Can We Stop Pretending That There Are “Right” And “Wrong” Names For Airs In Surfing

by stab February 19, 2020 2 min read

Ask ten highly knowledgeable surfers to identify every air in the video above, and you will receive ten wildly different lists of tricks.

There are two main issues when it comes to naming surf maneuvers (and particularly those in the air). First is the frontside/backside paradox.  

According to skating and snowboard (surfing’s two nearest relatives), the direction of an air is determined by which way a person spins in relation to their stance. So if a skater/snowboarder turns “inward” (turning their back to the target landing), it’s considered a backside spin. If they turn “outward” (with their body opening to the target landing), it’s considered frontside. 

In surfing, our forms of “backside” and “frontside” are determined by the direction of the wave in relation to our stance. If we’re standing with our chest facing the wall, that’s frontside. Back to the wall, backside. So for as long as most of us can remember, if you do an air on a backside wave, it’s a backside air, and vice versa. 

The problem is that this “surf rule” can directly contradict those of snow/skate. If, for instance, a surfer is going frontside on a wave and does an “alleyoop” (rotating toward the horizon rather than the beach), this would be called a “backside alleyoop” in snow/skate, because the direction of the spin is inward. In surfing, however, it’s considered a frontside alleyoop because the direction of the wave takes precedence over the direction of the spin (though skaters and snowboarders continue to thumb their noses at this fact). 

The second issue is the great spin discrepancy. 

When a snowboarder or skater a rider hits a ramp, their degree of rotation is based off an assumption that they launch at a 12-o’clock position in relation to the kicker. So if you hit a quarterpipe, spin once, and come down the same way you went up, that’s a 360. If you do an extra spin and land facing forward (in relation to your momentum), that’s a 540. 

But surfers do not hit their ramps at 12 o’clock. It’s more like 1:30 or 10:30, depending on the direction they’re going. So for a full-rotation air-reverse, when a surfer lands with their nose facing the beach, some call it a 360, others a 540. 

While one side is clearly more right than the other, both look like assholes for arguing it in the first place. So let’s just agree to drop this, alright? It’s a chop hop or a full-ro, and that’s final. 

And one last point to drive home how ridiculous all of this is. 

If we were to use the skate/snow method of measuring spin, wouldn’t a 90s-style surf alleyoop (where you land with fins facing the beach) technically be a “straight air”? And would that make it frontside or backside?

The world will never know!


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