Last night the braintrust of aerial surfing assembled at an appropriately dingy bar in Huntington Beach to discuss the revival of aerial competition on surfing’s biggest stage. The assembly included a who’s who of aerial juggernauts spanning a multitude of generations, from Nathan Fletcher to Italo Ferreira and more, each eager to see the new iteration of air-based competition build momentum.
The WSL’s Air Invitational is the brainchild of former Airshow-standout-turned-CT-shredder Josh Kerr, and he was on hand to explain this new era of aerial competition. Here’s what you need to know:
—There will be 18 competitors: 16 hand-picked by Kerr, and two wildcard slots that will be up for grabs (they have yet to announce how surfers will be able to snag those last two spots)
—The entire contest will be a 4 hours long
—There will be 6, 30-minute preliminary heats, with 6 surfers in each heat, each surfer surfing in two heats
—Airs are the only maneuvers that will be scored, and only the top two airs from each surfer will be counted
—The cumulative two-air score of each surfer will be ranked against all other surfers in the competition, regardless of heat, leaderboard-style
—A surfer’s best air is doubled, and their two scoring airs don’t have to be from the same heat
—At the end of the preliminary heats, after a 20-minute break, the top 6 surfers on the leaderboard will surf in a 40-minute final
—Competitors in 7th place or below will get equal prize money
“I tried to create a format where you have enough time to really go for it and pull something if you’re a consistent aerialist, which all the invitees are, of course,” says Kerr. “It’s all about creating an environment where no one is holding back. We’re going to be really hash on the judging criteria, whether it’s layback landings or forcing the air on a bad section. To get in the 9-point range, you’re going to need to pull something close to the maneuver of the year.”
It’s a departure from the format of the old airshows of the ’90s and ’00s, where you had to land two airs in every heat to advance. According to Kerr, that encouraged low-risk, more consistent airs rather than unbridled progression, which is the goal of the new Air Invitational.
“I’ll definitely surf this event different from a World Tour heat,” said World Tour standout Italo Ferreira when asked if he’ll bring a different approach to this type of competition. “It’s all about finding the best section and doing the biggest air possible. I think this is the future, for sure.”
The first WSL Air Invitational event will take place during the Quik Pro France in Hossegor this fall. The WSL has confirmed that Albee Layer, Chippa Wilson, Filipe Toledo and Mikey Wright will compete. Stay tuned for updates and a full list of invitees as we get closer to the event.