Have you heard the news? The WSL recently announced an "Air Invitational" that will take place in France during the Quiksilver Pro France Championship Tour stop this fall and an "Air Exhibition" to go down during the forthcoming Surf Ranch Pro event – music to the ears of surf fans everywhere longing for a little bit of spice in competitive surfing.
The Air Invitational will feature 18 competitors – a high-flying mix of free surfers, CT surfers and surfers voted in via social media. The whole shindig is being directed and developed by air show veteran and ex-'CT competitor Josh Kerr, which means the event is in good (and knowledgeable) hands. To find out what the Air Invitational will look like, we got Kerr on the horn for some insight:
You must be really excited about the event, given your background as a competitor in the former Surfing Airshow Series …
I’m ecstatic. Obviously I’m pretty passionate about this format of surfing and have been for a long time. I’ve been trying to bring this back into surfing. For it to finally come into fruition is pretty exciting.
Is this something you would’ve liked if you were still on Tour?
Definitely. I mean if the air show continued to develop, I would’ve never gone to the World Tour. I would’ve stayed doing airs on the air shows.
How did this all come about?
I’ve always said, "Bring back the air shows." Then it got to a point where, about 2 or 3 years ago, I was just like, "How is there no format for where this generation of surfing is going?" Obviously there are some amazing airs going down on the 'CT, but there was no format that allowed for high impact, high action surfing.
Surfing was kind of not being relevant to other action sports like skateboarding and snowboarding anymore. More than anything I wanted to bring that high action event style format back to life. Obviously I wanted to see it on the highest platform of surfing and that’s the WSL. That’s what kind of killed the airshows back in the day – they didn’t have the 'CT surfers and the big names involved.
That seems like the secret ingredient – to get the best guys involved to build a solid fan base.
Right. Some of the best aerialists in the world are on the ‘CT right now. Then there are some amazing aerialists whose passion is not to be on the 'CT. Even I grew up without that kind of passion. Hopefully moving forward we will be able to have a different platform where guys who are more into progressing the sport and not doing the three-turns-the-beachz-have an outlet to do that.
One of the biggest critiques about the ‘CT is that they’re rewarding safe and strategic surfing rather than just rewarding guys who push the sport to new heights – do you think this will give guys the chance to push the sport?
Absolutely. You go to every beachbreak in the world and there are kids trying airs. Now there will be an outlet for them to keep doing that instead of just holding themselves back to become a pro surfer and focusing on strategic heat strategy. Now they can take off on heaps of waves and try a bunch of airs and keep that mind frame.
What made you want to direct the show instead of being in it yourself? You’re arguably still one of the leading air guys.
This is more about bringing some legacy for the sport and I’d rather give the future generation the chance to have the outlet that I had growing up. That’s where my passion lies. Obviously I still love getting out there and doing airs – and I’d love to be out there mixing it up with the boys, but I’m more excited about giving up my spot to give another kid the chance to have a go at it.
Why was France chosen as a venue instead of a wave pool?
In wave pools there are no variables, you know what I mean? It’s a very controlled area, you kind of know the section is coming. Which is cool, you’re going to see some great airs, but you’re going to see surfers going off the same section. The ocean provides all sorts of different sections and you never really know what’s going to happen. That unknown is why we're all surfers and we wanted to keep it in that style format. Also, we wanted to have multiple surfers in the water at one time, taking off on a lot of waves.
How do you pick who’s going to be in it?
Right now it’s a mix of the big names. I’m going to try and break down the formula of who's invited, but I’m also going to open up a couple wildcard spots through a social media contest that I’ll be judging with a couple other guys to give everyone the chance to compete. I’ve chosen a few guaranteed guys but I’m sure it’ll be really hard to narrow down the field to 18 surfers. It’s a pretty small field for how much talent there is in the world right now.
Is the WSL worried that Filipe or Gabe or somebody will break an ankle during an event like this and possibly risk a title?
I mean, that’ll be on them. Those guys are out there filming video sections between the events anyway. If they aren't comfortable at that point in time and are in the title race, then they might not end up surfing. But I know after speaking to them, they’re really excited.
How will the format look? Will it be similar to a ‘CT event?
There will be more than two people in the water at one time and more structured for guys to just go big. That’s what it’s going to be about. It’s not going to be about landing two airs every heat to make the next round or anything like that. Guys will be going against the whole round and everyone will surf a couple of times. Now that I’m off the 'CT and just a fan of the sport, I do realize that each event kind of goes on for a long time. Now it’ll be about doing an event within a half a day. Running a full event in half a day from start to finish will result in a lot of action, which will be epic.
So it’ll incentivize guys to go their biggest.
Oh yeah, safe airs will not get you through a heat [laughs.] It’ll be all about going for it.
Airs are obviously super technical and sometimes difficult to analyze if you're not really familiar with complex above-the-lip maneuvers. Will the same ‘CT judges also judge this event?
No, we’ll have a pretty awesome judging panel. I’m still trying to confirm who will be on it, but there will be a couple more guys who are really well-versed in this field.
I’ve heard that a year-long, full-blown Air Show Tour is in the works – is that true?
Nothing can be confirmed right now but obviously I’d love to see it head in that direction.
Are you picking the two 'CT guys who will surf with Albee Layer and Chippa Wilson during the exhibition at the Surf Ranch?
Yea I will be. Obviously I’ve got a pretty amazing group of talent to pick from on the ‘CT. It looks like Mikey Wright is actually confirmed for that so we’ll have at least Chippa, Albee and Mikey and the plan is to hopefully have one more ‘CT guy. I wish I could get 10 of them in the water [laughs.] Personally, I’d like to see 4 people take off on each wave and watch 4 different airs go down – the wave is so long you can totally do that.
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