A guide to the most important surf moves and tricks

Following the fundamentals of surfing such as popping up, duck diving, and paddling the real fun of smashing lips and getting tubed begins. Once your confidence and fitness are high and you’re ready to lay it all on the rail it’s GAME TIME!

One of the best parts of surfing is progression as you’re constantly levelling up, unlike most sports where it’s easy to level out. What I’m saying is, surfers can’t go from beginner to intermediate to advanced without garnering a certain skill set. So, prior to whipping fins and spraying buckets, surfers should improve and perfect their basics. Footwork, reading waves and observation are all vital to better ones surfing from the get-go.

If you’re looking to take your surfing to another level and go Super Saiyan out back here’s the cheat sheet:

Level 1

Bottom Turn

The bottom turn is arguably surfing’s most vital/important stepping stone to scoring a solid wave. Once you’re waxing that paddle and popping up on the regular, the next point of call is setting yourself up from the bottom of the wave face (unless you’re going for a higher line or trim).

According to Tom Curren, one of the best to ever do this dance we call surfing, the bottom turn is “Where it all begins. It’s the foundation for the rest of your repertoire”.

Following the pop-up and with your eyes looking toward where you want the board to go it’s time to make use of your speed without scrubbing too much of it off. Make sure you adopt a ‘low centre of gravity’ approach by bending those knees and distributing your weight evenly over the board. As a beginner don’t worry too much about what you look like. Odds are you’re gonna strike the ‘poo-man’ pose but that’s okay as you progress your surfing will take on a whole new groovy style.  Don’t forget to put pressure on your toes as the rail finds the water’s surface. But be careful, too much pressure and you’ll bog that rail sending you down early. The smoother the bottom turn the more speed is preserved.

Who to Watch – Tom Curren.

Tom Curren’s classic bottom turn will never go out of style.

Pumping

Here we’re referring to the act of surfing up and down the wave face. You’re gonna wanna aim for a smooth flowing motion almost identical to what you’d use to wiggle your way on a skateboard.

Surfers use this pumping motion to position themselves in the pocket. Positioning oneself in the pocket allows a surfer to maximise forward momentum, the precursor to big moves. 

Along with being used to position a surfer right in the sweet spot, pumping is used to generate speed. This is done by using the top third of the wave and by shifting your weight and direction at specific points. Here you’re going to want to learn where to be heavy (get short) and where to be light (get tall). Make use of gravity, it’s free. Mastering this requires good rail work which will set you up nicely for more advanced manoeuvres.

Who to Watch – Filipe Toledo.

Filipe Toledo generating serious speed.

Carve

Now that you have mastered your stance adjusting your weight and harnessing speed become your focus. These two elements are vital for throwing delicious carves. When performing a carve surfers put their power and weight on the rail of the surfboard just as one would do whilst pumping.

However, when it comes to carving up the face of a wave-like a Sunday roast you’re really going to want to bury that rail. And I mean 6 feet under kinda bury! This will be one of the most satisfying things to master as you’ll start to feel the connection between the wave, the board and you – the surfer.

Carving allows you to change your direction when on the wave face. Put all your weight on the chosen rail (depending on what way the wave is peeling) and get that rail underwater, building an arc shape within the wave’s curl.

For regular footed surfers; extra weight on the back heel = left carve; extra weight on the back toes = right carve. Carves are beautiful to watch. The deeper the carve the more radical the turn. In effect, it’s a dramatic change in direction.

In short, surfers need to place a greater amount of pressure on the back foot,  whilst lifting the nose slightly. In doing so you’re making it possible to pivot the board using the rails and fins. A high-performance surfer ain’t shit without a good carve game.

Who to Watch – Jordy Smith.

Jordy throwing buckets.

Cutback

Another must-have in your surfing repertoire – the cutback. This move allows surfers to both reduce their speed when needed through the manoeuvre itself as well as reposition themselves back in the pocket, the power source of the wave. Talk about renewable energy. Once you find yourself out on the shoulder of the wave chuck in a cuttie and get yourself reset.

Easier said than done, kinda. We hear ya and we’re here to help. When on the shoulder head for the top of the wave. Once at the top, shift your weight onto your back foot whilst leaning the top half of your body back in toward the bottom of the wave with your left hand out. Don’t forget to compress a little here.

This change in weight distribution and body direction will help bury that outside rail and engage the fins. Whilst working the rail turn your head and twist the shoulders back up in the direction of the curl of the wave. As you approach the white water back toward the pocket, start turning your head back towards the shoulder. Don’t forget that where your head goes your body will follow

A shallow bottom turn is needed to generate the maximum speed going into the manoeuvre. This prevents you from stalling on the shoulder.

Who to Watch – Kelly Slater.

Slater small wave cutback.

Level 2

Snap

The snap, looks good and it feels even better. At the base of it, it’s a radical trajectory change on top of or in the pocket of the wave. When you hit it just right you can expect buckets of water above the head of the surfer. It’s a move that’ll generate audible sound effects from any on-looking surfers.

So here’s the what and the how of the Snap! The surfer will transition out of a pretty intense bottom turn on a steep wave and head toward the lip at a 30- to 50-degree angle. To direct yourself up the face on the wave use the nose of your board holding on to as much speed as possible.

