Surfing Maneuvers – Speed, Turns, Airs, Etc.

Once you’re able to catch waves, pop-up, and surf down the line consistently you’re ready to start practicing more maneuvers that will allow you to refine your style and get the most out of your waves.

Some key things to remember when learning new surfing maneuvers:

  • Repetition is key.
  • Sometimes the wave is going to dictate what you can do.
  • Sometimes your equipment is not going to be the best choice for certain types of surfing.
  • If something’s not working, make a small adjustment and try some more.

What “Level” Surfer Are You?

Many relatively new surfers like to ask what level surfer they are: beginner/novice, intermediate, advanced, expert, etc.

For the most part, these classifications are meaningless. Surfing is about continuing to expand your experience and continuing to learn. There’s probably always going to be things for you to improve upon, new techniques for you to learn, and mistakes you’re going to make.

That said, if you’re interested in taking lessons or visiting a surf camp, you may need to know your level of surf experience.

Here are some quick classifications of the 3 most common categories that new surfers (and surf camps) like to bucket themselves in:

  • Beginner Surfer: Little to no experience in the water. These surfers are still practicing the fundamentals like paddling, popping up, balancing, and the proper stance.
  • Novice Surfer: A novice surfer is someone who has some experience in the water and is mostly comfortable with the basics. They can paddle out to the line up on their own, they can paddle into and catch waves, and they can set a line and trim.
  • Intermediate Surfer: Intermediate surfers are those who are comfortable paddling and surfing in a variety of different conditions. These surfers have mastered the fundamentals and are able to manage speed and change directions effectively. Intermediate surfers are those who can focus on refining their techniques and trying new maneuvers.

Surfing on Your Backside

Most surfers would agree, surfing on your backside (back towards the wave) is more difficult than surfing on your frontside.

Put simply, you need to surf differently on your backside than you do on your frontside – the mechanics and movements are going to be a little different.

Fortunately, some minor tweaks to your backside technique can make for major improvements.

Surfing on your frontside just feels more natural, you’re able to see the wave more easily, your body is naturally open to the wave, and control comes more naturally.

On your backside, your body tries to mimic what it does on the frontside, which doesn’t really help you – you’ll end up behind the wave, out of the sweet spot, and unable to make sections.

To surf better on your backside:

  • Start with your head and look down the line where you want to go.
  • Open your upper body and leading arm towards the wave and down the line instead of towards the beach or behind you.
  • Rotate your back leg slightly to bring it forward.

All of these minor tweaks get your body pointing where you need it to go. You’ll have a better view of your line and the power zones on the wave, and your board will be ready to follow.

Adjusting Your Surf Stance

As you start to surf more critical waves and try new maneuvers, it becomes necessary to make adjustments to your stance, weighting, and positioning on your board. This applies to both longboards and shortboards.

A good starting point for a proper surf stance is the following:

  • Feet roughly shoulder width apart.
  • Knees bent in a loose, athletic position.
  • Knees and feet angled forward, rear knee tucked slightly.

However, it doesn’t make sense to cement yourself into a single stance. You’re going to need to adjust and move depending on the wave and the maneuvers you’re attempting.

In general:

  • Moving your stance backwards will give you more control for turns, pivots, and quick changes of direction. This will allow you to carve and turn sharply when you have a slower moving wave or a big, open section.
  • Moving your stance forward will allow you to surf with more speed. This will allow you to trim the wave, making adjustments in weight towards either rails to change your line.

You’ll need to experiment with your stance for different waves and maneuvers, but after some trial and error it’ll start to become more natural.

Cross-Step & Noseride

Learning how to cross-step and noseride has as much to do with your equipment as it does with your technique. You’ll need a long, stable board that you can set a line and trim with.

Turns, pivots, changing speed, and the iconic noseride are all achieved by moving up and down your board in relation to what the wave is doing.

While many longboards make this look super easy and graceful, it can be quite difficult to get the hang of at first.

When you’re starting out, it’s best to practice on small, weak waves.

If you’re new to longboarding and find yourself shuffling to move up and down the board, try to force yourself to learn to cross-step. Your surfing will become smoother and you’ll maintain more control on the wave.

To cross-step:

  • Keep a low center of gravity – you can get stylish with your posture once you’ve got the hang of it.
  • Get your board in a solid trim position on a high line on the wave.
  • Shift your weight towards your front and bring your back leg in front of your front leg. Your legs should be crossed now.
  • Shift your weight again and swing your now back foot in front of you.

At first, you may have the tendency to keep stepping and stepping until you run out of board. Here’s the secret: you can step backwards too.

Before you attempt to noseride, practice surfing cross-legged and taking steps forwards and backwards.

The key is to move and cross-step on the board as the wave requires. Find yourself in a clean line and solid trim? Go ahead and hang 10. Are you racing down the face and need to slow down? Move towards the back, slow down, and pivot.

Surfing with Speed

Knowing how to build, maintain, and control speed is key to making sections and performing most maneuvers.

You gain and control speed by moving in relation to the different parts of the wave.

The fastest part of the wave will be near the top at the lip and the slowest part of the wave will be at the bottom in the flats. The sweet spot is in the pocket – right in front of where the wave is breaking.

