How to Make the First Turn When Surfing Waves

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This page is an answer to the question “How to Make the First Turn When Surfing?” in our Surfing FAQ Page.

There is a progression in surfing. When a beginner surfer starts out, they usually ride in the whitewater until they get comfortable at paddling and performing the pop up and getting into their surf stance. Once the beginner surfer is comfortable with riding in the whitewater the next progression is moving outside and trying to ride the curl, or face of the wave, whatever you want to call it.

Riding the curl is much more difficult to do than riding your surfboard in the whitewater. You have to paddle harder and get to your feet much faster than you did when you were riding in the whitewater. However, with practice, you will get it and find that getting to your feet and riding straight down the face of the wave starts to feel easy. You look around and notice other surfers are riding across the wave as it is breaking. They are performing bottom turns and top turns, cut-backs and kick-outs. You want in on some of that action. Congratulations, many beginner surfers do not get to this point. Now you're ready for the next part of learning to surf... making the first turn. This is the point that I consider surfers have progressed to the point of being an intermediate level surfer

For most beginning surfers trying to make the first turn, here is what I view as the main obstacle.

By the time you are on your feet and into your surf stance, you are probably heading straight down the face of the wave and by the time you feel stable and ready to initiate the turn, you are at the bottom of the wave and it has broken, leaving you just the whitewater to ride in.

The first thing to address is how quickly you are able to get to your feet. If you are still slow to pop up, keep working at it for a while. If you feel you are getting up quickly enough then let's look at your take-off angle with the surfboard.

You may already be angling your surfboard as you are paddling to catch the wave. Suggesting the correct angle of the surfboard on take-off is difficult. It all depends on the steepness of the wave. If it is a slow rolling wave you should paddle for the wave with your surfboard straight-on. If the wave is steeper, then you will want to have your surfboard at an angle to avoid just dropping straight down the face of the wave on take-off.

Now you've got a good angle for the type of wave, let's discuss how to try to make the first turn. Most beginning surfers try to make the first turn by only leaning on their toes or their heels. It's not the way to turn your surfboard. You can adjust the trim of your surfboard by leaning, which will create slow turns in one direction, but it's not what you need to do, to perform a bottom turn.

So, don't try to turn your surfboard just by leaning. Instead, make sure you are in a good low surf stance. Now turn your head in the direction you want to go. Point your leading arm in that direction and at the same time rotate your hips and shoulders in that direction. At the same time this is happening you want to put as much weight as you can onto your rear foot and push the tail in the opposite direction. You will also be digging your toes in or your heels to get the rail of the board into the water, but the most important part is getting the weight onto the back of the surfboard. This is going to raise the nose of the surfboard and it will pivot in the direction of your turn.

You can actually experiment with this by riding on your stomach on the surfboard, just in the whitewater. Go straight and then when you want to turn, put your weight far back on the surfboard and then pivot the surfboard in the direction you want to go. You will see that the surfboard turns much faster than simply leaning your body weight on the surfboard to initiate a turn.

Once you put your weight to the back of the surfboard, your surfboard is going to slow down. It is very important that once you have finished the turn that you then get the weight back onto your front foot to get the surfboard back up to speed. All of this happens fast. I've attached a video here of a surfer performing some cut-backs and bottom turns. Watch how quickly the surfer changes his weight distribution from the front foot to the back.

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