I’m only 33 years old, but one thing makes me feel like a grumpy old man: airs. Look, when John John Florence or Filipe Toledo does an out-of-this-world air, I can appreciate it and be impressed by it, but I still don’t really like it. Admittedly, I am drawn to a more classic style of surfing. For me, it doesn’t get any better than the knock-kneed elegance of Mark Richards or the timeless silhouette of Gerry Lopez. The smoothness of Joel Parkinson and the flow of Mick Fanning need no interruption by attempts of aerial maneuvers. I’d rather see a beefy turn in thick water or a figure emerge from the spit of a barrel any day. It’s not even close.
Airs feel like a foray into a different sport, which is fine, but it feels like something beyond surfing. It can be maddening to watch a WCT competitor do little more than an air reverse and receive a better score than an opponent who just put together three solid turns. The judging seems to be correcting in that regard slowly but surely, but that hasn’t stopped the tour from becoming rather air-happy. It’s starting to feel like some guys finish every other wave with an air reverse. How is it still impressive at that point?
It’s not just about watching contests, though. Like the countless little kids hoisting ill-advised three-pointers on the basketball court because of Steph Curry, there are tons of groms frothing to boost big airs like their ‘CT heroes. I see kids of all ages trying to pull off airs constantly, and I have yet to see a single one landed. They’d be better served working on their bottom turn, the unsung hero of surfing, but it’s simply not flashy enough. It’s not enough to surf like Ace Buchan anymore. Airs work better for Instagram.
Now someone might read this and scream jealousy, but that is simply not the case. The one thing I love most about surfing is the connection I feel with the wave. Why would I ever want to leave it to take to the air? I don’t want to leave that wave until it’s absolutely necessary. I don’t think I’d ever leave it if that were an option.
I favor a smooth style to a showy one, and I catch myself shaking my head when I see guys attempting airs when they have no business doing so. I have come to despise the hotdog mentality in a sense, and airs feel like the ultimate hotdog move these days. Throw some toes on the nose, though, and I’m out there hooting for you. So maybe it’s just something about airs that draws my ire.
I’m not asking people to stop doing airs. That would be a waste of breath. I’m not necessarily asking for anything, but I needed to get this ornery opinion off my chest. Now maybe I’ll feel a little less perturbed the next time a pencil-thin shortboard comes flying at my head after a 15-year-old botches yet another air attempt. Just maybe.