Surf Tricks & Manoeuvres – The Ultimate Guide

When you’re first starting out surfing it can feel like all the surfers around you are speaking a different language, floaters, reverses, sushi rolls…

The list goes on and on so the team here at Honest Surf created the ultimate guide to surf tricks to set the record straight once and for all.

Bottom Turn

The bottom turn forms the basis of all surfing tricks and manoeuvres. A perfectly executed bottom turn lets you harness all the speed you’ve gained surfing down the face of the wave and explode into various tricks based on what the section of the wave requires.

It doesn’t make any difference forehand vs backhand surfing, perfect your bottom turn and the rest of your surfing will quickly improve alongside.

Steeper bottom turns are reserved for snaps, re-entries, powerful carves and a variety of aerial manoeuvres. The steeper a bottom turn is the quicker you’ll reach the approaching lip so quick reactions and perfect timing are essential if you want the perfect bottom turn.

On less powerful or slopier waves you’ll be forced to draw out longer bottom turns on the face of the wave to make sure you don’t overpower the wave and get left behind.

These longer bottom turns are perfect setups for roundhouse cutbacks that redirect you back into the wave’s power source.

Cutback

Probably the most crucial surfing trick behind the bottom turn, the cutback allows surfers to redirect their board back towards the power source of the wave and use the white water to rebound/redirect back again.

This manoeuvre is key to maintaining a good flow on a wave and ensures you don’t surf too far out on the shoulder losing all the power of the wave and either bogging your rail or missing the wave entirely.

If you’re just starting out on your surfing journey the cutback should be the second trick you learn after the bottom turn. Effective use of bottom turns and cutbacks will allow you to surf a wave to its full potential.

This is particularly helpful for long peeling waves like point breaks where speed management and the ability to deal with flat sections on the wave are vital to being able to surf waves from start to finish.

Roundhouse Cutback

The roundhouse cutback is a more advanced version of the cutback that requires the surfer to carve through a figure of 8 on the face of the wave. This one’s better with an example, rather than me trying to explain check out the video below which details how to perform a roundhouse cutback.

Snap

Frontside and backside snaps are an essential weapon in any surfer’s arsenal. A snap is always started with a deep bottom turn aimed at the most vertical part of the wave. As you reach the lip you need to start rotating your hips back towards the trough of the wave.

When you start rotating your hips will affect how critical the snap is. Rotate early and you’ll rotate below the lip and carve through the snap, wait a little longer and you’ll be rotating as your fins pop out the back of the wave.

Playing with the timing of your snaps will let you vary the tricks you perform. A very late snap will leave your fins high and dry making it easier to slide your tail which we’ll cover shortly.

Your primary goal with a snap should be to get your board as close to vertical on the wave face as possible. This requires a lot of practice but when you time it right can be one of the most satisfying moments in surfing.

Tail Slide

The tail slide is an extension of a regular front-side or back-side snap. Approach the lip with a steep bottom turn and enough power to lose your fins, the key here is to unweight your back foot for as long as you feel comfortable or until your surfboard fins re-engage. If you’re getting good at tail slides you can even try to rotate even further into a reverse which we’ll cover later.

When you are first learning to do tail slides I suggest going out in some light onshores that will help in a few ways:

  • The wave period will be lower meaning shorter more frequent rides ideal for perfecting tail slides
  • It’s easier to free your fins in the white water and feathering lips commonly found during onshore winds
  • You can aim to slide your tail on incoming sections that have already broken

Nose Riding

Nose riding is the epitome of style in surfing. This iconic trick has been around just about the longest out of any on this list and is synonymous with longboarding all over the world.

Nose riding is when a surfer moves up the length of the board to place either one or both feet right on the nose of the board. These tricks are called:

  • Hang ten
  • Hang five

To properly perform a hang ten you need to have all ten of your toes curled over the nose of your surfboard as your ride along the face of the wave. Finding the right point of balance and section of the wave to perform this manoeuvre requires perfect timing and considerable skill.

A hang five is exactly the same but with just five toes allowing you to keep one foot on the deck of your surfboard to help with balance, making it a perfect progression towards a hang ten.

Floater

Despite their rather questionable name, floaters are an incredibly important manoeuvre for improving your surfing and your time on the wave. To perform a floater you need to be surfing along the face of the wave with a breaking section between you and the open face of the wave. When performed correctly a floater allows you to surf over the top of a breaking wave onto the clean face (much like grinding a rail on a skateboard).

As you approach the breaking section of the wave you want to try and time your floater so you hit the wave right as the lip starts to fall. Start your set-up with a shallow bottom turn that will allow you to carry your speed horizontally across the wave.

As you hit the lip of the wave you want to try and spread your weight evenly to allow you to slide across the top of the breaking section onto the clean face. If done correctly this should allow you to continue surfing the wave until its natural end.

Check out this video from the guys over at the WSL for a deep dive into the floater.

