A Step-by-Step guide to better Bottom Turns
The bottom turn is commonly seen as the backbone of performance surfing. It’s one of the most important techniques of surfing because it sets up every manoeuvre you want to do on the face. Without a proper bottom turn, you are assured to do poor manoeuvres on the wave.
The bottom turn can be compared to an “Ollie” in skateboarding: the act of popping the board up in the air. Without a good ollie, a skateboarder won’t be able to do clean, solid manoeuvers like a kickflip or a 180. Just like the ollie, a good bottom turn can be polished for years and years. Generally, the better your bottom turn gets, the more you will improve your manoeuvres on the wave.
The bottom turn is a smooth, powerful turn at the bottom of the wave that transforms vertical energy (gained by dropping the wave), into horizontal energy (turning at the bottom), in a way that provides you the proper speed and direction for a manoeuvre on the wave.
Forehand and Backhand
Forehand Bottom Turn
A forehand bottom turn means that the surfer is facing the wave with his chest when turning at the bottom of the wave.
Backhand Bottom Turn
During a backhand bottom turn, the surfer’s back faces the wave as he turns at the bottom.
Of Bottom Turns
Minor Bottom Turns
A minor bottom turn is used to sweep yourself diagonally to the wave’s face. The most common manoeuvres coming after this bottom turn are top turns, cutbacks and roundhouses. Minor bottom turns are commonly used on waves with softer shoulders.
Major Bottom Turns
Major bottom turns are generally used for more advanced manoeuvers like vertical snaps and fins out. To do this turn, surfers ride further down the bottom of the wave & rotate with commitment towards the top of the wave. It is a tighter turn than the minor bottom turn and it propels the surfer more vertically instead of diagonally.
“Match” the Bottom Turn to the desired Top Turn and to your Skill Level
Choosing the proper type of bottom turn depends both on your experience level and on the shape of the wave you are riding.
Beginners and intermediates don’t have the experience for vertical manoeuvers in the steepest sections of a wave. They should focus on minor bottom turns to propel themselves diagonally, further out on the shoulder in softer parts of the wave. This is where you can practise basic intermediate manoeuvres like cutbacks and carves.
As surfers progress, they start to ride in steeper parts of the wave and learn to do “vertical manoeuvres”. Surfers need steep and powerful sections to execute manoeuvers like snaps, off-the-lips, airs, barrels, etc. When they get to softer wave sections, advanced and expert surfers still use minor bottom turns, usually to do a cutback and come back near the pocket.
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Position & Speed
If you can, take off at the peak (the first breaking part of the wave), or close to the already breaking part of the wave. This will provide you with maximum speed and put you in the best position for a good bottom turn.
As you go down the face of the wave, bend your knees and compress your lower body to get balance and control over your board.
Dig the Rails
To initiate your bottom turn, crouch even lower, with your back knee slightly tucked inside. At this point your weight is distributed on both feet equally and you should be looking in the direction you want to go on the wave’s face.
Digging the inside rail of your surfboard is crucial for an efficient bottom turn. See how on this picture, the surfboard’s right rail (the inside rail) is dug deep in the water, as the outside rail (left rail) stays out of the water. By digging the inside rail at the bottom of the wave, the water flow hits your surfboard’s bottom with power, propelling you towards the shoulder with loads of speed.
If you’ve followed step 1 and 2, you’ve gained speed with gravity, by taking off on a steep section of the wave. As you reached the bottom of the wave and dug your inside rail, you’ve added even more momentum because of the water flow pushing on the bottom of your surfboard. A good bottom turn propels you up on the wave even faster than you were going down.
How to dig the rails?
You need to lean your body forward to bring extra weight onto your toes. Reaching your trailing hand down towards the wave can help you lean. This hand can also serve as a pivot point for your board’s rotation to the top of the wave. Stay compressed and hold the turn as you get on your rail and start to pivot towards the face.
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Pressure on the Tail & Body Rotation
Once you start turning up towards the face, apply more pressure on the tail with your back foot. More pressure on the back foot and more rotation of your hips and chest will translate into more advanced, sharper and faster turns up towards the top of the wave. Notice how from picture #3, to this picture #4, the surfer’s hips and chest twisted towards the direction he wants to go to.
Beginners and intermediates must learn to apply the proper back foot weight and have the right body rotation according to the shoulder’s shape and to the trick they want to do. For example, to do a roundhouse cutback, the surfer will start his bottom turn more mid-faced on the wave instead of further down the bottom, using less compression and less body rotation than he would for a vertical snap.
Decompress + Manoeuver
As you go back up the face, decompress by slightly unbending your knees and lifting your chest in a straighter position. Draw the proper line on the shoulder according to the manoeuvre you want to do.
Backside Bottom Turn
The backside bottom turn is very similar than the frontside bottom turn, except for a few differences. The first steps are the same: you need to compress low, look where you want to go, and start with equal weight over both feet.
The main differences appear when you reach the bottom of the wave and initiate the turn. It will be harder to see the shape of the wave than on the frontside bottom turn, because your back faces the wave. Make sure you look properly over your front shoulder.
Instead of leaning forward, you will need to lean backwards, to put more weight over your heels. You can reach back towards the wave with your front hand to open your body in the direction of the wave. To do major backside bottom turns, surfers need to square their shoulders towards the direction they want to go. This means a backside bottom turn requires a full body rotation, bringing the back shoulder and arm pointing towards the top of the wave.
Apart from those differences, the rest is very similar to a frontside bottom turn. For example, you still need to compress and hold the turn as you get on your rail and start to pivot towards the face. Putting weight on the tail with your back foot will again help you come back up on the shoulder faster, with a more vertical line. Just like with a frontside bottom turn, you still need to decompress as you draw your line up on the shoulder.
- Wrong depth of turn: If you don’t draw the proper line according to the shoulder shape, you end up at the wrong place. For example, if you decide to do a very steep, vertical bottom turn on a soft, flat shoulder, the wave won’t have the power and shape to bring you back down. You will probably end up flying through the back of the wave.
- Too much weight on the front foot: Having too much weight on your front foot during the bottom turn can bury the rail too much, stall the surfboard or make you fall off.
- Not holding your line: To keep maximum speed you must hold your initial line. This is only possible if you initially drew the proper line to propel yourself in the right area of the wave. Changing direction is normal for beginners and intermediates, because they are learning to read how the wave will break. Note that tiny adjustments can have a huge effect on your momentum and make you lose a lot of speed.
- Not opening the leading arm towards the wave on the backside bottom turn. Bottom turns are usually harder on the backside because it’s difficult to see and to turn your body to the wave. Reaching down towards the wave with your front hand will help initiate your body rotation towards the direction you want to go. It also helps you see the wave behind you and initiate the full-body rotation, bringing your back arm towards the top of the wave.