No one starts surfing just to ride the white water or simply to speed down the face in a straight line. The art of surfing calls the surfer to do something with the wave, read it, feel when to turn and when to snap, when to pull into the barrel. It doesn’t matter if you want to smash the lip like Occy, tango on longboards like Joel Tudor, or spin around on an Alaia like Dave Rastovich – building a repertoire of surf moves and mastering them will not only make you surf better, but also give you the tools to adapt to a bunch of different situations.
However, progression is a stepping stone – and in surfing, it is no different. Before attempting to fly high off the lip, you need to perfect your bottom turn; before spraying litres of water on a cutback, you need to have your footwork dialled; before getting barrelled in Teahupo’o, you must be able to time your take-off and work the rails. Therefore, we’ve outlined a complete list of surf moves and tricks based on levels – so you know what to work on and when.
Note: We have assumed that you’re already comfortable with paddling, popping up, duck diving, trimming, and pumping.
BEGINNER SURF MOVES
When it comes to surf moves, everything begins with the bottom turn. By doing an efficient and timely bottom turn, you ensure that the power harnessed from the wave is transmitted to your next turn, and that the next turn is performed on the correct spot. On the other hand, a baldy performed bottom turn can cause loss of speed and/or a weak subsequent turn. That is, when you aren’t simply swallowed by the foam. Hence, it is crucial to practice this move over and over again, in all sorts of waves. And keep in mind that bottom turns will also feel largely different depending on the board you’re using, as well as the fin setup.
The optimal bottom turn consists of a solid takeoff, followed by setting up a low centre of gravity, which is done by bending the knees and keeping the weight evenly distributed across the centre of the board. Then, eye your target and redirect the board by applying pressure on your toes (frontside) or heels (backside). The idea is that the rail sinks just enough to spring the board back off the surface once it ends its slicing motion.
Our Tip: The secret to a great bottom turn is finding the sweet pressure spot on your toes/heels so the rail doesn’t catch.
The floater is a very useful trick that is also relatively easy to perform and master – hence its popularity among entry level, and even advanced surfers. It consists of riding horizontally over either the white water of a crumbling part of the wave or over the lip before it breaks. The main benefit of the floater is that it allows you to maintain your speed since you don’t have to go around the breaking section. In fact, a well-performed floater can cause the board to gain speed, which is, more often than not, an asset for the following turn. This is a particularly good trick to have dialled when surfing windswept beach breaks.
Our Tip: Bring your back foot a bit forward when doing a floater so the board sits evenly on the foam and the speed is enhanced.
Cutbacks are a smoother, more strategic version of a carve. Here, the surfer’s objective is to slow down whilst repositioning himself/herself in the pocket. The main structural difference between the two is that cutbacks are often performed on the shoulder of the wave, whereas carves, not really.
Assuming you’re a regular footer on your front side (going right): perform a cutback by simultaneously applying pressure on your back foot, twisting your torso counter-clockwise, and pointing your left arm and gaze toward the broken section of the wave. This motion will engage the fins and inner (left) rail, thus cutting a sharp arc on the wave face and setting the board back toward the pocket. Once you start nearing the curl, turn the board back toward the shoulder of the wave. If the wave has no tube, you can use the white water to assist in this re-direction.
Our Tip: Using your head and shoulders to steer the board is crucial here – the direction you look is where the board will go.
INTERMEDIATE SURF MOVES
SNAP / RE ENTRY
A snap works similarly to a carve in that it is a good way to change trajectory abruptly. The main difference being that the movement is much quicker and explosive than a carve, usually done closer to the pocket or on top of it, and thus produces a smaller radius arc. That said, a properly done snap can release a huge curtain of spray off the lip or top of the wave. To pull off a good snap, try to keep as much speed as possible after the bottom turn, then set the nose of your board on a 30- to 50-degree angle (in relation to the horizon) and head toward the lip. The steeper the wave the better. As soon as the first half of your board goes over the crest, it is time to change direction. Turn your shoulders on toward the wave face and put pressure on the back foot so the tail will spin and the nose will point downward. Throwing your arms up helps the motion – and so does keeping your gaze to where you want the board to go.
Our Tip: The best way to ensure you don’t lose balance whilst snapping is to squat when turning, thus lowering your centre of gravity.
The foam climb is very similar to a floater – but perhaps not as functional and harder to perform. It is essentially a vertical or diagonal floater; only you climb up the foam as opposed to gliding over it. You do so by pulling a sharp bottom turn in the direction of the white water, then bringing the nose of the board – as well as your shoulders and arms – up so as to lift your weight off the board. Most surfers will only perform a foam climb when they already find themselves behind the foam ball and need to get back onto the pocket. Doing a foam climb in the usual floater scenario will stall the board.
Our Tip: Watch Mick Fanning do a foam climb to understand what it is all about ( although we couldn’t find a clip of Mick, the clip below is pretty good! )
Think of the tail slide as a progressive snap. Indeed, most of the setup and technique is the same as the aforementioned. The main difference is that you’ll add more power and rotation to the body and board so that the tail can slide down the face of the wave – often a whole 180 degrees. Tail slides work best in small- to -medium-sized waves, either on top of the pocket or on a crumbling section of the face. As with the snap, adopting a low stance helps the turning motion. And again, use your gaze to direct the board.
Our Tip: Shift your body weight from the back foot to the front foot after the tail has gone over the lip so it can spin freely.
