As a coach and a former pro surfer, I find myself watching a lot of posted videos and checking out photos of surfers on various websites. Some are young upcoming kids, some are people on trips, and others are videos of the top guys at some exotic locale. With a lot of these surfers, some flaws pop out right off the bat and you can see how a few minor mistakes lead to blown turns and the surfer having an incomplete ride. You also can watch a surfer ride a very user friendly wave and yet seem to lack flow. The ride is more of a long fight with the wave to reach the end instead of a seemingly effortless task.
If I had to pick one maneuver that can single out if a surfer is average or an advanced surfer; in my opinion it would be the cutback. The ironic thing is that a great cutback is vital to a great surfer yet it is not scored as a big maneuver in a contest. Yet lacking this skill puts a would be decent surfer in the doghouse.
So in my top picture I will break down what my 14 year old self is doing correctly. First off, my head is already spotting where on the foam to bounce my board off of. The head leads the way and then the body follows. Another important thing to do is to swing your trailing arm forward as you turn. Imagine you are escorting someone through a doorway. That is the motion to use. Finally, you should keep your back knee loose and cocked towards your forward knee.
On this day in the second picture, my sister was taking pictures and I did get a few good shots from this day. Beyond the poor picture quality, this turn helped to cement this photo as a dud. This photo was the result of me amping out and losing the script.
What went wrong?
First, judging from the track along the face; I was not high enough on the face. In fact, just a snapping turn would have suited this wave better. In order to make it work, I would have had to go higher and ease off the gas.
Secondly, notice my back foot? This is because my weight shifted forward and I lost my board being on rail. I could have solved this by once again putting my weight on my back foot and by keeping my weight on my heels while keeping my knee loose.
So I am trying to look towards the whitewater but my poor upper body positioning is robbing me of any momentum. My back arm should have been far forward by this point and not far back behind me. My shoulders at this point should have been more horizontal like a T and my chest should have been more open and facing the foam. A lot of the problems are centered around my last minute decision to try to spice up my turn by sticking my leading hand in the water.
So, as you take to the surf to practice doing cutbacks, work on the basics. The most important being to turn your head far in advance. If you can, practice Yoga. Yoga teaches many things that are related to proper body mechanics. You learn to keep the knees loose and to twist at the hips and not through the torso. Doing cutbacks involves a lot of these techniques. Having a limber, low approach will help you in many aspects of surfing.
Here is another link from way back in 2011 when I first wrote about this very subject. This also has a few other tidbits in it as well.
Good luck and once again, if you have any questions about things that are plaguing you in the water…let me know!