How To: A Perfect Bottom Turn

Becoming a good surfer takes time, plain and simple… Sure, you can have a thrilling session as a beginner just B-lining towards the beach on the white water, but as you progress, the thrill seeking becomes more intense and the mental flow state is more enjoyable. Perhaps the biggest barrier with becoming a truly excellent surfer is the sheer lack of ride time. Think about it… In a 2 hour session, we spend maybe 3 minutes actually standing on the surfboard. That’s assuming you catch 15 waves and each wave is about 12 seconds. Compare this to skateboarding or snowboarding and the numbers speak for themselves.

If there’s one maneuver that progressing surfers need in their repertoire, it’s a proper bottom turn. The bottom turn is the glue that keeps your surfing in tact; it’s what lays the foundation for every maneuver that you’ll try. Whether you’re inching towards the lip for a floater or your blasting out of the pocket, spinning a full-rotation 360° air, it all starts with a proper bottom turn.

What is a bottom turn? After catching the wave and dropping down the green face, you’ll need to turn left or right to stay in the powerful section of the wave. The turn that you perform at the bottom of the wave is known as the bottom turn. Not only will this turn allow you to lengthen your ride, but you’ll use this maneuver to navigate oncoming sections and start connecting maneuvers.

So let’s take step by step. When you’re paddling for a wave, you need to know (before standing up) if you’re going left or right. Depending on the wave’s direction, you’ll either be pushing off your toes (front-side bottom turn) or off your heels (backside bottom turn). You’ll need to anticipate the speed of the wave because this will determine how deep you draw out the bottom turn. If the wave is walled up and racy, you’ll make a very quick, mid-face bottom turn. If the wave is slow and lumpy, then you can drop straight down the wave towards the beach and enjoy a stylish, drawn out bottom turn in the flats. Once you’re riding down the wave’s green face, you’ll most likely perform more bottom turns with each approaching section.
Surfing champion, John John Florence explains it well “I think a good bottom turn really does set the pace for the whole wave. You want to get really low over your board as you begin your turn. You can generate a lot more power out of your legs that way. It’s kind of like pumping on a half pipe with a skateboard; you bend your knees in the transition and kind of push down as you’re coming out of it.”

One of the first tricks that intermediate surfers do (and generally by accident) is a floater. This  trick is used to float over minor sections and maintain, or even generate, speed. A well-timed floater can look really cool if it’s done swiftly or on a big closeout section. The key to a successful floater is starting with the proper bottom turn. Since you’re not aiming to catch air or pop the fins out the back of the wave, you’ll just need a mid face bottom turn so you can approach the lip at a 45° angle. You’ll need to be going fast down the line, eye the section you’d like to float over, do a mid face bottom turn while moderately flexing your knees, and aim the nose of your board towards your destination. The wave will do the rest of the work pushing you back in front of the wave.

As you master the floater, you’re going to progress with cutbacks and snaps. Generally speaking, a long drawn out cutback doesn’t require a very deep bottom turn either. Really you just want an extra mid face bottom turn to generate extra speed so you can swing the board back around towards the white water.

As you master the cutback and small carves, the next trick you’ll want to do is a big vertical snap. To perform a proper snap in the pocket of the wave, you’ll need to do a deep bottom turn to the the point where you’re low enough to drag your hand along the water and your outer fins start to disengage. To do a proper pocket snap, you’ll need a ton of speed, a proper stance with a little more than half your weight on the back foot, and a deep bottom turn that will allow you to vertically climb the wave and approach the lip with a 90° angle. Notice in the photo below how low the surfer is and how flexed their knees are.

Even when you have 20+ years of surfing experience, you’ll still be analyzing every single one of your turns, but the one you should really be concentrating on is a bottom turn. If you have any questions or feedback, we’d love to hear from you. Shoot us an e-mail at and let us know what you’d like to learn next. We offer an world class Intermediate surf program where we guarantee progression with our expert coaches. If you’d like to check dates or get a quote, contact us at 1-888-318-7873. Pura Vida!


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