Stab Magazine | Nathan Florence On His Quest To Be An "Air Guy" In 2019
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Nathan Florence On His Quest To Be An “Air Guy” In 2019

“I’ve landed more airs in the past month than I have in the rest of my life combined.”

news // Feb 1, 2019
Words by stab
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Nathan Florence can’t do airs. Or at least, he couldn’t. 

Up until this past month, the 24-year-old big wave/barrel savant was a dodo. Despite incredible success at navigating the ocean’s angriest caverns, Nate had only landed a handful of punts, none of which he was particularly proud of. 

But starting January 1, Nathan made a promise to himself: he would become an air guy in 2019. Learning to soar at such an advanced stage is no easy task though, regardless of talent. If Nate wanted to succeed, he’d have to apply the same energy and focus to airs that made him one of the most talked about big-wavers of 2018, particularly in our Stab Surfer Of The Year poll.

This meant training and practice – tons of it. 

Over the last 30 days, between Pipe swells, Nate has been hucking himself off every ramp in sight, often putting in two or three sessions a day with the sole intent of sticking a proper rotation.

The results have been staggering.

Several small(ish) full rotations have been stuck and a a few proper ones have been inches from completion. Nate is getting better by the day, with no end in sight. We got him on the phone to hear more about his progress, and to see just how seriously he’s taking these flight classes.

Stab: You mastered the art of barrel-riding last year, so now you’re onto airs?
Nate Florence: That’s the plan! I wanna put out an edit at the end of the year with legit enough airs to justify a clip. So we’ll see how it goes. We’re only a month in.

Well I’d say it’s going pretty well. You’ve posted two sessions on IG and you’ve already stomped a couple backside full-rotations. In yesterday’s clip you almost stuck a proper crazy one…
Ahhh, that one would have been so sick! I was so bummed I fell. But I’m all in on this. I’ve been studying these air edits – mainly Harry Bryant in Orb, plus Albee and Matt, Noa Deane my brother, and Chippa – and trying to figure out the technique. I’ve been watching how they turn their heads and spot landings and all that.

Have you gotten any tips from the experts, or has it been a self-learning process?
John has given me a couple tips, but he has trouble teaching it because he learned so young and he’s so good at it, ya know? He’s like, “Pump down the line and hit that section,” and I’m like, “No, I try to do that, I’ve been doing that for years and it hasn’t worked,” [laughs].

I remember you saying a while back that you’d never even landed an air reverse. Were you actually not landing any airs for like 20 years?
Yeah, exactly. I remember when John was like 13 or 14 he was putting hours and hours into learning them. Meanwhile I was at the sandbar seeing how hard I could go over the falls. That’s what I thought was fun. I thought doing airs was lame, so I never really learned. When I got a little older I started watching guys like [Filipe] Toledo and Italo [Ferreira], seeing the way they surf and how much control they have over their board, and I was like, “Damn, that looks really fun. I wish I had started younger.” Because I think now that I’m fully grown, it’s really hard to learn. But this year I stopped making excuses and decided I would try as hard as I can to figure out airs. And it’s kinda working. I’ve landed more airs in the last month than I’ve ever landed in my life. 

Having tried and failed at airs my whole life, it’s incredibly fucking impressive how quickly you’ve improved. You’re doing full-rotations! Speaking of which, the winds are predominantly into the lefts in Hawaii which is why we’ve seen mostly backside spins in your clips, but have you had any chances to practice your frontside punts?
Yeah, we had two or three days of winds coming into the rights, and we got a couple practice sessions in. I landed one small frontside full rotation that I was pretty stoked on, but I didn’t end up getting a clip of it, so I just need more time with those winds.

Are you gonna travel to places like, say, West Oz, to practice frontside airs?
Oh I’d love to. It looks like the funnest place ever. Especially now that I have sessions specifically aimed at that, whereas before I never really cared to, West Oz would make a lot of sense.

The IG videos that you’ve made around your big wave pursuit are delivered in this really comical, satirical manner, but at the same time we see how hard you’re training and how seriously you take it. Would you say this “Air Guy 2019” thing is the same? Is this a genuine pursuit to improve your surfing, or just something fun to pass the time on small, windy days?
One-hundred percent it’s to become a better surfer. I come in from sessions pissed-off when I don’t land anything. Just eggy for the rest of the day. But at the same time I find the whole mission super funny, because I’m doing this at such a late stage – I’m 24 and I just started learning to do airs [laughs]. So I try to show that through my social media. 

Because you spent the last 20-odd years not really practicing airs, but also taking into account how quickly you’ve improved, do you think you can become a reasonably good aerialist if you keep at it?
Ahh, I’m not sure. I’m psyched to hit the big sections, but there’s a whole different set of reflexes – reflexes I don’t have. I’m only just now starting to get the landings. Like I could always land on my board, but my body wasn’t prepared for the impact, so I’d fall off every time. I’m having to learn new reflexes just for that alone, which is hilariously difficult. So it’s hard to tell how good I can actually get at airs. I’m learning pretty quick, but I haven’t stomped anything huge. Everything I’ve landed so far I’m not really psyched on. I wanna land a big one. But who knows if I even have the reflexes for it.

One last thing… I’m not sure if you saw this, but Ryan Miller (the infamous speedo-wearing World Tour photographer) was one of the voters in our Stab Surfer of the Year poll, and he said, about Nate Florence, “This guy gives me a hard-on in every facet – training, humor, mayonnaise, big waves and barrels. If he didn’t suck so bad at performance surfing I would put him at the top of the list.” I’m wondering if that gave you any inspiration to start on this aerial crusade.
Yeah he texted me that! I was like, “Thanks, you dickhead,” [laughs]. I’m all for honest criticism though. Maybe he had something to do with it…

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