Modern turtles are composed of two monophyletic groups, notably diagnosed by divergent neck retraction mechanisms. Pleurodires (side-necked turtles) bend their neck sideways and protect their head under the anterior margin of the carapace. Cryptodires (hidden-necked turtles) withdraw their neck and head in the vertical plane between the shoulder girdles. These two mechanisms of neck retraction appeared independently in the two lineages and are usually assumed to have evolved for protective reasons. Here we describe the neck of Platychelys oberndorferi, a Late Jurassic early stem pleurodire, and find remarkable convergent morphological and functional similarities with modern cryptodires. Partial vertical neck retraction in this taxon is interpreted to have enabled fast forward projection of the head during underwater prey capture and offers a likely explanation to the functional origin of neck retraction in modern cryptodires. Complete head withdrawal for protection may therefore have resulted from an exaptation in that group.