How To: Toe Side to Heel Side Turn on a Wave


After a private coaching session I always try to write my clients a follow up as a reminder of all the things they learned while riding with me. Sometimes it’s hard to remember all that was said while on the water. I find a written summary is a great way to help the coaching message sink in better, and serves as a great reminder of what to practice. The following breakdown of a toe side to heel side linked turn on a wave is for my friend Elliot who recently had a strapless kitesurf coaching session with me in Cabarete. 

1. Find your Dance Partner

Find your wave. By coming into the waves from the long tack, which means coming into the waves from open ocean behind the waves heading towards the reef where the waves will break, I can see the swell and pick out the wave that I think will be the best in the set. Once I choose my wave, I track it and look for where the peak will break. I aim to do my toe side turn just before the peak while dropping into the wave. 

Always turn the kite before the board. To initiate my kite movement, I throw my weight backwards to create line tension so that my kite will respond faster when I pull on the bar. You can see my right hand turning the bar and my left fingers only holding the bar for control. My fingers have no grip at this stage.
The lower your kite sits in the sky before beginning its turn, combined with how hard you turn the bar, dictates the speed at which the kite travels across the window and consequently how much power the kite will deliver, as well as how fast you’ll get pulled through the turn. As I’m dropping into the wave on my toe side turn, I really want my kite to cross the window quickly so that when I accelerate down the wave face I don’t speed towards my kite and lose line tension. This is critical:  If you outrun your kite in waves and it hits the water mid swell, all bets are off. If you crash in the waves don’t worry about the board. Your priority is getting the kite back in the air. With a kite in the air you have direction and control. Always steer the kite when edging to maintain line tension!

My back foot is directly over the fins to maximize control. The further back your foot, the more leverage you’ll have over the board and the more powerful the turn/cutback will be. Conversely, the further back your back foot, the slower the board will glide as the tail will sit lower in the water, causing more water resistance drag.


2. The Kite Always Gets the First Turn

Still edging, you can see by my rear kite lines that the kite has already started to change direction. I wait until the kite mostly completes its rotation and begins traveling in the opposite direction when I will let off the edge and let the kite pull me through the turn. Wherever the kite is in its rotation when you let off your board edge that is the direction it will continue traveling. If your kites’ leading edge is facing up when you let off your board edge, your kite will go up. You want to wait until the leading edge starts going in the opposite direction before you let off your board edge.


3.  Reading the Wave

I’m still on my edge waiting for my kite to get to the rotation point I desire. I’m still pulling the bar with my steering hand. Looking at my rear lines, my kite is almost to the rotation point almost traveling in the opposite direction. I’m turning my head to look down wind and back to the wave face where I’ll want to make my cutback. I’m watching the wave and looking for the steepest part of the wave.


4. Onto the Toes

Now that the kite has started to change direction, it is accelerating away from me, allowing me to start turning onto my toe side edge. I’m still pulling the bar with my right hand making sure to complete the kite rotation. My shinbone and upper body are the same angle in relation to the board, 90 degrees to the board. This gets my weight over the balls of my feet, forcing the board edge into the water.


5. Eyes on the Prize

My eyes are tracking the movement of the wave as it crosses the reef as I watch to see where I think it will break. I aim to do my front side cut back at the crease where the wave will break, right in front of the white water, the steepest part of the wave. That is the sweet spot!
Looking at the kite lines you can see my kite has finished its rotation and is pulling me through the corner. I am no longer turning the kite. The bar is now perpendicular to the center lines.
My body weight is committing to the turn with all my weight on the balls of my feet. My knees are bent, forcing my shins ahead of my toes, increasing the leverage on the board. My left hipbone, kneecap and foot are stacked vertically over the board ensuring my weight is over my front foot. This forces the edge of the board into the water and begins to create drive in the board. By forcing the edge into the water this creates acceleration. This drive will accelerate the board making for a faster turn, as well as creating line tension that will give you more kite control.