When roughly half your board is over the crest of the wave turn your shoulders crosswise to the wave while throwing your ams up and pushing the board away from you on your back leg. When punching out the back adopt the squat while turning your head toward where the board needs to go ignorer to ride out of the manoeuvre.

Who to Watch – Nat Young.

Sharp snap in the pocket by Nat Young.

Foam Climb

It may not seem it but the foam climb is an important skill to lockdown in competitive and intermediate-to-advanced surfing. The “soup” is never the place to be, except if you’re a beginner so learning to get out of those boggy situations is essential. One such way is with the foam climb.

White water kills momentum and the flats are no place to be when you’re looking to do damage to the face. There are two things to consider when you looking to escape the whitewater and reach the next section – your bottom turn and body technique.

To successfully pull off the art of the foam climb, it requires the surfer to get past a closed out section, whitewater, or a broken lip.

The best way to go about doing this is by building up as much momentum as possible and transferring it into a strong bottom turn. This momentum shift will enable the surfer to gain enough power to get over the foam. As you target the white water, your board should already be driving bottom flat, not on rail. Using your shoulders and arms to pull yourself up over or around the broken section is another key aspect. With a low balanced stance and pressure on the back foot, you’ll be able to handle the impact underfoot. In the end, you want to project your body and surfboard forward while lift gliding over the foam ball.

Who to Watch – Mick Fanning.

A simple yet effective foam climb with Mick Fanning.

Level 3

These sections pretty broad and get packed essentially into 3 parts! Fist off barrel riding. Second aerials. And lastly doing all of the above with as the great Shaun Tomson puts it – speed, power and flow!

Barrel Riding

Barrel riding is no doubt the Holy Grail of surfing! A good clean solid barrel that spits you out my elude most of us for years. Sure you’re likely to tuck into a closeout and get the sense of being barrelled… but it just ain’t the same as emerging from the greenroom cheesing from cheek to cheek with ‘yeeeews’ being thrown at you by fellow board riders. To this day I will never EVER forget my first clean solid barrel at New Pier, Durban. Nothing gets you more frothed than getting tubed!

We all know where and what the barrel is so let’s get stuck right into the nitty-gritty. Unless you’re surfing double to triple overhead surf your most likely not going to be standing tall looking all steezy for the photos in the water. Odds are you’re gonna be crouching and tightly angling yourself as you drop in right ahead of the wave’s lip.

Once the lip begins to throw over stay centered on your board and above the foam ball (white water behind or underneath you) of the wave so you don’t slow down or get bucked off due to the pressure pushing up on the bottom of your board.

In some instances, you will have to stall in order for the lip to catch up with you. This can be done through various techniques such as with your hands on the wave face if on your forehand or your ass on the backhand when grabbing rail or ‘pig-dogging’. Another way is by placing a lot of weight/pressure on the back foot and lifting the nose of the board. Then when you’ve really put in the hours out there you could even throw in a mini carve to shake off some momentum.

It’s important to stay above the foam ball so this might require you to pump when inside the tube. Here you’re essentially surfing the top third of the wave. Some waves your speed will be enough along with micro rail adjustments. This is where reading waves becomes important.

Who to Watch – Jeremy Flores.

Jeremy Flores going deep.

Aerials

Rodeo flips, Revos, Kerrupt Flips, Superman Grabs, Stale Fish, Alley Oops, Straighties… aerial variations are becoming a big part of the modern surfer most of which have been inspired by skating and snowboarding. Gone are the days where a good rail and tube game would suffice. Just go down to your local and watch how the gloms are taking to the skies. In a nutshell, gaining speed, finding a ramp, launching off the lip, flying over the wave, and landing on the wave’s face or in flats constitutes an aerial.

In my 30 years on this planet, aerials, have been by far the hardest to master. Or at least attempt to master. They’re just straight-up difficult! Take the Rodeo Flip for example. Inspired by snowboarding, it involves a mixture of spinning as well as flipping. C’maaan… spinning AND flipping!

The best way to describe it I guess would go something like this; once you catch some air at the top of the wave, grab your board and flip forward or backwards before landing back on the wave. It’s easier to get the info you need for this one by watching it. Who better to watch than the man who came up with it himself, Kelly Slater.

Another epic above the lip manoeuvre to watch is the Alley Oop. This intense air jump inspired by vert skating lets you literally fly over a wave with the breeze beneath your board keeping it stuck firmly to your feet. To get this one down, find an open face with a section just about breaking in front of you. Once the target has been acquired accelerate toward it, and bottom turn at around 45 degrees. With your knees bent and the nose of your board above the lip it’s time to pop off the lip and kick your tail out. Follow the momentum of the kicked out rail through your hips and shoulders in order to get the full rotation. Take-home tip, get low and widen your stance. Gabby, John John and Albee Layer are all masters of the Alley Oop.

The list of aerial manoeuvres is extensive all presenting their own challenges. As mentioned before the basics behind these acrobatic tricks revolve around generating speed, finding a ramp,  and launching off the lip.

Mastering each of the above moves needs time, patience and plenty of time in the brine. The best advice I can give and which has been given to me is to learn from others. Here I don’t mean, although you can, going up to every semi-pro you see down the beach and asking them to give you a lecture but rather to watch what they do. Watch how their feet are positioned, what stance they take, where their eyes are focused, how their upper body moves. Beyond that just surf. Good waves, bad waves, offshore, onshore they’ve all got something to give. 

Filipe Toledo makes big airs look easy.

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