Foam Climb

A foam climb is a very similar trick to a floater but rather than a breaking lip a foam climb requires you to surf over a section of the wave that’s already broken.

Not the most visually pleasing of surfing tricks but critical to clean flowing surfing at long peeling waves.

To perform a foam climb you approach just like a floater with a shallow bottom turn aimed at carrying your horizontal movement across and over the breaking white water.

Foam climbs are arguably harder to perform than floaters because the white water of a broken wave contains much more air than an unbroken wave. This means that you won’t get the same stable platform to slide along and air pockets in the breaking water can make even the best surfers stumble and fall.

Reverse

A reverse in surfing is when a surfer rotates their board to surf backwards with the fins facing towards the beach. A reverse can be performed on any part of the wave and simply requires the surfer to unweight their back foot and rotate their body so they’re facing out to sea.

While this sounds simple in practice, carrying out a reverse on a breaking wave requires considerable skill and timing.

If you’re just starting to learn how to rotate your board I recommend trying with an oncoming section coming towards you (ideally with broken white water on the face of the wave).

The section coming towards you will give you a platform to push off as you perform your rotation and make the movement much more stable.

To finish your reverse simply re-engage your fins and your board will rotate back to face the beach.

*Pro tip – if you’re struggling to get your fins all the way round practice pushing the nose of your board into the face of the wave as you rotate which will pop your fins out and reduce the resistance as you spin around.

360

A 360 is just an extension of a reverse but you continue to spin your board round until you’re surfing normally again.

To complete a 360 you need to rotate your board just like a reverse but instead of aiming to rotate back the way you came you want to perform a full rotation. To achieve this you’ll need to rotate harder than a normal reverse to allow you to carry your movement through the whole rotation.

* When you’re just starting out trying 360’s start with onshore waves which offer considerably more opportunities to rotate your board with the help of foamy sections and incoming sections.

Learn more about how you can use onshore waves to improve your surfing in our short read are onshore waves any good for surfing?

Air Reverse

The air-reverse has been a mainstay of aerial surfing for the last few decades and wherever you’re based in the world you’ll likely see other surfers nailing or at least attempting this manoeuvre.

The intricacies of how to perform an air reverse are better suited to a video tutorial so I’ve included a great tutorial from Surfing with Noz to help you out.

Nose-Pick Reverse

The nose pick is the air reverses gnarly older brother! Taking the basic principle of an air reverse and inverting the board to a vertical position forms the basics of this amazing-looking trick.

When performed perfectly a nose-pick is a great way to show the rest of the line-up how sick your new spray job is on the bottom of your board or display your sponsor’s surf brand proudly on the nose of your board.

To perform a proper nose pick the nose of your board should be just above or slightly buried in the face of the wave just like the example below.

Closeout Re-entry

A close-out re-entry is a trick you can use when a wave is about to break all at once known as a close-out. How you perform a close-out re-entry will depend on the power and size of the wave but the premise is to hit the lip just in time to escape the explosion as the wave smashes down.

The trick itself can be anything from a snap to a floater depending on the section and an airdrop into the trough of the wave. Closeout re-entries are great for adding a level of excitement and risk at the end of the wave and allow you to use all the speed you’ve gained surfing the wave in one final finishing turn.

*While this is a very exciting trick closeout re-entries play havoc on your knees and you really should think twice when the waves get over 6ft or more.

Barrels

The holy grail of surfing getting barreled or tubed is an experience quite unlike any other. I don’t like to talk about the fluffy side of surfing but being inside a wave as it breaks truly is a thing of wonder!

Getting barreled is a matter of experience and learning how to read and understand how waves break. You’re going to need to find the right conditions conducive to barrels which are typically offshore winds and a wave that breaks on a shallow sandbank or reef.

Check out our short read on reef break waves to find out how to start heading out to reef breaks and getting tubed.

Brett Barley is an absolute tube hound and he’s broken down all of the elements of how to get barrelled on a variety of waves in what is in my opinion the best tutorial available online today.

Layback Snap

The layback snap is the happy meeting of raw power and an unsuspecting wave. Often referred to as ‘drop wallets’ layback snaps require you to approach an appropriate section of the wave with a steep bottom turn.

As you reach the top of the wave and the apex of your turn you transfer all of your weight to your heels quickly changing direction to carve down the face of the wave. At the same time, you lean or lay back into the face of the wave and use the downward force of your board and the wave’s power to push yourself back to a standing position.

Confused? The best way to learn about layback snaps is to watch them in action so who better than California’s resident stoke lord Tanner Gudauskas who takes us through the steps of how to perform a great layback snap.

Rodeo

In mid-2009 Jordy Smith was on a boat trip with the Red Bull team somewhere in the Mentawai’s (I think it’s Macaroni’s looking at the waves but can’t be certain).