Getting the most speed out of a wave also comes down to knowing the board you’re riding. Different types of boards are going to behave differently in different waves.

Generating and maintaining speed involves moving from the steep part of the wave, riding it down, and repeating. This can be referred to as pumping the wave – where you’re moving up and down the face of the wave smoothly to maximize speed. Pumping is not frantically stomping on the front of your board.

Some tips for maximizing and control speed on a wave:

  • Bend and compress your body as you move down the face of the wave.
  • Unbend and decompress as you move back up the wave.
  • Use your arms to lead the way.
  • Surf from inside rail to outside rail as you move up and then down the face.
  • Position yourself a little farther further towards the nose.
  • Stay in the power zone of the wave (i.e. the top and middle).
  • Avoid running too far out toward the shoulder or you’ll loose your speed and get passed by the wave.

How Do you Pump a Surfboard?

Pumping a surfboard refers to moving up and down the steepest part of the wave to maintain and generate speed.

To pump your surfboard you’ll need to keep your knees bent and your body loose. As you move up the wave, you’ll need to unweight/decompress. As you come back down, you’ll get lower and weight your board.

Pumping effectively consists of combining these motions in a smooth, consistent fashion.

Surfing Bottom Turns

The bottom turn is a good first turn to master. Eventually, you’ll use your bottom turn to set up most maneuvers you plan to do on a wave.

To perform a bottom turn:

  • Drop-in in the fastest part of the wave.
  • Compress your body and lower your center of gravity.
  • Lean in towards the wave (Either forwards or backwards depending on which way you’re going).
  • Dig your inside rail into the water.
  • Apply weight to your back foot, use your back hand to help pivot if needed, and begin to move up the face of the wave again.
  • Keep your body open in the direction you want to go.
  • Decompress and use your head and upper body to guide you into your next maneuver.

You’ll need to adjust the radius of your bottom turn according the shape of the wave and the next maneuver you plan to do.

A tighter bottom turn works well for steeper, faster waves and more vertical maneuvers, while a wider bottom turn is a good setup for cutbacks and softer, slower waves.

Top Turns – Cutbacks & Snaps

The top turn is what your bottom turn sets up. There are many different types and styles of top turns – the major difference being the speed and radius in which they’re performed.

Top turns allow you to get back into the power zone of the wave to set up for your next maneuver.

To perform a top-turn:

  • Come out of your bottom turn and towards a spot on the top of the face of the wave where you’re perform the maneuver.
  • Decompress your body as you move up the wave.
  • Just before your reach the top, begin to look down towards where you’ll finish the turn.
  • Turn your head, followed by your shoulders and arms.
  • The tightness or snappiness of the top turn will be dictated by how quick you rotate and where you position the turn.
  • Compress as you come down the wave and bring your weight forwards.

A cut back begins with a shallower bottom turn, followed by a larger radius top turn that you wrap back towards the pocket. Use your head, shoulder, and arms to guide the movement – twisting as you flow from the bottom turn to the top turn to the pocket and back towards the face of the wave.

Cut backs are best performed on clean, open face waves.

Tighter top turns and snaps can be useful for closeout or vertical sections.


A floater is when you ride on top of the lip over a broken section of the wave to get back to an unbroken face.

When you master the floater, you can greatly extend the length of your rides and the types of sections you’re able to make.

If you see a wave beginning to section in front of you, you’re ready to set up your floater.

  • Take a shallow bottom turn and head towards the breaking section.
  • Shift your weight backwards slightly as you enter the breaking whitewater.
  • Decompress and throw your weight forwards and up.
  • Lower your center of gravity and keep an eye on your exit.
  • Compress as you come out of the floater and into the next section.

Practice on smaller, less critical waves first.

A proper floater is all about maintaining speed and balance, and picking the right line on the lip. Too far back and you’ll go over the back of the wave, too far forward and you’ll fall into the whitewater.

Surfing Aerials

The set up for a frontside or backside air is similar to the floater.

  • Look for a section that’s about to break in front of you.
  • Maintain a high line as long as possible and do a bottom turn to get you at an angle towards the breaking lip.
  • Push your back leg down on the tail and then bend your legs as you hit the lip. This will launch you into the air.
  • Shift your weight forwards to stay over your board and level it.
  • Spot your landing and use your head, shoulders, and arms to guide your body.
  • Aim for a soft part of the wave to land and bend your knees and keep your weight

Mastering the aerial comes down to lots of trial and error.

Intermediate & Advanced Surfing Tips

All of the maneuvers described above – and really anything on a surfboard – are mastered with practice and trial and error. You’ve got to spend time in the water and figure out what works and what doesn’t work.

However, there are somethings that can help you get a head start:

  • Pick the right board for the conditions.
  • Get to know how a wave breaks. You’ll be able to better identify the fast spots and where certain maneuvers may be appropriate.
  • Steer yourself with your head, shoulders, and arms.
  • Try to take off deeper on the wave to maximize your speed.
  • Stay fit and improve your paddle strength. Being a strong swimmer and paddler is going to help all other aspects of your surfing tremendously.
  • Experiment. You’ve got to test things out (boards, techniques, fins, etc.) to figure out what works best for you.
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