How to Turn on a Surfboard? (Great For beginners)

Now that you have gotten the hang of paddling, popping up, and staying up on your surfboard, it’s time to learn how to turn your surfboard down the line and carve up the waves.

Surfing, much like snowboarding, uses our body movements and weight distribution to change our direction.

So,How to Turn on a Surfboard?

With the combination of moving our weight between our heels and toes, as well as the drive created from our surfboard fins, turning a surfboard is easier than you would think.

Throughout this article we will talk about how to turn your surfboard, what makes a surfboard easy to turn, different types of turns, and a few tips that will help you carve up the waves in no time.

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How to Turn on a Surfboard?

How Do You Turn a Surfboard on Waves?

Once you have a solid stance while standing on your surfboard you will be able to begin shifting your weight around the board to cause it to change direction.

As surfing is done on a smooth board in water, the amount of friction between the surfaces is limited, and therefore subtle weight movements make a significant difference.

You can shift your weight on your board in two ways: Physically walking around the board (as you will see longboarders do when they walk to the nose), and shifting your weight between different parts of your body (knees, hips, shoulders, feet, etc.).

That being said, the easiest way to turn on your surfboard is by putting weight on different areas of the board without moving your feet.

How Does Weight Distribution Affect a Surfboard in the Water?

Our weight distribution over our feet not only allows us to turn left and right, but it will help us speed up, slow down, as well as make sharp carve-like turns, or smaller trimming turns.

Depending on where you change your weight, you and your board will have different responses.

Intended Surfboard ResponseWeight Distribution
Speed UpWeight on the front foot.
Slow DownWeight on the back foot.
Trim LeftExtra weight on front heel.
Trim RightExtra weight on front toes.
Carve LeftExtra weight on your back foot heel.
Carve RightExtra weight on your back foot toes.

Keep in mind that if you surf goofy, left and right turns will be opposite. For example, to carve left you will put extra weight on the toes of your back foot.

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What Is the Difference Between Carving and Trimming?

Turning a planing object such as a board or surfboard on top of the water is done slightly differently, depending on the speed the object (in this case you and your board) are traveling.

When turning at high speeds we need to make less effort than when going slower. 

Turning our surfboards while going quickly will also be less sharp than turning at slower speeds, this means the nose of your board will remain close to the water.

To make sharp turns the nose of your board will slightly pop out of the water as you turn (this is why sharp turns require pressure near the back of your surfboard).

What Is Carving

Carving on a surfboard is done by making deeper, more exaggerated turns. This type of maneuver is done to quickly change direction.

When you put pressure on your back foot you can twist your hips and pivot your board (because the nose is slightly out of the water). 

With the combination of this pivot, your surfboard’s rails, and your fins, you can perform fast turns such as Bottom turns and Cutbacks. 

In short, carving is performing sharp turns on a wave.

When to Carve on a Wave

Carving is usually performed on slower breaking waves where the shoulder is peeling slowly.

If you trim in this type of wave you will generate too much speed and find yourself shooting past the shoulder of the wave, and eventually losing momentum as you leave the wave behind you.

Instead of dropping in and trimming your way along the shoulder, you should drop into the bottom of the wave, put pressure on your back foot, lift the nose, twist, and turn yourself back towards the lip.

Doing this will give the waves time to steepen and for the lip to break.

What Is Trimming?

When you are surfing on a fast traveling wave, trimming is used to make slight adjustments to your position on the wave face.

Trimming can be used to create more speed on a wave by moving up and down the face, as well as to readjust yourself to remain on the shoulder of the wave.

As trimming only slightly changes the angle at which you are traveling, it cannot be used for changing direction.

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In short, trimming is making small adjustments along the face of a wave.

When to Trim on a Wave?

If you are surfing on steep, fast-breaking waves, then you will likely not have time to drop to the bottom of a wave and perform a bottom turn.

Doing this will likely result in the lip traveling past you and leaving you in the white water.

In this case, you will want to be taking off at an angle and trimming along the face of the wave to adjust your speed as the shape of the wave changes.

