"Particularly on slow or messy waves, you'll often find the power pocket is behind you. A well timed cutback will put you in the critical spot at speed. It can be functional and stylish, and shows everyone around you that you really know how to surf."   Marc Woolward England Team Rider


Cutbacks are a dynamic move where you turn back towards the white water, then turn again to stay riding on the green face of the wave.

I'm going to start with a bold statement and say that you can already do these! Cutbacks are simply a combination of turns, that position the surfer back in the most powerful part of the wave. The body gymnastics required are very similar to a bottom turn, however the critical skill within a cutback manoeuvre is the timing of it.

Have another look at the fundamentals page. Exercise two of the rail to rail transitions section will help in understanding how to release the boat to make smooth flowing rail to rail turns. This skill will make performing cutbacks much easier.


Start simple!

Your first forays into the cutback should concentrate on the linking of the turns and exploring the body mechanics required.

Find a wave with a long open face and try to run through a cutback sequence irrespective of where the shoulder is. 

  • Riding out along the wall, start your turn by looking back over your shoulder which will pre-rotate your body. Start to push the rudder towards the front of the boat, which will initiate your turn. 
  • As the boat carves round and goes back the way it came, spot your next turn with your head.  Initiate your next turn with a powerful forwards stroke.
  • The head leads the next turn, and the weight is shifted on the inside rail to initiate what is essentially a bottom turn.
  •  Complete your turn out onto the wave face.



The sequence below shows a stalled top turn. The rider hasn't turned back towards the shoulder, merely stalled the boat at the top of the wave and waited for the white water to catch him up.

This type of turn will really help you work on your timing as it gives you plenty of time between transitions. 

Once you've getting a feeling for the timing start to turn more aggressively towards the shoulder.


Putting it together

The application of accurate technique and good timing, will put your boat in the most powerful parts of the wave. Jack Horwell cuts back to set himself up for a cover up. 

  • Turn initiated back towards the shouldering part of the wave. 
  • The second turn is performed almost immediately due to the shape of the wave. Jack's paddles have ended up being very high, he has to re set them to keep them low. Always try and keep your paddles below your shoulders to help prevent injury!
  • Round into the Bottom turn looking at where you want the boat to be.
  • Perfectly positioned for a cover up directly under the shoulder 

The Roundhouse Cutback

The roundhouse is the purest and most aggressive cutback. It positions the boat right at the apex of the power held in the shoulder, and if performed correctly, will result in an impressive high speed direction change. 

  •  Surf out away from the shoulder holding a high line on the wave, this gives you the greatest amount of space to perform the turn back towards the shoulder.
  • Keep pressure on the inside rail and use your paddle to aggressively carve round toward the pocket. The point to aim for is the very top of the wave.
  •  As the boat is about to hit the white water flatten the boat so the whole hull impacts against the white water, pre rotate your body and get ready to perform a big reverse sweep.
  • As the body unwinds the boat should pop round aggressively, keep weighting the inside rail as you negotiate the white water. 
  • Ride out in front of the white water and back around onto the shoulder again 

Trouble Shooting

If you find that you are just getting stuck in the white water and are unable to regain the face of the wave, try the following.

  1. Start your first turn further away from the pocket. This will give you more time to get the boat to hit the pocket flat.
  2. Try to rebound off the white water as high as you possibly can, this gives the boat space to turn as it falls down the white water.
  3. Go faster! If the boat feels sluggish as you are trying to turn it, it's likely that you don't have sufficient speed. Start your initial turn from as high on the wave face as possible to maximise your speed.

When it all goes wrong!

Sadly, despite the quality of his cutback, Jack never made it out the other side of the cover up.......

Picture sequence shot by Mick Feaney