How to do an Aerial

Sean Rogge Aerial Surfing
Sean Rogge shows some serious small wave aerial antics with solid form.

Breaking Free

Surfers didn't always understand the concept of aerials. From the earliest days of performance surfing, riders have been getting tubed, cutting back, and banking off the lip in one way or another. Variations on these moves have been staples in any serious surfer’s repertoire. As surfing progressed in the last 10 years, new maneuvers then began to appear like the floater, the tailslide, and of course, the aerial.

Taking to the sky seemed like a quirky abomination at best when open-minded wave riders began to experiment.

What made aerials so annoying to the old guard was that they were seldom completed and seemed to waste the prime section of the wave.

Early Pioneers like John Holman and Martin Potter were getting high and blowing minds, but the majority of us looked rather spastic trying to break free from our regularly scheduled maneuvers.

Then rose the chosen one, Christian Fletcher. This freak of nature was making almost cartoonish moves look easy by incorporating skateboard variations and a rock star aesthetic into his wave riding. Flight was suddenly a viable alternative to the hum drum rail-to-tail grind.

The Slater age began years later which snaked Fletcher’s explosive antics seamlessly into pro surfing’s basic bag of tricks. The aerial has now become an intricate element in high performance surfing. No surfer can succeed competitively today without a solid act in the air to punctuate basic power surfing on the wave face.

Now with several years of aerial trial and error in the past, I have drafted some basic instructions for those who wish take their surfing to another level. The following steps will make you a more confident and successful surfer above the wave.

The Launching Pad

Where is the best spot on a wave to launch?
A good vertical lip or a small patch of chop at the top of the wave are both good launching pads for an aerial, but a lip that is not vertical enough may not release your momentum and instead cause you to lose your upward motion. Bigger waves allow much more versatility and altitude potential, while smaller waves may require the rider to use more athleticism and flexibility.

The Speed Factor

The first thing you must know about getting air is that speed is the key. Once you have eyed up the section you want to launch from, it is essential the surfboard is moving as fast as possible. Riding high on the face and gliding down into the trough repeatedly is the easiest and most effective technique to generate quick speed, but if the section is too close then you must make quick changes to your trajectory. Don’t waste your time drawing out any kind of bottom turn since this will simply suck up your needed speed. Instead veer upward at an angle without using much rail and thus minimizing drag as you approach your launching point. Going too vertical may cause you to fly straight up and possibly lose the wave as it moves quickly beneath you. Try your best to hold all your speed as you feel the lip beneath you board.

Holding Tight

As the board breaks free, many surfers lose their nerve and let their board fly away from their feet when they realize they have very little control of choosing a landing site. In smaller waves this should not be an issue; however, bigger surf over reef or rocks can pose serious problems. The deal is that attempting an air and kicking your board away is as bad as straightening out and avoiding a good barrel. It’s a waste of precious wave power, so give it all you got.

Flight Technique

Pretend you are riding a skateboard. Put pressure on your front foot in order to release your tail. Too much tail pressure will cause your fins and tail to spin out the back of the wave. So concentrate on keeping your stance nice and wide as to prepare for lift off. As your board releases from the wave, level your feet so that your board is positioned as flat under your feet as possible and try to let your body rise as high as your board will go, letting the natural gravity dictate your descent. Grabbing a rail is often helpful but is not essential in basic aerials. Good positioning over the center point of your board should provide lots of stability.

Ground Zero

Landing generally takes care of itself. If you are positioned correctly and your weight is centered, almost any part of a wave is suitable for landing except a vertical face. A lip, whitewater section, or the flats are all good areas for re-entry into to the water.

These instructions can be applied to backside or frontside airs, but they do not take into account the countless variations possible. So wax up and shoot for the sky!