How to Do a Surfing Cutback

To an expert surfer it’s elementary, but for many surfers, executing a clean, well-timed cutback is a challenge that takes patience and practice, as well as considerable water time. But once mastered, the cutback is a highly functional maneuver that will give your surfing fluidity and grace.

Like any surfing maneuver, the cutback requires a specific type of section to complete successfully. If you’re surfing small, dumping closeouts, you can forget about working on your cutback. You need a decent quality wave that offers a tapered wall so that you can pick up speed before laying on the breaks.

Forehand Approach

The front side cutback begins where all surfing maneuvers begin: by picking up speed. Generate speed by pumping down the line, keeping your eyes forward as you begin to pick out a section for your cutback. Once the wave begins to back off and flatten out, you’re ready to initiate a nice, deep carve. Here are the steps:

  1. After you’ve generated plenty of speed, angle up the wave face slightly. There’s no need to execute a full-on bottom turn here, as you don’t want to bleed off any of your speed before you enter the turn. Also, make sure you’re out in front of the curl, heading towards the wave’s shoulder.
  2. As you begin to head towards the top of the wave, or lip, begin to transfer your weight from your toe-side rail back towards your heels, taking weight off your front foot. Timing is key here. Don’t start the turn too early and risk bogging your rail and losing your speed.
  3. Keeping your eyes forward, direct your turn by using your front arm as a sort of pointer, or pivot point, towards your destination. As your weight transfers, your body should follow your arm.
  4. Drive the board through the turn. Push down on your heels, and focus on planting the heel-side rail into the wave face without digging it completely and spinning out.
  5. Keep your hips under you, making sure your weight is over the center of the surfboard.
  6. As you drive through the remainder of the turn, eye the section that you’re going to approach by turning your head back towards the whitewater.
  7. With the nose of your board now facing back towards the whitewater, you need to redirect the board back to the open shoulder. There are a few ways of doing this, each of which vary in difficulty. To start with, just aim towards the trough of the wave and do quick toe-side turn. As you become more comfortable cutting back, you can eventually try hitting the top of the oncoming foam ball to perform a roundhouse re-entry.

The Backhand

While the backhand cutback is essentially the same turn as its front side counterpoint (only inversed), the difference between performing the turn with your back facing the wave is substantial.

As with the front side cutback, you’ll want to approach the turn with as much speed as possible and remember to execute a half-bottom turn. A full bottom turn will cause you to lose much-needed speed, as well as make your line a bit too vertical for the turn.

The nice part about the back side cutback is that the top turn feels a bit more natural because it’s a toe-side turn, and you can really put your weight into it. Once you’ve engaged the front rail into the wave face, try placing a hand on the water’s surface, using your arm as a pivot point as you slingshot back towards the white water. Once you’ve redirected back toward the lip, eye a spot for your rebound. The rebound will feel like a front side hack, with your weight shifting back to your heels before you settle back onto the wave face and continue your ride.

Command of the Cutty

Like every maneuver in surfing, taking your cutback from mediocre to excellent will take a ton of water time and a lot of practice in suitable conditions. Take time and care with your practice. Being able to unload speed with an arching cutty is one of the greatest feelings in surfing, and a maneuver that every surfer should have in his repertoire.

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