In a 360, the surfer will do a single full rotation, either clockwise or counter-clockwise, depending on his/her stance and the direction of the wave. 360s are mostly done on the lip, but some people also lift the nose and slide the tail 180 degrees whilst on the wave face, ride backwards awhile, then spin back around to complete the move. However, this is more an aesthetic variation of the 360 as it doesn’t actually do anything. For the proper, off-the-lip 360, either carving or reversing, you should head toward the lip at roughly a 45-degree angle, trying to build up speed as you come up. There’s no need to perform a sharp bottom turn for this. Once the nose is close to touching the lip, start the rotating motion with your body, leaning the board on the lip and shifting your weight to the front foot. You’ll notice the board will almost turn by itself. Then it’s just a matter of keeping the balance.
Our Tip: Don’t spin too quickly – you’ll likely spin out if you do.
ADVANCED SURF MOVES
Oh, the barrel. This is the most popular, sought-after, and romanticised trick in surfing – and for good reason. Getting barrelled, or riding the tube, means the curling lip of the wave will wrap you as it breaks, as though you were the filling of a burrito, and you will ride inside the hollow area, AKA the pit.
A proper, deep tube will give you an incredible view of the water spinning up to form the face of the wave and the lip curling in front of you to form a sort of picture frame, all the while your feet will be trembling with the intensified sucking motion generated by the white water behind you. A tube will quite literally make you feel like you’re a part of the wave. Words can’t describe it.
That said, these kinds of utopian tubes are rare to find, let alone to ride. The reality is that, in your everyday surf session, you’ll probably encounter smaller, tighter, crumbling tubes, and you’ll have to “make yourself fit” in the barrel by crouching and leaning hither and thither. But the fundamentals remain: as soon as you see the lip throw over and a potential tube form, adopt a solid stance, pull in, and stay in the centre of the pit, avoiding the white water (aka the foam ball) that will form either underneath and/or behind you.
Stalling, either by dragging your hand(s) or back on the wave face, is a great way to manage your tube ride and stay inside for as long as possible. Keeping your front foot in the centre and moving your back foot forward and backwards will also increase or decrease your speed, respectively. There are a bunch of tube riding techniques out there, but the most important reflexes will all come to you instinctively with time and experience.
Our Tip: Learning to read the wave is probably the most important part of tube riding. Try to watch as many people getting barrelled as possible, observing their timing more than their technique. And be sure to stay safe whilst learning how to ride the barrel. That means avoiding ultra hollow waves with shallow, rock/reef bottoms. Start on a beach break in head-high conditions, gain confidence, then move forward.
The aerial, or air, is a trick inspired by snowboarding and skating. It was introduced into the world of surfing relatively late but has quite literally taken off. There’s a growing and restless trend around airs; surfers seem to itch to push the limits and come up with variations of this manoeuvre. In a nutshell, air consists of launching off the lip of the wave and flying over it.
Aerials can be performed in all sorts of conditions, but they are more common in shoulder to head-high steep waves. That is because such a setting usually provides the ideal ramp-like configuration the surfer needs to launch off of – and land – with the right amount of speed to render the manoeuvre feasible. Otherwise, it would be either too hard to take off (small, chubby waves) or too difficult to land (double overhead, hollow waves).
As with tube riding, doing an air requires a reading of the wave. Once you’ve spotted your take-off point, adjust your stance and try to harness as much speed as possible before reaching the lip. The kind of launching technique you’ll go for depends on the kind of aerial you’re attempting (see list below). But for all of them, you’ll need impeccable timing. So when getting started with airs, train in all sorts of wave and wind conditions. This will exercise your muscle memory.
Our Tip: If you know/see someone landing airs constantly, ask them how they do it. Chances are they’ll have a useful hint for you – a minor foot adjustment, a specific way to turn the board to the wind. And more than anything, be patient. Aerials are the hardest surf tricks to master.
Below are some of the most popular air variations:
- ALLEY OOP: The Alley Oop is probably the aerial variation that allows you to fly the highest. Speed up toward the breaking lip of an open-faced wave at a 45-degree angle. As the nose of the board passes the lip, direct the bottom toward the wind, bend your knees, and kick the tail out, rotating 180 degrees in a backwards motion to land with the nose first.
- RODEO FLIP: Invented by no one other than Kelly Slater, the Rodeo Flip is very similar to the bodyboarding ARS (Aerial Roll Spin). Once you come off the lip, grab the board with both hands and roll/flip 360 degrees whilst rotating 180 degrees so you land with the tail first.
- SUPERMAN: South African surfer Jordy Smith is a master of the Superman air. A proper Superman requires the surfer to harness a lot of speed and gain a lot of lift when coming out of the wave. Once in the air, he/she has to kick the board out, grab it with both hands whilst removing both feet from the deck, kicking the air with the front foot, and placing the board beneath him/her before landing. That said, a Superman can also be performed in 3- to- 4-foot waves – only it is not as exciting to watch.
- KERRUPT FLIP: Josh Kerr came up with what became one of the most popular and stylish variations of the Alley Oop – the Kerrupt Flip. Here, the surfer pulls a full-rotation Alley Oop whilst holding on a stalefish grab.
- KICKFLIP: The Kickflip is a prime example of how skateboarding influences surfing. Surfer Zoltan Torkos was the first to perform this trick, which consists of kicking the outer rail of the surfboard so it spins 360 degrees along its longitudinal axis.
- SUSHI ROLL: First executed by Australian surfer Julian Wilson back in 2007, the sushi roll mixes the rotation of a Rodeo Flip with the legs-free grab of a Superman.
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