How to Make Basic Turns on a Surfboard

Although there are multiple types of turns and techniques to perform them on a surfboard, for the sake of simplicity, the following steps will help you make basic turns while you surf.

1. Pop Up Quickly

Getting to your feet as quickly as possible when you have decided to commit to a wave is incredibly important.

You will likely have noticed when you were learning how to pop up, that the longer it takes for you to get to your feet, the further the white water will push you towards the shore, and the further away the clear face of the wave will get from you.

It’s important to get to your feet as quick as possible, ideally at the point 

Where the white water meets the clear face.

2. Decide on Your Direction

Although this is step two, you should have a good idea of which direction you will be going long before you paddle onto a wave.

Unless you’re surfing an A-frame break, the waves will generally break in a single direction (assuming ideal swell and wind direction).

If the wave breaks in a single direction, then your decision on which way to go is easy.

If you are surfing a wave that breaks both ways, you should choose the direction that works best for you while staying in line with surf etiquette.

3. Lead Into the Turn With Your Head

When most new surfers start learning how to turn their boards, their instinct is to throw their weight to the side of the surfboard or shift all their weight to their toes or heels (as you would on a surfboard or snowboard).

Doing this will cause you to lose your center of gravity and fall. Instead, you should move into your turn from your head down.

Start by moving your head in the direction that you want to turn, followed by your shoulders and then hips.

If you move your head first and concentrate on keeping your body aligned, you will subconsciously slightly shift your weight in the direction you wish to turn.

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Doing this creates more subtle weight distribution changes which help you maintain balance through the turn.

4. Don’t Forget Your Feet

Although you should lead your turn with your upper body, it’s important not to leave your feet and board behind.

Many beginners turn their upper body too quickly for their feet and surfboard to catch up, thus throwing away their center of gravity.

Turning on a surfboard is a much slower, more fluid movement than turning on a skateboard.

Turn your upper body to look down the line and allow your surfboard to turn with you.

5. Set Your Rail

When riding down the line you will need to apply a small amount of pressure toward the side closest to the wave.

This will keep you riding along a line, as opposed to being redirected by the wave.

This is only a slight adjustment and is often over-empathized by beginners which causes them to fall.

The easiest way to ensure you don’t move too much weight is to imagine there are rails or tracks on either side of your surfboard fins.

To remain on the rail you only need to add a slight amount of pressure.

6. Practiced Turning Both Ways

It is incredibly important to practice turning both ways.

If you surf every day on a left-hand break and master your turns, when you eventually surf a right-hander you will feel as though you have never turned a surfboard before.

This is not only because everything is opposite, but because you will now be surfing front-side (if you have a regular stance).

Make sure you equally practice turning both left and right to avoid finding yourself in a rut.

How Do You Turn on a Surfboard Rail?

The more surface area of your board that makes contact with the water, the more friction you will produce, and therefore, the slower you will go.

Surfing on your rails will help you cut through the water and reduce friction.

Turning on your rail is done when performing carving turns such as cutbacks or bottom turns.

When you put pressure on your toes or heels you dig the rounded rail of your surfboard into the water which reduces friction and helps secure your board into the turn.

What Makes a Surfboard Easy to Turn?

Apart from your technique, a surfboard’s ease of turning comes down mostly to the fins and fin setup you use, the length and width of your surfboard, and the shape of your rails.

The thinner your surfboard rails, the better your board will cut through the water. Harder surfboard rails cut through the water better on the particular edge because of the reduced surface area, and therefore reduced friction.

The thicker your rails (as on longboards) the more buoyant your surfboard will be, however, the harder it will be to make sharp turns (as the rails don’t dig into the wave as well).

Longer surfboards with wide tails and noses turn slower than short narrow surfboards with sharp noses and thin rails.


Learning to stand up and stay standing on a surfboard is only the first step. If you can’t turn your surfboard you will never fully experience the flow that a cleat wave face can provide.

Yes, riding straight to the shoreline on the white water is fun at first, but if you want to make it to the back where the real waves are, you will need to learn how to master turning both ways.

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