The best—or craziest, or most crowded, or whatever adjective you choose—week of the year at Huntington has ended, and Julian Wilson walks away with the most prestigious contest win of his young career. There were lots of memorable moments from this year’s comp—anyone see Dane Reynolds’s backside tail-waft snap-things?—but what I might remember most was that this contest was defined by a single move: the air reverse.
I briefly started watching the heats on demand to count how many air reverses were attempted in the pro men’s division throughout the contest, but it just seemed too daunting. So I’m going to make the claim that this year’s U.S. open featured more air-reverse attempts than any previous pro men’s contest. If you want to try to prove me wrong by watching a few hours of heats on demand, go for it. But either way, anyone watching this year’s U.S. Open saw an enormous number of air reverses. As Kelly Slater said from the guest commentator’s tower, “Everyone’s sticking air reverses. It’s literally the new drop in. It’s almost like nothing.”
Let’s back up for a second. Even pro surfers and pro-surfing commentators can get a little loose on their terminology sometimes, but for our purposes here an air reverse is that it’s when a surfer and his board leave the water completely and rotates his tail in the direction they’re moving down the wave and land with their fins forward. If that’s confusing, check out the first four tricks on the U.S. Open highlights video. Those are frontside air reverses, and good ones too. Backside air reverses are the same thing but—you guessed it—when a surfer’s going backside. A lot of times you’ll see surfers continue to spin after they land so that they’re again facing forward, but don’t be fooled—it’s still an air reverse. If the full spin is done in the air, it’s a full-rotation, like this, and it’s generally awesome.
Okay. So now that we’re all brushed up on our terminology: why were there so many air reverses at this year’s U.S. Open? Well, the air-reverse is a cool, crowd-pleasing move and—unlike big barrels or gouging turns—air reverses are one of the few cool, crowd-pleasing moves that can be done on two-to-three-foot onshore semi-closeout beachbreak, a la the Huntington Pier.
And, more importantly, this was a contest, and air reverses are one of the higher scoring moves a surfer can do on a closeout. Some of the heats didn’t offer too many open-faced waves, which means that the surfers either had to settle for low scores or make something happen on a bad wave—and usually that something was an air-reverse. All of the quarterfinal heats were won with the help of an air reverse. Without a reliable air game, you can’t get far in a tournament of less-than-perfect waves.
But an air-game alone didn’t win the contest. Julian Wilson—one of the best air-reversers out there—won his finals heat with traditional turns, four meaty backside snaps on two different waves. He won his quarterfinal against John John with one air reverse and one wave that was just smart competitive surfing—all he needed was a mid-range three, and instead of doing an air reverse he did a small no-rotation air. It was an air Julian would probably be embarrassed of in a free surf, but it got him the score he needed to edge out John John. Julian showed that he had the whole package: smart surfing, top-notch turns, and, yes, a solid air reverse.