In the current state of progressive surfing where the above-the-lip tricks have become not just mandatory but downright dominant, the bottom of the wave (the trough) has been erased from the repertoire, negated to a simple landing zone. Therefore, the bottom turn is now viewed as some dinosaur of a bygone era, skeletal remains that litter old surf mags that need only be resurrected when the surf is over 8 feet.
You see, most modern small wave maneuvers depend more on top-of-the-wave momentum: a skateboard approach that places focus squarely on pent-up potential energy generated by small mid-face pumps and released into the air in the form of air reveres, stalefish, and another such insanity. Aerial surfing is the bread and butter of modern surfing. Let’s just say it.
However, the bottom turn (often not seen as a maneuver in itself but rather as a means to an end) is the very backbone of surfing. The bottom turn is the base from which all missions are launched. From Phil Edwards to Barry Kanaiapuni to Tom Curren to Kelly Slater; the bottom turn is not only the key to great surfing, it is one maneuver that has remained the one constant in surfing.
What is the Bottom Turn?
The bottom turn is the first turn you make after dropping into a wave, and it is the turn that transforms your vertical falling energy into horizontal speed down the line. It is also a way in which the surfer can position himself for sections and maneuvers further down the line: a quick pump off the bottom can get you high onto the face in time for an upcoming floater, or a long drawn-out bottom turn burns a little time to wait for that lip to fall over to get you in position for the tube. Bottom line: without a good bottom turn, you’ve got nothing.
Bottom Turn Video
Speed is Essential
As with all moves in surfing, getting maximum is where it all starts; therefore, try to take off on the steepest section of the wave you can. That means you should position yourself at the peak of the wave OR as close as you can to the breaking whitewater of the wave, so you can be leaning into your bottom turn with maximum speed.
As you drop into the trough of the wave, your body will be semi-extended, but you will need to crouch into a squat position in order to create potential energy. You should crouch as your body and board reach the bottom of the wave, you should have ample energy and velocity; however, the key here is that you will push and lean and turn in one smooth motion that not only lifts off the bottom but also lifts along with the energy of the moving water.
It’s key that you have proper foot placement for a proper bottom turn. For each board and each surfer, foot placement varies, but the basics remain constant. The center of your body should line up with the stringer-center of your board, and your feet should do the same. Try to keep your feet placed right over the wooden stringer going down the center of your board. As with all aspects of surfing, it takes endless trial and error, so you will move your feet around with each wave to find that sweet spot.
Depth of Turn
How deep you turn (or how long you wait to make your bottom turn) is dictated by both the size of the wave and the goal of your turn. Bigger waves often necessitate a longer and more drawn-out bottom turn; however, that is not always the case. For the most part, the depth of your turn is geared towards where you want to go on the wave. For instance, if you want to wait for the wave to barrel, a deeper, longer turn is in order; or if you need to get down the line before a section closes out, you may need to turn at more of an angle at full speed to minimize your vertical drop and maximize your lateral movement.
The Bottom Turn is the Bottom Line
To the layperson, the bottom turn is the least dramatic and least exciting move in a surfer’s repertoire, but to a real surfer, the bottom turn is the bottom line. Drops, tubes, re-entries, floaters, and aerials would not be impossible without a sound approach to the bottom of the wave. So get your head right, get your feet right, and go rip!