The left’s look head high and super rippable with a slight onshore feathering the lip and offering a myriad of sections to boost airs from. As Jordy Smith rifled down the line on one of these waves he eyed up a section and launched himself sky high. What happened next took all the surfers in the lineup completely by surprise.

Rather than opting for a straight air or an air reverse, Jordy launched into a massive Rodeo Flip and rewrote the rules of aerial surfing moving forward.

Straight Air

The straight air is the epitome of ‘punk’ in surfing and in my opinion, is one of the most pleasurable airs to watch and land.

Better yet the straight air is very approachable for amateur surfers who aren’t comfortable with rotating past 180 degrees yet.

To perform a straight air you need to generate a lot of down-the-line speed until you find a suitable section for launching. Ideally, you should be hitting the peak of the wave just before it breaks in a compressed position and unweighting your body to allow your surfboard to leave the face of the wave.

When you’re in the air you can extend your legs slightly as you rise before compressing again to help you nail the landing.

Check out the helpful tutorial below to start trying your own straight airs today!

Alley Oop

The Alley Oop is an inverted spin above the lip of the wave in complete opposite to an air 360. Arguably harder due to the unnatural spin Alley-Oops are reserved for very good aerialists like Kolohe Andino.

On a trip with What Youth, Andino nailed what is considered to be one of the best Alley-Oops of all time and better yet, he managed to pull it off after some serious tube time.

Stalefish

The Stalefish is a move adopted from the skating community. As surfing aerialists slowly improved their craft they looked to inspiration from other board sports like skating and snowboarding.

Before long surfers began to copy the many grabs carried out by skaters and snowboarders and incorporate them into their set of aerial manoeuvres.

Josh Kerr was one of those surfers and you can see him put the Stalefish to good use in a critical heat against Jack Freestone at Jeffrey’s Bay.

540

No list of surf tricks and manoeuvres would be complete without the GOAT himself. Kelly Slater is a surfing icon who’s managed to stay relevant throughout his entire career, winning an impressive 11x world titles!

But Kelly hasn’t just been making waves in competitive surfing. Even in his much more mature position in surfing, he’s still pushing the boundaries in free surfs with some of the world’s most exciting new surfers and this day was no different.

The clip below was shot at Baleal in Peniche during a free surf around the Rip Curl Pro Portugal. You can even see a fellow surfer in the background staring on in absolute awe at surfing’s superman.

Backflip

When it comes to backflips one name comes to mind, Gabriel Medina. He’s landed them in free surfs and he’s landed them in competitions, solidifying himself as the main guy for this dizzying air.

You can find a few versions of his backflips online but the one below is my personal favourite.

Chop Hop

The chop hop is probably a stretch when it comes to calling it a surfing trick but it does require skill even if it isn’t overly functional.

If you’ve got a skateboarding background the chop hop will likely be a familiar move and it might be easier to land than you think.

Want to give chop hops a go? Check out this handy video tutorial below:

Kerrupt Flip

Josh Kerr hasn’t graced us with his presence on the World Surf League for a while now but this aerial-loving Coolie kid has well and truly left his mark in surfing history.

I couldn’t find any footage of Josh in action that wasn’t grainy VHS from the ’90s but thankfully Brazil’s Gabriel Medina nailed a truly perfect example of the Kerrupt Flip during the 2018 Surf Ranch Pro at Kelly’s wave pool, earning himself a healthy 9.3 out of 10!

Kickflip

The kickflip isn’t a trick you’d think surfers would be able to do, but when Volcom put out a call for all surfers to try and nail the trick for a whopping $10,000 some tricky aerialists decided to take up the call.

Without a doubt, the leader of this group was a man called Zoltan Torkos, who has at least two documented occasions of nailing a kickflip while surfing.

Unfortunately, since the competition launched in 2010 kickflips never really took off in the surfing mainstream and they’re seen as more of a gimmick than a real surfing trick.

Check out Zoltan the Magician and his kick-flipping antics below:

Huntington Hop

This final entry is a bit tongue-in-cheek but still holds an iconic place in surfing history. The Huntington hop is a technique that was coined by surfers competing at Hunting ton Beach in Orange County. Because of the wave’s disjointed nature surfers had to contend with a wave breaking out the back by the pier then slowly losing power and steepness until eventually reforming on the inside to offer a few more surfable sections.

To tackle this problem surfers started to develop a form of hop that helped them carry speed over the flat sections of the wave. Before you knew it this strange ollie-like manoeuvre had been coined the ‘Huntington hop’ and it’s stuck right through till today.

Check out the video below where the guys at STAB take a deeper if not somewhat comedic look at this strange surf trick.

Conclusion

We think we’ve covered virtually all of today’s surfing tricks and manoeuvres with our detailed list but are there any we missed out on?

At Honest Surf we want to help you surf better, happier and longer with expert advice from surfers all over the world, checkout out our other surf guides below for more fascinating insights into the world of surfing.