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How to Carve a Surfboard

After mastering your bottom turn, learning how to carve a surfboard is the next step. Carving not only looks good, but it feels damn good, too. By harnessing the power of the wave into a carve, the surfer can make directional changes, bring themselves back into the pocket, and throw some spray off the lip while doing so.

Want to know how? Check it out.

Step By Step: How to Carve when Surfing

  1. Master the other fundamentals.

You might be eager to learn, but surfing is best approached like a pyramid, building the bases before extending to the tip. Before learning how to carve, you first must ensure that you:

Once you've got the hang of every piece of this puzzle, then it's time to transition your speed and/or your bottom turn right into a stylish carve.

  1. Choose the right waves.

You at least need a half-decent wave to execute your carve fully, as carving takes a good amount of speed and flow. And choosing the right board for the conditions at hand will always help. If waist-stomach high or mushy and weak, you want a board with plenty of volume to keep your speed through the softer sections, and ideally, carves are best performed on shoulder to head-high waves with a nice pocket.

  1. Generate ample speed.

Learning how to carve a surfboard starts with ensuring that you have all the speed needed to stay balanced on your board. Carves generally extend yourself and your surfboard beyond the major power section (aka the pocket) of the wave as your board turns 90 or more degrees. Gain speed by pumping down the line until the shoulder lines up perfectly for a carve- this should look like an open, softer section with no intention of closing out.

  1. Trim from top to bottom.

Once you've got your speed going, your last move before entering your bottom turn should be to trim from the top of the wave to the bottom to gain a final 'push' of speed. It is also essential to understand the difference between trimming and carving.

  • Trimming is small directional changes from the top of the wave face to the bottom and vice versa. This is used to maintain and adjust the perfect speed and positioning on a wave. Going from the lip to the trough will increase speed and set you up for the following turns. Learning how to link your trimming turns together (which will look like a sideways "S" on the wave) is the first step in learning how to carve a surfboard.
  • Carving is a much more radical turn than trimming and takes more power and energy. When carving, the surfer will dig much deeper into their heels/toes and the rails of their board to initiate a major directional change at the top of the lip. Carves will turn your surfboard 90 degrees or more on the face, whereas your board will remain practically horizontal to the wave face when trimming.
  1. Come off the top into a bottom turn.

As you trim from the top of the wave to the bottom, apply some pressure to your front foot to increase your speed as you reach the trough. Transition this weight towards your back foot when you reach the bottom and initiate your bottom turn. You don't need an extremely radical, vertical bottom turn for carving- these are more ideal for tight snaps and hacks off the lip. Instead, a more mellow diagonal bottom turn is perfect. This style of bottom turn should have your board pointing 10 O'clock when going right or 2 O'clock when going left. As you get further into your journey of learning how to carve a surfboard, you can increase the intensity of your carve by pointing the nose up to 11 or 1 O'clock.

  1. Time it right.

As your bottom turn transitions you up the wave, time the beginning stage of your carve when your fins reach about a foot below the lip. Going too high towards the lip is reserved again for more radical maneuvers, like a snap or fins-free hacks. Make sure that you extend far enough past the pocket so you have enough time to begin your carve without the wave crashing on you.

  1. Lean into your toes/heels.

When carving frontside, you lean into the heels, and for backside, the toes. As you reach the top of the wave, begin placing more weight into your toes or heels while remaining centered on the board. You can use a stringer for reference, but you want your feet right in the middle of the deck. This keeps you centered as your weight begins to lean to one side, thus promoting balance. As you lean into your toes/heels, you'll feel your rail begin to engage. Place a touch more weight on the tail of the board to control your fins in this direction.

  1. Twist your shoulder.

When learning how to carve a surfboard, remember that your board loves to follow the movements of your front shoulder. When you feel your rails begin to engage, the inside rail digging into the water, you want to lead your turn with your front shoulder. Begin leaning this shoulder towards the direction of your turn first, and then engage the rest of your body, such as twisting your torso and following with your head.

  1. Follow with your eyes.

When you reach the end of your carve, you essentially want to be looking back at the whitewash behind you. But looking back too far and too early will cause imbalance, as will continuing to look forward during your carve. As your shoulder engages, you want to look and follow with your eyes. Follow the nose of your board with your eyes as it turns on the wave until you find yourself eyeing the whitewash behind you. Don't try and see how much spray you've thrown, or your body won't follow your board! Feel it, don't see it.

  1. Lean into your leading arm.

Some surfers like to place their leading arm into the wave face as they carve. This acts as a pivot point and helps ensure that you are digging the rails deep enough into the water.

  1. Flatten out and re-entry.

When you have fully engaged the rails, you've led your board around with your shoulder and eyes, and you've reached the end of your carve, you want to flatten/straighten yourself back before turning too dramatically towards the whitewash. Turning too far into the whitewash is more of a cutback, and we want to keep that speed and flow going with a carve. When your board points back towards the beach, and once it's close to the whitewash, flatten out your rails by centering your weight. Then, look back down the face, and now lean into your inside rail to initiate another bottom turn. This will set you back into the pocket to continue surfing down the line.

How to Carve: A Summary

The best carves are those that work with the wave. Don't try to outpower the wave, and instead, work with it and what it has provided—the more fluent your motions, the better. To get better at carving, try to be as smooth as possible and keep a solid stance on your board the whole time.

Start with mellow carving before increasing the intensity, as this will help to lay the foundation. Watch videos and other surfers performing a carve, and take mental notes on how you can improve.

We highly suggest working with a YOW Surfskate on dry land, as this is the perfect way to replicate and practice learning how to carve a surfboard even when you're on dry land.

Give it time and plenty of patience, as none of this happens quickly, and as always- have some freaking fun with it!!