Forehand Surfing vs Backhand Surfing (A Simple Guide)

When it comes to forehand vs backhand surfing, there are always going to 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 whole 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.

*Helpful tip – If you’re goofy (right foot forward), you’ll be surfing on your forehand when the wave breaks left, and backhand when the wave breaks right.

What is backhand surfing?

When you surf on your backhand, your back will be facing 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 if I’m ever out with a load of regular footers at a right-hander, I always feel a little out of my element.

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

I’ve listed some of the 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.

Whereas a grom growing up in Torquay, Australia, 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 king and queen of the coast.

Where you grow up, learn to surf and decide to hone your surfing skills will play a major part in how evenly (or not) your forehand and backhand surfing progresses.

New to surfing

It’s important to note that you’ll initially be surfing straight towards the beach as a new surfer.

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

Quite often, new surfers will tend to favour waves that break in a particular direction (with the white water breaking either left to right or right to left).

Because backhand surfing means you’ll have your back facing the wave, many beginners avoid surfing backhand.

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.

While this works in theory, you run the chance of the wave breaking behind you and sweeping your feet away without realising it.

As your surfing and your ability to read waves improve, this will become less of an issue, but to begin with, surfing on your backhand can be hard to figure out.

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

Often you’ll eye an appropriate section for a turn, but by the time you come close to the approaching lip, you’ll be rotating downwards to complete the turn, never actually seeing the impact, relying entirely on skills and instinct.

For amateur surfers starting to attempt backhand manoeuvres, this can be quite daunting, often leading to surfers falling off the back of the wave due to not rotating back to the trough of the wave early enough.

Trying aerials is harder

Doing aerial manoeuvres on a surfboard is 100% harder on your backhand. Eyeing your takeoff, launching, and landing are all 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 every now and then and introduce some simple training outside of the ocean.

*Pro tip – Squats, pilates, yoga and resistance training are all great ways to address the imbalances created by surfing.

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 often say that their backhand is their weapon of choice in many scenarios.

As your backhand surfing progresses, the benefits of having your back to the wave present themselves in a few ways. These are the reasons some surfers prefer surfing on their backhand.

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 literally point to the sky before the rotation of your hips brings the nose back down the wave.

Bachand 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 is a technique used in backhand barrel riding championed by the late and great Andy Irons.

Pig dogging allows you to use your whole body to slow yourself 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 down 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 generally easier on your backhand.

Backhand surfing requires a more front-foot-heavy approach which can feel unnatural on your forehand, where your surfing tends to be based primarily on your back foot.

Air higher (strictly advanced surfers)

Very good surfers will often say that 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 trough of the wave.

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 that 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 will 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.

In conclusion

Focusing on your forehand and neglecting your backhand surfing is easy.

To maximise your opportunity, make sure you’re surfing both ways and developing your skills equally.

Ask friends and fellow surfers for tips, and don’t be disheartened with slower progress than your preferred stance.

Most importantly, try new things, be respectful and have fun in the water.

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