Did Red Bull Airborne series director Josh Kerr ever actually promise us, the aerial surfing fans, that we’d be in for some backflips? Big spins? 540 alley oops? Not exactly, but for a competition meant to promote the most progressive aerial surfing, is it too much to ask?

Watching the final of the Red Bull Airborne event at D-Bah yesterday—especially the World Tour fly boys Italo Ferreira, Filipe Toledo and Yago Dora, who signed up for the event—the most striking thing wasn’t the artistry of the airs being hucked by the best aerialists in the world, but instead it was how little difference there seemed to be between what the surfers were doing in this air-focused event and what you’d expect from competitors in a World Tour heat.

The 35-minute final didn’t feature the greatest conditions, and that surely played a large part in why things unfolded the way they did. Rain squalls accompanied by shifty winds occasionally offered some decent grip for surfers on the lefts, while the rights were more or less unworkable for the majority of the final. But that didn’t stop Filipe Toledo from trying, and while most of his attempts ended ended in a disconnecting of surfer and board, he did manage to stick one full rotation more in front of than above the lip. His best maneuver of the event, of course, didn’t happen in the final, but in the qualifying rounds when he flung himself into a corked-out backside air and stuck it cold. Was it entertaining? absolutely. But it was also nearly identical to the one he pulled in the Rio Pro last year.

You could say the same thing for Italo Ferreira’s final-winning frontside rotation, which was a lofty and oh-so-steezy frontside air reverse that neared full rotation. It was thrilling, but again, no more so than what we get from the springy Brazilian in his World Tour heats.

Red Bull Airborne Series 2019 – Gold Coast
Would Italo surf any different in a World Tour heat? Photo by Kelly Cestari/WSL via Getty Images

In the final, the only exception to the this-is-no-more-progressive-than-the-World-Tour rule was Reef Heazlewood’s massive straight slob on a left hander. Not the most technical maneuver, but at the apex Reef looked north of 5 feet above the wave. It was huge, it was stylish, and it was stomped just about as cleanly as you could hope for. Yet somehow, this gauntlet drop only earned Reef a 6.77, nearly a half-point below eventual winner Italo’s reverse.

Perhaps the judges were in disagreement over the two moves (I can’t imagine Kerr, who evangelizes a go-for-broke approach to aerial surfing, would prefer a relatively run-of-the-mill reverse over a massive straight air) and there will be a criteria recalibration after this event, and perhaps the shortage of truly outside-the-box aerials can be chalked up to bad luck with conditions and we’ll have our minds thoroughly blown in Bali. But at present, the Red Bull Airborne seems like a lot of the same stuff we see on Tour, just wrapped up in a different package.

We did eventually get to see a backflip at the Airborne, although instead of it getting stomped in the lineup, it was landed off the podium by Italo. What a guy.

By default 2019 04 04 at 11.32.39 AM
A screengrab of Heazlewood’s overlooked huck.

Sound off in the comments below!

Join the conversation