Bottom Turns

 "Bottom turns are a fundamental building block upon which nearly all advanced surfing moves are based. The fine control exercised by the best paddlers is how they generate and carry more speed, to make faster sections and go bigger on moves."

 James Hawker, England Team Rider & Future Kayaks Designer

Bottom turns are one of surfing's essential manoeuvres. They allow the rider to create their own acceleration through carving an arc at the base of the wave. There are many variations on the bottom turn, each related to the differing situations in which they need to be used. However the core skills highlighted below will produce a full carving bottom turn.


The Technique 




1. Head

Look down the line to where you want the boat to go to. This principle of "Future Water" is key in much of your surfing. Where you look is where you end up! You'll notice the rider has used a diagonal take off.




2. Shoulders

Rotate your shoulders to bring them in line with your head. A good analogy to work with here is to imagine you are surfing in the dark and you have headlights strapped to your chest - you'll need to illuminate where you're going by pre-rotating your torso to where you want to be. This will encourage the next step.




3. Knees and Toes

By rotating the upper body, the beachside knee will naturally want to lift. Allow this to happen, and lean your upper body forwards and into the turn. At this point you can drive the boat harder by lifting the toes and forcing your bum down into the seat. This encourages the fins of the boat to drive, or if you're riding without fins it will generate drive off the rail.



4. Knees and Toes

Keep driving the boat up the wave face until you have reached the position to move onto your next manoeuvre. 



5. Neutralise

Once you've arrived at the point you looked at at the beginning of the turn, you can neutralise the boat by bringing the body back to upright and flattening off the boat. You can now see in the picture how the torso is facing the direction of the boat.


The sequence above concentrates on the body's movements through the manoeuvre. (You might even be able to make up a song from the titles!) Given that the body is the interface between the boat and the paddle, it's really important to focus your attention on getting the body shapes right. If the body shapes are right, you'll find that the boat and the blades look after themselves.

The sequence below is of another turn but shot from a different angle - it clearly shows the interaction between boat and blades.

1. Straight take off this time looking at the point that the boat is going to turn.  


2. Boat still on a flat plane gathering speed as it falls down the wave face. Focus of attention is now moved to where the boat will be at the end of the turn. Paddles are positioned round the inside of the turn but have not been engaged into the water yet.


3. Boat now gently starting to turn onto the inside rail, paddle still not engaged. 


4. Rider now waits until the boat arrives in the pit of the wave before engaging the paddle. 


5. Paddle engaged, to initiate the full carve of the turn. The paddle is only a trigger to encourage the correct body shape to be performed. 


6. Boat now fully engaged on the inside rail, which will allow the direction change. 


7. Full carving bottom turn underway. The paddle has now done its work and becomes redundant in the turn.


Coaching Exercises

Here are a few exercises and tips to work on developing your bottom turn. ALWAYS try and practice skills on both sides, kayaking is not a 'handed' sport!

  • Try to place the blades on top of the wave as if you were putting them onto a shelf, this will encourage the pre-rotation of the torso. Do this on five or six waves to get a feel of the rotation and the effect on the boat.


  • Try to imagine that you are going to show the whole of your hull to the beach. If you get the boat towards 90 degrees you should find that your middle fin becomes visible, which means the boat is carving as aggressively as possible. If you're riding finless make a mark down the centre line of the boat with a marker pen or really well stuck insulation tape. Get somebody on the beach to spot whether they can see it, or take photos for you to check later.


Take three waves. On the first, lean forwards through the turn, on the second have your body weight upright and on the third lean back. See what difference this has on the arc that the boat takes. This will begin to add some variety to your bottom turn.


  • Take off then shut your eyes. Complete the whole turn trying to "feel" your way round the turn - it's important to be able to listen to the feedback that you get from your body as well as the visual cues that you get from your eyes. (Make sure it's quiet in the water!)



Fault finding

1. Capsizing into the wave

You take off, approach the bottom of the wave, give it everything you've got into the turn and just end up capsizing.

If this is happening to you it's generally because you are trying to lean the boat too much for the speed that you have. In the photos above the boats are running at almost full speed allowing the rider to really lean into the turn. The slower you go, the less lean you need to give, and you tend to turn the boat with more edge, as shown here in the photo.


2. Spinning out

Flying down the wave with all the speed you need to drive the boat round the turn, and as you engage the paddle the back end slips out and you begin flat spinning into oblivion.

This is a really common fault. First fix; the paddle only serves to initiate the turn so therefore you don't need to press really hard against it as this will try to push the back end out. Second fix; the boat will always spin if it's flat. It's a common misconception that the fins will stop it from slipping, they do help, but it's the engagement of the rail to drive round the turn that stops the back end slipping out. This is how you are able to turn boats without fins successfully.

3. Catching something

Your turn's started really well when suddenly your bouyancy aid or knee gets caught in the wave face, and you lose all your speed and drive.

If you can associate with this, then you are probably trying to engage a really big carved turn before you've reached the bottom of the wave. By doing the turn in the trough you give enough clearance for your body to come round before it gets caught in the wave face. If you need to turn whilst still on the wave face use a combination of edge and lean.

When is a bottom turn not a bottom turn?.............................When it's not at the bottom of the wave. Don't try to apply an all-out carved turn if you are halfway up the face.


4. Outrunning the wave

Everytime you try and turn you either run out of speed half way round, or the boat has already started to turn without you doing anything.

If you are experiencing these symptoms, the timing of your turn is too late. As the boat enters the flat trough in front of the wave it will decelerate. The longer you are in the trough the more profound the deceleration will become, until, if you leave it really late, the wave catches up with you and forces the boat into a turn. This is a common problem for those just starting out. It can be remedied by ensuring that you initiate your turn whilst you are still accelerating, and take time to look arround at where you are in relation to the wave face. Feedback from a friend or camera is invaluable in establishing where you initiate your own bottom turn.

When it all goes wrong! 

2010 British Mens HP Champion Philip Watson spins out on a steep North Cornish wedge. Photos by Pete Copp.







This page has been possible through the kind donations of:

Lucy O'Brien

Richard Kay 

Anthony Lowe

Ieuan Jones


Thank you!