"Compared to skateboarding and snowboarding, where air is abundant, surfing is behind the times," says Ken Collins, 32, a professional rider in the surfing politburo of Santa Cruz, California. "A lot of older surfers don't like [aerials] because they can't do them, but no question, it's the direction the sport is heading." The explanation of an aerial is simple: Take your board up a wave with enough momentum to leave the surface of the water and then return to the wave surfing. The execution of an aerial is not so simple. "Nailing an aerial on the ocean is ten times harder than on pavement or in snow," says Collins. "The water's moving, your feet want to go over your head, and the wind wants to whip your board out from under you."
|WORK YOUR: Quads, calves, lower back, obliques, abs|
Difficulty aside, beach-party consensus is to learn to catch air or take a seat. Prerequisites: Strong intermediate skills, like top turns and roundhouse cutbacks, and the ability to hold your speed. Four- to six-foot, head-high waves are optimal, as are light, glassy winds—you don't want to lose the board beneath your feet. Look for waves that close out (beach breaks rather than point breaks) with clearly defined ramps you can ride like a kid at a skate park. Get as much speed as possible, approach the wave as if you were going to do a top turn, but instead hold your position, stay low, and continue upward.
"Draw the line and go off the ramp," says Collins. If you aim for the flats it'll help you land, correctly, on top of the wave, which is moving toward the beach. "Once you can really start sticking a basic air, you can learn 180 airs, 360 airs, the list goes on." Well, let's just shoot for the aerial.