6. Fully Committed

The bottom turn I think is the most important turn in the wave. Highly under valued, it is the base and set-up to get you back to the top of the wave. Master the bottom turn and the rest will follow.
All of my body weight is stacked forward of vertical off my board. The angle of my shin in relation to the board is less than ninety degrees. This leverage over my front foot creates drive and speed in the turn while my rear foot is steering the board. For hockey fans, your board is like taking a slap shot. When you hold a hockey stick/lacrosse stick/baseball bat/etc, the lower hand is meant for power and to hold the stick in place. The hand at the end of the stick is the control that puts the curve on the puck/ball. It’s the little flick of the wrist that makes all the difference. The rear foot of your surfboard is exactly that: the control. It dictates the size of the turn, the spray of the cutback, the acceleration through the turn, and more. The back foot is what gives you style and a muscle movement that will be as unique as your signature.
The more you compress your body, the lower over the board, the tighter the turn. Every inch your shoulders lower over your knees, your buttocks must also lower, or you’ll be too top-heavy forward and you’ll go ass over teakettle. This turn isn’t especially tight, so I did not need to go that low.
The hand. Your body should be so committed to the turn that you are able to drag your rear hand in the water. Dragging the rear hands can also be used as a speed stabilizer and emergency balance. If you have too much speed in the turn you can drag your hand for braking. Many times your toe side turn won’t be on butter flat water, but more likely in some chop. If you get thrown off balance, having your hand already close to the water allows you to use it for an emergency support if you are suddenly thrown.
Eyes still on the prize. You’re still tracking the wave.


7.  Maintain Speed

I’ve completed the turn so that I am now running back upwind into the wave. My weight is still over the balls of my feet, but I’ve reduced my lean angle. My hips are open to the direction I’m riding making upwind easier. Most of my weight is over my front foot.
Rear foot. Once I’ve completed my turn I no longer need the same leverage over the fins. Many kiters finish their transition to toe side only to loose their speed and slow down before they can reach the wave peak and make their cutback. Too much rear foot pressure is often the problem. If you stay flat footed once you complete the turn, your hips will be too far back forcing too much weight onto the tail of the board causing it plow into the water.
Simply lifting your rear heel off the board forces your weight forward over your front leg since you can’t raise your heel if you have too much weight on it. This weight transfer lifts the back of the board, flattens the board in relation to the water, thereby reducing drag. The flatter the board, the faster it will glide.
Eyes still on the prize. You’re still tracking the wave.


8. The Set Up

I’m begin to run back up the face of the wave. Most of my weight is over my front foot. My rear heel is still elevated making sure I carry my speed to get to the top of the wave. My hips and shoulders are open preparing to shift my weight from toe side over to heel side for the transition.  My upper body is so open I’m almost facing forward on the board. I have a bend in my knees to keep my center of gravity low.
My left hand has already started pulling on the bar so that the kite begins to change direction. Remember, always turn the kite before letting off the board edge.


9. The Transition

In fewer than five feet I transfer my weight from my toes to my heels. Quick like a bunny. I’m now on the steepest part of the wave, looking straight down the line. I can see where the peak will break in front of me, and I aim for the crease of that spot. My rear foot is flat and my weight is 50/50 over both feet.
The leading edge of my kite is facing up, and is still rotating. My kite turns slower on my cutback side because I do not use it to create power or pull. I will be using the drop in of the wave to get me back up to speed after the cutback.


10. The Cutback

Boom goes the dynamite! All of my weight is firmly planted over my heels. My rear foot is driving the tail of the board into the water and through the cutback. I’m hanging off my lines, leaning as far back as I can without falling into the wave. I lean so far back that you can actually see my ass hit the water. Just like on my toe side turn, I am completely committed to the turn throwing all my body weight into the edge of my board. The more weight on the rear foot, the bigger the spray. But it also means the more you slow down as you’re dumping all you speed into the spray. As I progress through the turn I slowly transfer my weight back to my front foot.
My left hand is still pulling on the bar slowly turning my kite. It is 80% through its rotation.
All that’s left to do is pose for the camera. Say CHEEEZE!!


11.  The Release

The harder the cutback, the more speed and momentum you loose. In order not to stop dead in the water and have the wave pass you by, you need to release rear foot pressure. It begins at the end of turn until, as you can see in the picture, I completely collapse my rear leg taking most of the weight off the rear foot. By putting my foot on its inside edge to give me board control with no weight on the back foot. Most of my weight is now over my front foot, and the rear foot is for light steering. This allows the tail to rapidly plane out of the water, allowing the nose to drop and begin my drop into the wave.


12. The Drop In

Point your nose down and go! As soon as you begin accelerating, get onto your heel side edge to regain line tension, and to carve down the face. This allows you to stay on the wave without dropping in and out running the fun.
My kite has now changed direction and is traveling in the same direction as my surf line down the wave.


13. Rinse and Repeat

You’re body is now in position to begin the series again. Go back to step one and repeat the process until you collapse in a puddle of wave riding bliss.

I hope this instructional essay has helped clarify the technique necessary for kitesurfing toe side to heel side in waves. By no means is this the only way to kiteboard in waves. That’s why kitesurfing is so fantastic; we all ride our own way. I welcome any feedback. I hope you enjoyed the read. See you on the water.
Stay salty,

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