Top Turns 


 "Top turns are the vital link from bottom turns to more progressive manoeuvres like cut backs or hitting the lip. The perfect top turn should carry all the speed from the bottom turn into the next move you wish to do. Thus making it a valuable turn to do correctly."              Jack Barker, England Team Rider


Top turns come in a huge variety of shapes and sizes. They can be used to maintain speed down the line, as a means of stalling the boat to position yourself closer to the shoulder, or even just to make yourself look good for the onlookers on the beach! As with most surf manoeuvres the timing of the turn is almost more critical than the technical application, so practice, practice, practice!



As the name suggests, this is where the boat follows a carved arc at the top of the wave. This type of turn maximises speed, and allows you to ride aggressively down the line if you are trying to beat a section etc. The sequence below shows a carved turn. 


  • Exit from the bottom turn looking up at the point on the wave you'd like to do your turn. 
  • As the boat turns to aim at the point you were looking at, flatten the boat out by moving your paddles over to the beach side, ready to use like a rudder.
  • Turn your head to a new point that you want to go to, then begin to apply gentle pressure to the rudder by pushing it away from the boat.  This should not become a reverse sweep, it simply has the effect of encouraging your weight onto the inside rail. 
  • Still looking at the new point, the boat carves around the paddle and is positioned ready to drop back down the wave.  
  • Finish the turn by returning the boat to a neutral edge position, and be ready to give a couple of forwards strokes to help the boat maintain speed. 


Common faults

  • Leaving it too late - Notice from the sequence above where the rider engages the turn. It begins the second you leave the bottom turn. The bigger the wave the longer you have between the transitions, but it is really common for people to leave it too late and drop off the back of the wave.
  • Going too slow - You need speed to carve a turn, so revisit the page on bottom turns to ensure that you are carving back up the wave face with the maximum speed.
  • Not looking - It's vital to look where you want to go, this pre-rotates the body to deliver the right pressures to your hull via the connection with your boat.
  • Not flattening the hull - If you keep the boat on an inside edge it will maintain its carve and you won't leave long enough for the rail to rail transition to occur. The pictures below show this fault. 




A Slashed top turn requires more dynamism from the rider. The entry and setup are identical to the carved turn, however the variation occurs as you arrive at rail to rail transfer. The timing of the sequence below is fast! The photos show it as a clear sequence of events, but the reality is of one fast, fluid movement.

  • Exit the bottom turn carrying all your speed, and flatten the boat off as you ride up the wave. Place your paddle in at the tail and lean backwards slightly to give yourself a little more leverage.
  • Initiate the turn by looking where you want to go and aggressively driving the paddle towards the nose of the boat in a reverse sweep.
  • As the boat begins to turn throw your weight forwards to release the tail. This means that the pivot point for the boat has been moved forwards and the boat will turn sharply.
  •  Try to ensure that the boat is as flat as possible so that it skims through the turn. You can see the spray produced from the slash.
  •  Release the paddle, flatten the boat, and surf off down the wave ready for your next manoeuvre.



Snapped top turns are essentially the same as a slashed turn, but they are tweaked slightly towards the end of the turn to change the shape of the boat in the water. These look most impressive, and are easiest to perform in longer surf boats, however many surfers are snapping their turns in short boats.

  • Exit the bottom turn looking at the point on the lip where you want to turn.
  • Bring the paddle over to the beach side and place it in at the back of the boat. Look at where you want the front of the boat to go to, which will pre rotate your upper body and make the turn much easier.
  • Explode through the turn by engaging a powerful reverse sweep, unwinding your body, and throwing your weight forwards to engage the nose of the boat into the wave. This engagement of the nose makes the boat stall, and snaps the tail out of the water.
  •  Neutralise your body weight and be ready to put in a sweep stroke to turn the boat back the way you were going, drop down to the base of the wave and then back into your next bottom turn.


  • Chris Hobson uses an extreme snapped turn as an end move to good effect. 

Coaching Tips

  • Whilst surfing with friends watch each other ride from out back. This allows you to get some feedback on how high your top turn is on the wave face. Low down and you won't be visible to them, very high and they will be able to see your hull during the turn.
  • I often try to describe top turns as an explosion of power. Try to think of a comic book explosion and how that might be written down - I always use KA - BOOM. Think of the bottom turn as the KA bit slowly building up the power ready to explode. Then as you begin to engage..........  BOOM!!! Explode through the turn. Say it to yourself as you make your turns, it can make a huge difference!



When it all goes wrong!

Chris Hobson gets a slapping at the hands of a step in the wave which catches him out on the exit from the turn. Photo sequence by Pete Copp