surfing airs
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A Guide to Surfing Airs

Airs are an essential aspect of contemporary pro surfing, and they’re great to watch. Learn all about aerial surfing with our guide.

Although you might not realize it as you’re learning, airs are a big part of surfing. They’re definitely the trick in competitive surfing that makes the audience gasp in excitement and joy. They’re also loads of fun when you're on the ocean by yourself, too! 

And that's where surfing is at the moment. A powerful bottom turn doesn't bring the same excitement as it did in the past anymore. Although tube-riding is still as magnificent as ever, the ocean can only produce so many great tubes, and you can’t really innovate much on what's already been done on that front.

On the other hand, aerial surfing is open to possibilities, discoveries, and further enchantment. Therefore, the young surfers of our time prefer them over anything else, and us old surfers can’t do anything but accept that it's the new norm in surfing.

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A Brief History of Aerial Surfing

surfer doing an air

Simply put, busting airs is awesome, and it sure seems like they've always been a part of a good surfing performance. However, that's not the case. Rather, their introduction to the surfing world dates back only to the 80s.

Some credit Kevin Reed as the founding father of aerial surfing, but according to the World Surf League, the first air on record was attempted by the pioneer Matt Kechele, a goofy-footed surfer from Florida, for the first-round heat at the Stubbies Pro Trials. His aerials were considered cheap tricks back in the day, and he was publicly criticized. He wasn't doing much either, as his aerial was only a little hop off of the wave. Yet, it still managed to influence a circle of other surfers.

We don't know whether Christian Fletcher was directly influenced by Kechele's attempts, but his performance during the Body Glove Surfbout in 1989 certainly had airs and came to define the modern aerial.

Unlike Kechele's, Fletcher's airs weren't just little hops. He'd surf the line with more speed, take the board to the lip of the wave, control the trajectory of his board in the air, and land in a position that would enable him to continue surfing as if nothing happened. That was surely woeful for his opponents because it brought him the first-place prize, but it was not as woeful for the history of surfing (if we can make an exception for the conservatives of the sport).

After that competition, it was just a matter of time for big airs to furnish the covers of surf publications like Surfer Magazine. Since then, we've seen many great surfers taking aerial tricks to new heights (both literally and figuratively); John John Florence, Kelly Slater, Carissa Moore, Julian Wilson, and Jordy Smith are just some names you'd probably want to check out on YouTube if you want to see masterful, beautiful airs.

The Main Types of Airs

surfer in the air

One of the best aspects of aerial surfing is that it allows a level of liberty other surfing tricks cannot provide. After all, you're in the air, which means that you've already overcome the force of the wave and the force of gravity. If only for a brief moment, you're free to do whatever you like.

So, it's no surprise that there are many ways you can do an air.

The Basic Aerial

It's the most basic form of an air. You just build enough speed, get to the lip of the wave, and jump. There are variations of it depending on the way you jump. For example, the air reverse requires a reverse jump, while the air 360 requires you to rotate your body when you're in the air. If 360-degree rotation isn't enough for you, you can opt for 540 or 720 degrees, too. Kelly Slater weaves them all like a web—we are not even sure how to classify the last one.


In an ideal air 360, the surfer rotates away from the wave's lip. Alley-oop is the reverse version, which is a bit harder in terms of taking off and landing. However, once it's masterfully accomplished, it can provide one of the best sights seen in surfing. John John Florence can surely provide exactly that.


It's quite straightforward as it's only the act of grabbing the board during an air. And it has variations like frontside grab, backside grab, and so on. Julian Wilson surely likes grabbing his board when he's in the air.


It might be hard to imagine, but, in addition to grabbing, there are actually lots of ways how you can flip your board when you're on the air, too: the rodeo flip invented by Kelly Slater and perfected by Jordy Smith, the Kerrupt flip named after Josh Kerr, and the Flynnstone flip named after Flynn Novak are some of those.

How to Do an Air: Surfing

how to do an air surfing

We hope that all the video content above got you excited because now we're going to give you pointers on how to pull off a successful air.

Build Speed

You can’t be expected to bust an air on small waves because they don't have the necessary power for you to build up speed. Speed happens to be key to an air because that's how you're going to challenge gravity. Without speed, you can't get a good lift-off, and without it, attempting an air will bear no fruit.

Once you come across a large wave that has ramped-up walls, remember your intermediate lessons on how to generate speed. Make your body small by compressing your knees and staying low and compact along the surf line.

Find a Ramp Suitable for an Air

When you're surfing on the line with the utmost speed you can generate, you should also look for a ramp. That ramp will either be a closing section of the wave or its lip. So, that's your target; that's where you want to take off and start flying.

Take Off

One thing to note before takeoff is that you shouldn't approach the ramp vertically; that'll cause you to lose speed. Approach it horizontally while maintaining a compact and compressed stance.

When you're on the launchpad, widen your stance, and let the nose of your board leave the lip by kicking the tail and raising your knees. In the process, you also need to balance the weight on your back foot by applying slight pressure on the front foot, so you're not dragged back.

And, congratulations—you're up in the air, free to do whatever you want to do!


If you want a smooth landing, you need to look for foam once you're airborne. To that end, you may change your board's trajectory by grabbing it in the air. Just don't forget to absorb the pressure of the landing by compressing your knees, and you'll be able to continue surfing after the air.

Wrapping Up...

To get better at aerial surfing, you need to know how waves work, practice a lot, be completely in the moment, and watch lots of videos to study how the masters are doing it. After all that work, though, you'll be able to fill the hearts of your spectators with joy.

Written by
Jeremy Dean
surf coaching