply helps to demonstrate the use of the rails and the twisting of the upper body better.

Forehand Cutback

Step 1

Generate Speed + Shallow Bottom Turn

The surfer generates speed before his cutback. To initiate the manoeuvre, he does a shallow bottom turn that gives him a slight angle up the shoulder as he decompresses.

One of the most important aspects of a cutback is to generate the maximum speed going into the manoeuvre. This prevents you from stalling on the shoulder.

Step 2

As the surfer gets to the top of the wave:

First, he compresses down and shifts his weight mostly on the back foot. He does this to engage the fins and help him start to pivot back towards the curl.

Second, his left hand leans down to the wave. This will help him open his shoulders and chest back towards the breaking part of the wave.

Third, his position digs his left rail in the water (the left edge of the surfboard on this picture).

 Step 3

Turning the Upper Body towards the Curl

The surfer then turns his head towards the curl. Twisting his shoulders and throwing his arms back towards the curl helps to change his direction.

Notice how he still holds his rail.

Step 4

Hips & Legs follow the Direction

After turning his upper body towards the breaking part of the wave, now his hips and legs follow towards the pocket.

As he approaches the white water, his head is already starting to turn back towards the shoulder.

Notice how he still holds his rail.

Step 5

Bouncing in the White Water

As the board hits the white water, the surfer has already twisted his shoulders and chest to where he wants to go next: back towards the shoulder. The board will follow as he applies more weight over his toes.

Notice how his knees are bent to absorb the shock when he hits the white water.

*Because of the “bounce back” into the white water, this maneuver is called a “roundhouse cutback”. The bounce helps him get momentum back towards the shoulder. It is not mandatory, you could also simply turn back towards the shoulder without bouncing on the lip.

Step 6

Back in the Pocket

The surfer is now back in “the pocket”, where the wave is steep, fun and offers endless possibilities.

How To Do a Backside Cutbacks

Backside cutbacks are very similar and can feel easier to do because you actually face the curl when turning back to the power source.

Notice how it’s the same techniques:

1. Decompression, going up the face.

2. Compression, pressure on the back foot over the fins, dropping the hand to the wave & turning the head back to the curl.

3. Turning the arms and shoulders then having the hips and legs follow.

4. Holding the rail all the way back to the power source.

Extra Tips: 

  • Drop your hand to the wave and use it as a pivot point.
  • Use the proper wave. It’s easier to practise on clean, predictable waves (example: pointbreaks).
  • Hold your rail all the way through the turn. This is how you get a smooth, powerful turn that looks great.
  • Find the proper section. Struggling to finish the rotation in time? Try going further on the shoulder before you start going back to the curl. Stalling on the face of the wave? Try doing cutbacks on steeper parts of a wave.
  • You can’t go too fast. Speed is your friend and makes this manoeuvre way easier.
  • Back foot further back on the tail pad. If your back foot is set too far up, you won’t get the proper rotation (pivot) to turn back towards the power source using the fins. Having the back foot on the traction pad is good, but having it completely at the back of the traction pad is better.
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