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How to do a Roundhouse Cutback

The roundhouse cutback is the perfect turn to piece together a wave with style and progression. Want to know how to do a roundhouse cutback? Read on, snag your shred stick, and get out there to give it a go.

What is a Roundhouse Cutback?

A roundhouse cutback is a progressive maneuver in surfing. Although it's one of the easier turns to accomplish, making it look stylish, artistically drawn out, and functional will grant you profound respect in the lineup.

During a roundhouse cutback, the surfer begins with a slight bottom turn to then execute a long, drawn-out directional turn that starts on the lip of a softer shoulder section. This turn will continue until the surfer has transitioned their board and body over 180 degrees on the face, arching themselves back towards the breaking whitewash.

If the surfer then transitions their board back onto the open face before making contact with the whitewash, this is a standard cutback. However, when they can continue their momentum at and beyond 180 degrees to then bounce their board off the lip/whitewash with yet another turn, back onto the open face with speed and acceleration, they have completed a full roundhouse cutback.

These turns are great when you need to reset your positioning close to the pocket or burn a little speed and are a key intermediate-advanced maneuver in tying together a line with variety.

How to Roundhouse Cutback: Step by Step

Step 1: Learn How to Cutback

A full roundhouse cutback is an extension of the standard cutback, so you first want to gain comfortability by learning how to cutback. We've outlined everything you need to know about "How to Cutback" in the linked article, so if you don't have that on lock, we highly suggest practicing the base of this turn before progressing into your journey of mastering how to do a roundhouse cutback. But for a quick summary, to begin the cutback:

  1. Know the Section: Cutbacks and roundhouse cutbacks are best performed further out on the face of softer shoulder sections. If you're speeding down the line and need to get back into the pocket, and there's a nice shoulder in front of you, then you've found the perfect section.
  2. Maintain Speed: You need enough speed to carry your board and body through such a long, drawn-out directional change. Try to maintain your speed by giving yourself a few powerful pumps, and carry this speed all the way through your turn.
  3. Take the High Line: Cutbacks first begin on the upper portion of the face, on/just below the lip. You may choose to take the high line when surfing down the face, keeping yourself positioned on the top of the wave, or you might decide to initiate a mellow bottom turn to position yourself. Deep bottom turns into the trough should be saved for more aggressive, vertical maneuvers, so don't overdo your bottom turn. And if you need tips on "How to Bottom Turn", take some time here.
  4. Shift Onto Your Rails: Your turn begins by shifting some weight onto your outside rail. This will mean placing more weight on the heel side for a frontside cutback and more weight on the toes for a backside cutback. As you shift weight horizontally onto this rail, keep your vertical weight evenly distributed on your front and back feet. Keep your knees bent and compressed as you begin to turn.
  5. Lead with the Front Shoulder: Just as your weight shifts onto the outside rail, you'll feel your board begin to engage in the direction of the turn. The entirety of learning how to do a roundhouse cutback is led with your front shoulder. Begin to twist this shoulder around by aiming it towards the beach, and follow this direction with your head. Look in the direction you point your shoulder, and follow with the rest of your open body. You might even choose to place your front hand into the water to act as a pivot point, and that's great.
  6. Engage the Legs: Use your back leg to push the fins (especially the outside fin) into the direction of which you are turning, but make sure that you can keep weight over the front leg to stabilize the turn and maintain speed throughout.
  7. Open the Body: Your cutback will begin with your body low and compressed, but at the stage when your fins engage, and your board begins to react to your turn, you'll want to take this compression and turn it into power. When you feel that outside rail lock into the face, as you lead with your front shoulder, further progress the angle of the turn by opening up your chest as you lean down into the face. Twist your head to begin looking back at the whitewash, and wrap that back arm around with you in the same direction of your board.
  8. Even Out Your Weight: When your board now begins to point back towards the whitewash in the opposite direction of the breaking wave, even out the rails by centering your weight again evenly over the deck.

Step 2: Eye Your Target

At this point, you've basically completed a standard cutback. If you were to avoid a roundhouse cutback, you would engage the fins and your body on the opposite, now outside rail to turn the board back down the line before making contact with the whitewash.

But we want to know how to do a roundhouse cutback, so your turn doesn't stop here, and you're really only halfway done.

The next step for how to do a roundhouse cutback is to eye the target. You'll want to continue the momentum of the cutback back up the face, aiming for the lip just beyond the whitewash or even using the whitewash to bounce your board off the breaking wave.

To do this, when you have brought yourself 180 degrees around on the face, begin to eyeball your target by looking at where you plan to initiate the second half of your turn.

A safer, less aggressive roundhouse cutback will target the midsection of the wave/whitewash. A more aggressive roundhouse cutback will aim more vertically towards the lip.

Look upwards towards the top of the wave just in front of where it is breaking. Look here and direct the nose of your board toward where your eyes have targeted.

Step 3: Shift Into the Second Turn

Place some weight on the back foot to lift the nose above the water to avoid nose-diving, and allow the board to come into contact with the whitewash or lip. As you lean back onto your fins/inside rail, you need to immediately take this weight and move it towards the trough.

Now, subtly lean onto the rail closest to the trough. For a frontside cutback, this means leaning into your toes as you turn out of the cutback. For backside, you'll lean onto your heels.

Once your board reaches the target, as you shift your weight, again lead yourself back around with that front shoulder. Keep your body low, and pivot tightly by arching your upper body back towards the beach.

Allow the lip or the whitewash to help push you fully around, but make sure to remain conscious of maintaining your control over the board. Feel that outside fin catch, and flow with your board as it turns. The more of a single motion this is, the better.

Step 4: Land It

As soon as your board turns back around, now facing down the line, even out your weight over the rails to lock back into your line and bend your knees over the board.

This might mean immediately pumping, but many surfers like to transition directly from a roundhouse cutback into a bottom turn that sets up their next maneuver.

This needs to be done quickly and fluently to avoid whitewash turbulence, so again, flow is your friend.

How to do a Roundhouse Cutback: The Summary

Overall, the second portion of a roundhouse cutback is essentially a small snap back onto the direction in which the wave is breaking. As you progress, you'll be able to do this with more flair and aggression. But for now, when learning how to do a roundhouse cutback, just aim for the middle of the wave and bounce of the whitewash. With time you'll get more vertical and closer to the lip.

Really work on the introduction to a standard cutback before attempting a full roundhouse, as surfing within your abilities will always result in the most progression. We don't throw airs if we can't do a top turn, do we? Build the base of the pyramid before shooting for the tip.

Everything is led with your front shoulder, and your board follows where your eyes look. As you turn, always keep your eye in this direction. Don't go twisting your head around to see how much spray you get. Feel it, don't see it.

Softer, mushier shoulders and a nice floaty hybrid surfboard are a great place to start in terms of equipment and wave conditions. This helps keep things mellow during the turn while also maintaining the necessary speed.

Practice makes perfect, my friends, so let go of that frustration and have fun with the process. After all, fun is what it's all about, is it not?