The top turn is a fundamental maneuver in surfing, the foundational turn of nearly all progressive surfing. I mean, there's nothing better than absolutely obliterating a crispy lip, is there?
Want to know how to do a top turn? Of course you do, so here are some tips to take with you during your next shred sesh.
A top turn is a style of turn performed on the critical sections of a lip, aka, the top of the wave. After executing a bottom turn, the surfer will then transition their board and body to initiate another directional change on the lip. The top turn in itself is a progressive maneuver and is also the set up for other, more aggressive turns, such as a fins-free hack or tail slide, and will get you comfortable on critical wave sections required for aerials.
By learning a basic top turn, you'll be providing yourself with the experience needed to further advance your surfing with these more advanced style turns.
The best part about a top turn is the fact that it can be performed on several varying wave conditions, from pointbreaks to reefs to beach breaks, and with a wide range of boards. Technically, you can top turn a log just as you top turn a shortboard; it will just look and feel a lot different.
With this, however, there are a few key elements in identifying the best section for a top turn. To begin, it's easier to do a top turn-on softer shoulders when first learning. In your beginning stages, pinpoint softer lips with an open face down the line. As you progress through your journey of learning how to do a top turn, you'll begin to execute this maneuver on steeper, faster, and more critical sections (closer to the peak) on larger waves.
As long as there's a nice lip to turn off of and an open face to continue the line, then a top turn is viable. If the wave is closing out, you should look for a closeout re-entry instead, or if you're a touch behind the lip, then think of performing a floater or a foam climb.
The first step is identifying the top turn section during your ride with the information contained above.
Again, look for a lip that is about to break in front of you and an open face down the line. The essential part is to identify this section with enough time to perform the turn. Look a few yards ahead of you as you pump, and make sure that you initiate the bottom turn with enough time to reach the soon-to-break lip just before it crashes. Aim to hit this lip as it peaks and begins to throw water forward.
You need to match the power of the waves with your own power, and this is done with speed. Keep your board mobile and fast by powerfully pumping down the line as you eye the section. On your final pump, before setting up the bottom turn, trim from the top of the wave to the bottom as you place more weight on the front foot for a final jolt of speed.
Need tips on how to generate speed on a surfboard? Zoom over to the linked article for some advice.
A good bottom turn is a critical selling point when learning how to do a top turn, as this sets up the entirety of the maneuver. The intensity of your bottom turn depends on your abilities and also the wave.
A more critical, deeper bottom turn will result in a vertical approach to the lip and, therefore, an advanced top turn. This is best for steep waves and quick attacks on the lip.
We want to practice our top turn on softer shoulders and slightly weaker waves for learning's sake. With this, you don't want to overdo it on your bottom turn, or the wave might not have the power needed to continue your speed up to the lip. Don't surf too far into the through in your first top turn attempts, and stick to a mellower, less vertical bottom turn.
Time the bottom turn with enough time to reach the top of the wave before it breaks, as you want to begin your top turn on the peak of the lip before it crashes. Keep your eyes locked on your target during these moments.
You want to begin executing your top turn as soon as you feel your speed slow when you reach the top of the wave. As you ride toward the lip, try and even out your weight over the rails, so the board is flat on the wave before engaging the outside rail.
A top turn begins with your upper body. When coming out of your bottom turn, open up your chest and lead your directional change with your head and shoulders as you begin to engage the outside rail, placing a touch more weight on your heels for a frontside top turn and more on the toes for a backside top turn.
Load up your power in your back arm, and swoop this arm around as your head looks toward the direction of your turn, aiming your front shoulder in this direction.
As you swoop your arms shoulders, begin to turn your board by placing pressure onto the back foot as your body begins to twist and decompress. With your front foot still bent, push down on the tail pad of your board until your back leg is fully extended.
The more pressure you can put onto this back foot, the more spray you'll get, but you need to work with the wave and not overdo it. When pressing the tail down, adjust your weight slightly over the outside rail (the rail furthest away from the whitewash), so your board may follow your body, and stay balanced over your board by increasing weight over your front foot as the board arches around. Feel the fins engaging and take mental notes on how your board responds to these different weight adjustments.
Learning how to do a top turn wouldn't be complete unless you land it, right? When your board is now pointing back towards the beach/down the line, you're almost there. Although you want weight over your front foot to continue down the line, use your back foot to lift the nose of the board up to avoid nose-diving when necessary. The steeper the wave, the more you'll have to look out for this.
Take a moment here and rebalance yourself over your board. Bend both knees, keeping your body centered over the board to even out the rails as your head begins to look down the line. Allow the fins to grab hold of the wave face and follow them with your weight as this power begins to push the board back in the intended direction.
As you come out of the top turn, immediately begin pumping down the line to piece together the rest of your wave. The best top turns are those that set yourself up for other combo-maneuvers down the line.
Our best advice in your first attempts at a top turn is to keep it simple. Don't aim to throw buckets, and instead, focus on maintaining control and balance when turning your board. Eventually, the spray and power will follow. Begin with light pressure on the tail and smaller turning angles as you gain experience.
Also, never try to watch your spray out the back as you turn, as this is a common mistake many surfers make. If you do this, your head won't follow your body, and you'll immediately lose momentum and balance. Don't worry about what it looks like; instead, worry about what it feels like.
And remember, lead with your front shoulder and load with your back, and try to keep the entire top turn as one single, fluid motion.
Surfing the right board for the conditions at hand will also make a huge difference. You should prefer a mellow top turn on a floaty fish when the waves are smaller and gutless versus trying to be flashy on a performance shortboard that really doesn't have the needed volume or vice versa. It's all about working with the wave and what the section provides.
If you need help pinpointing the right surfboard for your abilities and conditions, our Board Engine Volume Calculator is the hookup, and always feel free to reach out if you have any questions about your surfing or surfing equipment.