John Florence Teaches Us How To Do A Backflip On A Surfboard

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John Florence Teaches Us How To Do A Backflip On A Surfboard

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elsewhere // Jul 21, 2021
Words by Jack Mutschler
Reading Time: 4 minutes

John John Florence is no stranger to a backflip.

His ability to spot a viable section and commit to a rotation has allowed him to ride away clean from the inverted maneuver more than once. Despite being a top-tier aerialist and an admirable competitor, John John Florence has never landed a flip in competition. 

During a recent Olympic Promo piece with ESPN, John listed the backflip as his sought-after air to pull off in a contest. He walked us through the trick’s proper technique alongside an interactive graphic. Check out John’s explanation below, as well as my lovely experience with the instruction manual:


ESPN/JJF: Florence first landed a backflip in western Australia six years ago and believes the takeoff is key. Nail the “pop” off the wave, commit to the off-axis flip, and the rest of the trick falls into place. Here are the six most important steps, in Florence’s words.

Me (basically a high functioning intern): I’ve never been to West Oz, as the raw power of the Indian Ocean would decimate my tiny feminine frame. I did a double-grab backflip on a skimboard one time. It was sick.


“I position myself on the wave to give me the most speed. We want to do our maneuvers on the part [of the wave] that’s not breaking, the clear water, not the white, foamy water.”

“I head toward the section and adjust my speed, so I hit the ramp at the right time, which is more of a feeling than anything. You want to get a pop out of your surfboard, so you aim for the edge of where the wave is breaking.”

I lost my balance on the bottom turn. Instead of waiting patiently and correcting the bump, I immediately set course for the tallest part of the wave, arms gracefully flailing in front of one another. Sorry if this wasn’t the proper angle of approach. I left my protractor in my other spring suit. (Did I mention I have two spring suits? Yeah, two.)


“Once you feel the pop, you immediately grab your board with both hands as you look back behind your left shoulder and initiate the spin. You are spinning and flipping at the same time. Especially in smaller waves, a backflip is about commitment. When it happens right, you know right away.”

I smash into an already broken lip with brute force. My board shoots out from under me in the same fashion that Jeff Bezos’ phallus rocket exited the Troposphere. My body is indeed rotating backward in a flipping motion, but I have lost control. As my head skims the surface of the water, I recall the shallow depth of the water beneath me.


“What stands out is the ease with which he does it. When I see John do airs, even if I haven’t done them—and I’ve never done a backflip—I can feel the mechanics in my body.”

KELLY SLATER / 11-time world champion

“Such a waste of a good section, what a jack-ass.”

CRAIG / Random guy I “yewww’d” at for attempting to shoulder hop on that very same wave.


“As soon as you get the flip around, you let go with your hands, which stops the spin and the flip. If you continue to hold on to the board, you’ll keep flipping. As soon as I let go, I extend my body to slow down the flip for the landing.”

Fuck, I haven’t landed yet? I think both of my quads are cramping. I wonder if anyone has a watch on right now. Hate to be that guy asking for the time but also don’t want to be late for work. As an esteemed vomiter of internet words, my spiritual foundation thrives on structure, organization, and punctuality.


“I look down at my board and see where on the wave I am going to land. The backflip is an amazing trick because if you get the right projection off the wave, it’s easy to land because you see your landing clearly and know where and when to let go.”

The sand on the west coast tastes different. It’s more a texture thing, really. The individual grains are bigger. Also, I’m not tongue punching any shards of glass from Coors Light bottles, which is new for a Floridian like myself. This hold-down is a bit more serious, though. Am I really going to drown right now? Surfline said it was only 3-4ft today. That’s so embarrassing. I’m going to be the guy who died surfing chest high waves at Oceanside Harbor.


“A lot of what happens next has to do with the wave. The best-case scenario is it’s breaking when you land, and you land soft and with speed. The goal is to ride out of the trick with speed to set yourself up for another maneuver.”

I bet I look sick bodyboarding this white water right now back to the beach; those girls are totally checking me out. Are they taller than me? It’s hard to tell because they’re lying down, but I think they’re taller than me. I wonder if they saw my backflip attempt, I should tell them that I do much better rotations on my skimboard.

“You know you’re going to get a big score if you land a backflip in a contest, probably a perfect score. To land one in Tokyo, that would be a dream.”


I don’t have dreams anymore, just nightmares. The Wim Hof breathing method has done nothing to suppress my anxiety. My neck hurts, just part of being an air guy, I guess.



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