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Surf Maneuvers Series PART 5: Roundhouse Cutback

Tip 5: Roundhouse Cutback

While a lot of focus is placed on critical, explosive top turns, with the board going vertical and the tail getting blown out the back, there are older, more fundamental maneuvers that are still cutting-edge, even in the postmodern era of airs and reverses. The roundhouse cutback is one of those maneuvers that has been around for decades but remains as radical as ever—as long as it is done correctly.


As with most high-performance maneuvers, it is possible for just about anyone to do a sub-par, unimpressive roundhouse cutback once they have developed rudimentary rail skills. I can say with confidence that all of us have, at one time or another, chunked our way through together a multi-stage cutback, eventually getting the nose of our board pointing back toward the pocket, but usually after having bled off any momentum we had before beginning the maneuver. Obviously, this is not the goal of a good roundhouse cutback. A proper roundhouse is a fluid, powerful response to a not-so-powerful section—it’s a way to return to the source of the waves power after outrunning the pocket, and to do so with style, finesse, and the opportunity to get radical. The best roundhouses aren’t just cutbacks—they are a setup for a radical rebound off the whitewater, or better yet off the curling lip. Accomplishing this, however, requires a lot of speed, impeccable timing, flawless technique, and a full commitment to the rail.

The ideal time for a roundhouse cutback is when you find yourself faced with a tapered shoulder that lacks the power and steepness for a more abrupt hack or layback. That being said, some of the best roundhouses have also been done on closeout sections that are less than vertical and lack a lip to annihilate.

As you approach the section, initiate a small bottom turn to set up the maneuver. While you aren’t trying to go vertical, it is important to remember that the bottom turn is the foundation of all successful maneuvers. Without it, you will end up breaking the rail and fins free with your down-the-line momentum and likely do an involuntary layback that you don’t recover from. Once you initiate your bottom turn, use it to transition into a drawn-out rail carve that redirects not from the top of the wave to the bottom, but rather from the middle of the wave face and back toward the pocket, with the outside rail engaged. The key, as with all surfing maneuvers, is to lead with your head, arms, and eventually torso. The lower body goes where the upper body leads, and the surfboard follows the lower body, so make sure that you are looking where you want to go to set up the entire turn.

 Mick Fanning cutback technique

Photo credits to Rian Castillo 


When performing a frontside roundhouse, the front arm should act as a pivot point, reaching down toward the face of the wave below your outside rail and ideally staying in one place while the board carves around this axis. The rear arm should be perpendicular to the rail of the board and follow through throughout the entire turn. Dropping your back arm will short-circuit your carve and turn it into a layback, which is appropriate at times, but not when you are trying to do a roundhouse cutback. Push through with your back arm as your body torques and the rail pushes through the water. As you complete the turn, maintain your momentum and look for a section to rebound off of. If the section is there and you have enough speed, you can angle the board upward and hit the lip or whitewater as if you were doing a top turn (with the cutback serving as a lateral “bottom turn” that sets up the “top turn.”) If there isn’t a section to hit, it can be just as satisfying to push the cutback all the way through into the pocket, at which point you lead with the head and upper body once again as you turn back toward the shoulder and transfer weight onto the opposite rail.



When initiating a backside roundhouse, the knees and hips come more into play. In this case, once you transfer to your outside (down face) rail, you will be pivoting around your back arm, which serves as the axis of your turn, while the front arm moves in concert with your outside rail. Again, lead with your eyes, let the upper body follow, and finally let the legs and board complete the turn. Due to the mechanics of the lower body and the fact that you are carving on your toe-side rail, a backside roundhouse is much more compressed and results with you facing the pocket. When performed properly, this turn almost makes it appear like you are doing a deep carve on a snowboard. Because you are facing the pocket, it is easier to sight the section you want to hit with your rebound. However, it is important to resist the impulse to push too hard through your cutback (as if it were a snap rather than a roundhouse), as this will bleed your speed and reduce the chance of completing the rebound. Once you hit the section, redirect your gaze toward the shoulder and transfer the weight back to the opposite rail to recover the maneuver and begin to generate more momentum for the next maneuver.

While big airs and fins-out turns might be flashier and more “modern,” the roundhouse cutback is a classic maneuver that epitomizes power surfing and remains as relevant today as it ever was.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how high you can boost or how many chop-hops you can do—a truly good surfer is judged on his mastery of the fundamentals and his ability to push them hard enough that they become cutting-edge.