Learning how to bottom turn will lay the foundation for practically every other maneuver in surfing. Mastering this essential surfing skill is absolutely vital, and we've got a few tips to help you along the way.
The bottom turn is your set-up turn for other maneuvers on the wave face. It is the primary turn executed before other, more aggressive turns, like a cutback, snap, or aerial, and allows the surfer to transition the vertical energy of dropping in the wave into horizontal energy on the face.
A surfer will execute a bottom turn on the trough (bottom) of the wave, hence the name, digging their rails into the water to propel themselves towards the next section of the power source of the wave.
There are two styles of bottom turns- forehand and backhand. A forehand bottom turn is done when riding frontside with your chest facing the wave, and a backhand bottom turn when riding backside with your back facing the wave, but the general idea for both remains the same.
A bottom turn might be used to position yourself for a barrel, execute another progressive maneuver on the lip, or gain speed and outrun the whitewash. Regardless, a good bottom turn will do nothing but enhance every aspect of your surfing and should remain your primary focus when transitioning from beginner to intermediate surfer.
Before learning how to bottom turn, you want to set reasonable expectations. Advanced surfers can drop into steep, fast sections and perform a committed bottom turn that propels them tightly from the bottom pocket of the wave then vertically to the lip. This style of bottom turn is ideal for aggressive maneuvers on the face, like a fins-free snap, but isn't the style you're going to execute when learning how to bottom turn.
Instead, you're going to want to aim for a more relaxed, diagonal bottom turn on a softer, less powerful section of the wave. Instead of going for 12 O'clock, shoot for 9 O'clock. This is the perfect angle for learning your first maneuvers, specifically cutbacks and carves, that follow a bottom turn.
Dropping in the wave will create the vertical momentum required to transition horizontally. The more speed through your bottom turn, the better, so drop in close to the peak versus too far off on the shoulder. Keep your knees bent and eye the section in front of you to plan out your bottom turn, and drop in with a slight angle towards the direction you plan to ride. During the drop-in, keeping more weight on the front foot during this beginning stage of the bottom turn will further increase your speed.
As you drop towards the wave's trough and begin initiating the bottom turn, you want to compress your body low by bending your knees and lower body. Keep your feet centered on the stringer as you do so, and equalize your weight between both feet.
Learning how to bottom turn is all about your weight. Once your body is low, you'll want to begin transitioning your weight towards the inside rail, which is the side of your surfboard closest to the face, once you reach the trough. This will 'tilt' the outside rail of the surfboard out of the water and will initiate your directional change. If going frontside, you will lean slightly towards the toes, and towards the heels if going backside. This weight transition will force the waves upward energy underneath the board and create the speed necessary to continue the bottom turn into other maneuvers.
Use your shoulder to lead your weight and body in this direction.
Once you transition your weight, you'll feel the board begin to follow the upwards momentum of the wave. Many surfers like to place a hand in the wave face to promote balance and create a pivot point to further transition towards the upper portion of the wave. On a frontside bottom turn, you will drag your back arm. On a backside bottom turn, you will drag your front arm.
As your surfboard begins to turn towards and face the upper portion of the wave, you can now place more weight on the back leg. This will help you to steer the surfboard in this desired direction.
As you point your front shoulder towards the upper wave face and place weight on the back foot, you want to twist your hips and your chest in this same direction.
At this point, you're reaching the end stage of the bottom turn. As you begin to transition upwards, you want to decompress your body by lifting your legs and opening up your chest to center yourself back over the surfboard. As you decompress, lead with your front shoulder and head and follow with your back shoulder, turning your back shoulder towards the direction of your next turn. If you've made it this far, then congrats, you've learned how to bottom turn. Yeww!
Once you come out of the bottom turn and reach the upper/top portion of the wave, it's time to take this speed and energy gained and transition it into the turn you plan to execute. This will look like a diagonal bottom turn on a softer shoulder followed by a cutback or a mellow carve. This will look like a sharp and fast bottom turned on a steep section, followed by a more intense, vertical off-the-lip trick.
Just as there are things you want to do when learning how to bottom turn, there are also things that are necessary to avoid- common mistakes that many surfers make but that are easy to avoid when remaining cognizant of the disadvantages.
Even pros continue to improve their bottom turns every day. A bottom turn takes serious practice, and the best way to learn how to bottom turn is to take these tips with you and try again and again. Our best advice is not to surf waves out of your comfort zone and go for less aggressive and diagonal bottom turns before attempting to go vertical.
Watch other surfers do it, both live and in videos, ask for advice when needed, and always feel free to reach out to your friends at Boardcave if you need more advice.