How to Fly: Surfing Aerials


If you ask an old-school surfer about doing an aerial, they may look at you sideways. Before short boards revolutionized surfing in the 1960s, nose riding was the ultimate surf trick. Sometimes during the 1970s, someone was inspired by the skateboarding Ollie, and tried to replicate it on a surfboard: The aerial was born. An aerial is the art of taking your board into the air above the water AND LANDING back on the wave.

Aerial Requirements:

  • A short board- You can TRY to do an aerial with a longboard, but you probably won’t be very successful. You need the lightness of a short board to gain the speed needed to lift off of the wave and stay with you as you fly.
  • Medium sized waves- An ideal wave for an aerial is 2-5 feet.
  • Onshore breeze- Aerials are probably the only reason a surfer would look forward to an onshore breeze. This is not 100% necessary, but it is very helpful to provide lift from the back of the wave.
  • Confidence- Go for it! You will be landing in water anyway. It is a lot less intimidating that trying an aerial on a skateboard or a snowboard.

Basic Aerial Steps:

  • Take off on the wave. – Chose a wave that has power and punch so that you can get the speed you need.
  • Pump for speed. Ample speed is everything when preparing for an aerial. The more, the better.
  • Increase speed one final time and make a line toward your launch pad.- When you get enough speed, target a closing section or a breaking lip, take one more bottom turn, and get ready to fly. Keep as much horizontal motion as possible to retain speed.
  • Widen stance. Take your feet a little further apart than usual with the goal of staying over your board.
  • Let board leave the water. – As soon as you have gotten some air, bend your knees so that they are level with your chest. If needed, grab the rail.
  • Face body and eyes in direction you are going. – This sounds like common sense, but it is easily forgotten. Practice this a few times, and it will become second nature.
  • Stay low to prepare for landing- With your wide stance and bent knees, distribute weight evenly to land. Look down, and aim to land in the foam, as it is generally the softest area.
  • Stomp it and ride away clean- Don’t let your wave end here! Land back on the wave and keep going. This is the most difficult part and it takes a lot of practice. You may try an aerial 5,000 times before you land one, but you know that when you finally do, you will be stoked.

A Word to the Wise:

Aerials are not for beginners. There is nothing less pleasing to the eye than watching someone try an aerial without first being able to surf properly down the line, and mastering cutbacks with solid skill. The aerial is an EXTENSION of a cutback. Until you have these basic maneuvers down, leave the aerials to the pros. Just like anything else, you need to build the foundation first.  A great way to learn how to do aerials is to first watch the professionals. Check out videos of air masters: Kelly Slater, Josh Kerr, Kolohoe Andino, Chippa Wilson, Dane Reynolds, CJ Hobgood, Gabriel Medina, Julian Wilson, Filipe Toledo and, of course, John John Florence.

Remember that the only reason to learn how to do an aerial is that it is one of the most FUN moves in surfing!


-Emily Shoemaker


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