Maneuver that takes a surfer from the wave's shoulder—the unbroken area ahead of the curl—back to the steeper, more critical, powerful part of the wave. The cutback is one of the sport's three fundamental turns, along with the bottom turn and top turn. "It's the purest power move in the book," Australian surf journalist Nick Carroll wrote in 2000. "In the hands of a master, it becomes a slashing, elegant work of art."

The cutback as it exists today came about following the post–World War II development of the fin, which allowed a surfer to lean the board over and apply pressure to a turn without having the back end of the board lose traction and spin out. By 1950, Malibu's Les Williams had become an early master of the cutback; Hawaii's Conrad Canha, and especially California's Phil Edwards, took cutting back to the next level before decade's end. Australian Nat Young used the cutback to devastating effect while taking the 1966 World Surfing Championships.

The late-'60s shortboard revolution, when boards were reduced from 25-pound 10-footers to streamlined seven-footers, introduced a new era of cutting back. California's Mike Purpus, Hawaii's Larry Bertlemann, Australian Michael Peterson, and Shaun Tomson of South Africa had each worked out their own deeply set, water-shifting cutback by 1975; virtually all notable surfers since have developed a first-rate cutback.

The cutback has a number of variations, the most basic being the "roundhouse"—a long, smooth, arcing turn that usually finishes with the surfer rebounding off the oncoming white water. A '90s- developed variation is the cutback 360, where the surfer either extends the cutback into a full circle or uses the whitewater rebound as the starting point for a sliding 360. Other variations include the layback cutback, the double-pump cutback, the tail-slide cutback, and, for longboarders, the drop-knee cutback.