Stab Magazine | Just In: Surfing ≠ Skateboarding

Just In: Surfing ≠ Skateboarding

Tony Hawk, Todd Richards, Kelly Slater, and Mike McGill take on the foundations of surf terminology. 

news // Jul 27, 2018
Words by stab
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Remember the controversy which surrounded Albee Layer’s additional-oop back in May? 

The arguments mostly revolved around the number of degrees of rotation and therefore what to call the maneuver.

A double-oop? An Albee-oop? An alley-oop 360? And mathematics notwithstanding, an alley-oop 540? 

As you can see above, Albee hits the lip, spins 180 degrees for a standard ‘oop and then continues another half rotation to face the same direction in which he left the wave face – a 360 degree rotation. Albee then reverts out in the same direction and continues on his merry way to claim while facing the shore. 

There was never a final decision reached, but it was never as contentious as Chris Cote calling an air-reverse a 540, and even he agreed Albee’s air was an ‘alley-oop 360’. 

Degrees of rotation aside, the last thing any surfer was concerned about was whether Albee’s air should be labelled frontside or backside. Albee’s a natural footer, and when natural footers go right, they’re surfing frontside – as any surfer who’s capable of putting their fins in correctly knows.

That was until Todd Richards, an ex-professional snowboarder, hopped in on the issue, as the New York Times reported.

Not only does Todd not believe the rotation is a 360, he believes that it’s backside rotation. 

That’s right. Backside!  

Calling a frontside air ‘backside’ is one thing, saving Tony Hawk’s name in your phone as just ‘Tony’ is another. 

You see, Tony Hawk did this exact air on quarter pipe back in ’92, which was labelled a ‘backside alley-oop 540’ by Hawk himself at the time. I’m no skateboarder, and therefore won’t argue with their geometric understanding, but just like Albee, Hawk rotates 360 degrees and lands back on the ramp facing the same direction. 

So how can the two analogous airs be called two different things? Todd Richards argues they shouldn’t be. 

Chris Strople, a skateboarder, landed the first alley-oop on either water or land back in ’79, as Tony Hawk pointed out. 

“That’s right when I started skating, so I knew exactly, like, who created the alley-oop and where they did it, and I remember the sequence, you know, like it’s seared into my memory,” Tony recalled to the Times. And that’s not where surfing’s dues other sport’s innovation ends; just about every aerial landed in surfing owes its inspiration to something already achieved in either skating or snowboarding. 

To further support his redefining of frontside and backside airs in surfing, Todd Richards called upon Mike McGill, a former professional skateboarder, to voice his opinions on the issue. Unsurprisingly, McGill also referred to the rotation as being “backside”, deeming all alley-oops in surfing as being backside.

Thankfully, the GOAT, Kelly Slater stepped in with a surf purist’s voice of reason.

“It’s frontside no matter how you make it. He’s facing the wave,” Kelly said in response to snowboarding filmmaker, Pierre Wikberg on Instagram. Wikberg returned fire: “Kelly Slater is the most famous surfer in the world, and for him to be pushing the ‘wrong’ names for tricks deserves to be called out.”

Todd Richards and the rest’s argument is based on the way that both skateboarders and snowboarders define their tricks; arguing the fact that both snowboarders and skateboarders landed these moves well before any surfer means surfers should maintain the same name in their sport. While there’s no doubting that the moves appear almost identical from a rotations perspective, they’re failing to note how monumentally different the two platforms – ocean and land – are. 

“In surfing, you are going in one direction, forehand or backhand. Manoeuvres are strictly named so on a wave. Skaters and snowboarders can hit nearly any surface forehand or backhand, natural stance or switch, and so it’s defined differently in my opinion” Kelly told the New York Times, “The cultures are different and surfers might not know what skaters have called something or maybe each sport wants ownership on some level of their respective manoeuvres. Also, in surfing, something we all agree is done on the forehand can be regarded as a backhand manoeuvre in skate or snow because they have a stagnant surface.”

This is a clear difference which Todd Richards recognises, claiming that “surfers use frontside or backside to describe their body’s orientation to the wave, but in air tricks, it is in relation to the spin, and in an alley-oop, the orientation and the spin direction are in opposite directions.”

But then Todd lost us: “Surfers are going to look ridiculous calling something that has been done in a different sport by a different name,” Richards said. “It is about paying respect to the people who came first and pioneered the tricks. They killed themselves to put their names on tricks.” 

Skateboarding may have originated from surfing, and the crossover between airs in skateboarding, snowboarding and surfing are nearly indistinguisbale, but we’re just going to have to face it that similar moves are going to be called different things between different sports.

Just like Ashton calls a ‘six’ a ‘nine’, and I call a ‘sandal’ a ‘thong’ – sometimes it’s okay to be different.  

No one’s saying that skateboarders and snowboarders should change their names to reflect surfing’s admittedly ambiguous terminology; all surfers are saying is that we won’t be redefining one of the most fundamental aspects in surfing, frontside and backside, over a few very impressive, but rarely stomped aerials. 

Oh, and for the record, he spins 360 degrees, not 540.  


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