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Decision-Making: Choose the Right Turn

Decision-making is one of the hardest things to learn in surfing because it comes with experience. You must have seen thousands of waves to make quick decisions about what type of turn to execute according to what the wave is doing and your position on it.

Every wave is unique. Even while surfing a quality point break daily, there will always be a difference in the swell size or direction, the wind, the tide, etc., making the waves at least slightly different every day.

Decision-making is not something you will one day unlock and figure out for good. It’s a skill you will develop through the years.


On some days, when the conditions are good and more predictable, you might feel like your decision-making is good.

On other days when conditions are tricky, you might feel it is terrible. Don’t get discouraged. It’s a long-term process. Often surfing in smaller or poorer conditions means you must be faster and more precise in your decision-making.

So even if you feel you haven’t surfed your best in tricky conditions, you still had a session during which your brain registered which type of turn worked and which didn’t, according to the wave’s shape.

Giving yourself feedback

To improve your decision-making, we highly recommend giving yourself feedback after you’ve ridden a wave. Ask yourself: how was the wave’s shape? Did I have steep walls or fat shoulders? Did I choose the right types of turns? What can I improve on the next wave?

Another habit to take is to do a spot check before getting into the water. By analyzing the waves and how fast they peel on that specific day, you can get a better idea of the types of turns the conditions will allow.

Start with Cutbacks

For low-intermediate surfers at level 2.1, we recommend focusing on cutbacks when getting more than 2 surfboard lengths away from the pocket. As Australian surf coach Martin Dunn says: if fat, cutback.

By focusing on cutting back every time you get further from the pocket, you’ll start automating this decision-making, helping you surf closer to the power source, where more advanced manoeuvres will become possible as you progress.

Choosing other Turns: Look at Shoulder’s Steepness

For more experienced intermediates at level 2.2, you want to start trying turns closer to the pocket when the wave’s shape is steep enough.

As you’re about to start your bottom turn, look at the shoulder. If it’s flat, you’ll want to do a cutback. If you have a steep wall, you can draw a more vertical line and try a tight turn high in the pocket, pushing your tail at the end to snap.

If you have a big steep wall in front of you, you could decide to go up and rotate back down with more weight over your front foot for a down carve.

Our recommendation would be to first focus on developing consistent cutbacks with good rail engagement. If you fall off 90% of the time you try a snap, you might be wasting opportunities to perform multiple turns on a wave.

The last section

A good approach when first learning snaps or re-entries is to carve and cutback until the last section before the wave closes out. This last section is perfect to practise, as surfers have nothing to lose; the wave is finished anyway.

At the intermediate level, the last thing you want to do is see this last section, think that the wave is over, and turn your board to the beach.

End sections are the perfect practice playground for manoeuvres that are just above your comfort zone and for which you have a low success rate.