Forehand Surfing vs Backhand Surfing (A Simple Guide)

examples of backside and frontside surfing

When it comes to forehand vs backhand surfing, there will always be people on either side of the fence.

Frontside, you can see down the length of the wave, predict oncoming sections and lay down meaty carves like you’re pretending to be John John Florence.

Then you’ve got pro surfers who’ve built their careers on vicious backhand snaps and pig-dogging gigantic tubes.

Let’s take a closer look at these two very different approaches, find out what our audience thinks and reveal the pros and cons of each.

forehand vs backhand surfing

Frontside surfing and backside surfing, what’s all the fuss about?

We asked nearly 500 visitors to this site whether they preferred a surfing front or backside, and the results are in.

A whopping 74% of the people we asked said they preferred frontside surfing.

So why do some people love backhand surfing while other perfectly good surfers flounder around flailing their arms?

First, let’s look at what forehand and backhand (sometimes referred to as frontside and backside) surfing are and some of the differences between them.

What is forehand surfing?

When surfing on your forehand, you’ll face the wave with your toes and chest.

When you surf on your forehand, you’ll be putting most of your weight on the front of your foot and your toes.

What is backhand surfing?

When you surf on your backhand, your back will face the wave.

Surfing on your backhand, you’ll push off your heels as you surf across the wave.

Why do some surfers dislike surfing on their backhand?

Some surfers, myself included, have a weak backhand.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy surfing backhand, but I always feel a little less confident if I’m ever out with a load of regular footers at a right-hander.

For news surfers, having your back to a wave seems quite daunting and rightly so.

I’ve listed some reasons surfers aren’t too comfy with that lip breaking behind them as they surf down the wave.

Where you surf

Surfing and growing up on the West Coast of Bali as a regular footer means you’ll be surfing on your backhand nearly every day.

The island’s west coast is a treasure trove of pumping lefts grinding across mechanical reefs in crystal-clear water.

Growing up in Torquay, Australia, a grom will be well-honed on the right-hand points that populate the coastline.

There are a few beach breaks here and there, but the rights-handers of Bells Beach and Winkipop are the real kings and queens of the coast.

New to surfing

To start with you’ll be surfing in a straight line towards the beach.

As you progress to surfing the open face, you’ll start to experience the difference between forehand and backhand surfing.

Lots of beginners avoid surfing backhand because it’s harder but you need to start early to get comfortable surfing with your back to the wave.

You cant see the breaking wave

With your back facing the wave, you need to look over your shoulder to see what the wave is doing.

You run the chance of the wave breaking behind you and sweeping your feet away without realising it.

Performing manoeuvres like floaters and snaps on your backhand feels unnatural to start.

You’ll eye an appropriate section for a turn, but by the time you come close to the approaching lip, you’ll be rotating your body downwards to complete the turn, never actually seeing the connection of the board and lip.

Trying aerials is harder

Doing aerial manoeuvres on a surfboard is 100% harder on your backhand.

Eyeing your takeoff, launching, and landing is harder with your back to the wave.

You can’t beat a classic straight air on your forehand, but try to do the same on your backhand, and the difficulty level gets ramped up, no pun intended.

Finding barrels as an amateur surfer is easier on your forehand

Getting barreled on your forehand can be easier for a few reasons:

  • You can quickly tuck your head under the lip due to better vision on your forehand.
  • Backhand barrel riding can feel unnatural.
  • If you fall in the barrel, kicking your board away is harder.

Surfing backhand can play havoc on your hips

Surfing on your backhand consistently and performing the same range of manoeuvres can strain your hips.

You’ll easily create imbalances in your posture, leading to nasty lower back pain.

Make sure to switch up to your forehand now and then and introduce some simple training outside of the ocean.

Why do some surfers love surfing on their backhand?

Surfers like Adrian Buchan, Mark Ochilupo and Andy Irons were all expert backhand barrel riders in their day.

Pro surfers refer to their backhand as their weapon of choice in many scenarios.

Going vertical is easier

Going vertical or 12oclock on a backhand snap is one of the greatest feelings in surfing.

When everything comes together, your board will point to the sky before the rotation of your hips brings the nose back down the wave.

Backhand snaps, and floaters let you engage your hamstrings, quads and glutes when performing a bottom turn to hit the lip.

The explosive power of all these muscles is accentuated due to the lever action of your knees, which can only be fully utilised while surfing on your backhand.

Think Occy’s turns in the early 90s for inspiration on how hard an unsuspecting lip can be whacked.

You can pigdog

You can try pig dogging. This technique is used in backhand barrel riding championed by the late and great Andy Irons.

Pig dogging allows you to use your whole body to slow down in the wave.

This new technique allowed barrel riders to slow down and speed up on demand inside the tube.

Because pig dogging involves kneeling on the board, you can knife your take off’s effectively kneeling as opposed to standing, giving you a very stable centre of gravity.

Rotations are easier

Learning to rotate your board 180 or 360 while surfing on a wave is quite an advanced manoeuvre.

It relies on your ability to quickly shift your weight from the front to the rear of your surfboard.

Transferring your weight from one foot to another is easier on your backhand.

Backhand surfing requires a more front-foot-heavy approach, which can feel unnatural on your forehand, where you surf off your back foot.

Air higher (strictly advanced surfers)

Excellent surfers often say you can get more air (go higher) than on your forehand.

Some of the most iconic airs in surfing history are giant backhand rotators launched way above the lip of the wave.

Surfers like Albee Layer and Matt Meola are well known for their backhand aerials on the wavy peaks of Maui.

Their charge to complete a 720 in surfing relies solely on using their backhand aerial attack to try and rotate twice before landing back in the wave’s trough.

How to balance out your forehand and backhand surfing skills

Most surfers will have a preference when it comes to forehand vs backhand surfing, but you shouldn’t neglect your less favoured stance.

If you find yourself avoiding surfing in a certain direction, it’s really easy to avoid it altogether.

I know many surfers who will forgo quality waves to surf in a particular direction, which seems crazy.

As with all things, practice makes perfect. Try to force yourself to work on your weaker side; go to point breaks and reefs that only allow you to surf in one direction.

Book a surf trip specifically to work on your backhand, for instance.

I’m goofy (right foot forward), and a trip to the right-hand points of Morroco is a great way to hone my backhand surfing.