Albee Layer Just Landed a Backside 540, And It Will Change Surfing Forever

Surfing's '900 moment' has finally come

Hawaiian Albee Layer has made surfing history by landing the first ever Backside 540. For the uninitiated, that’s one-and-a-half full rotations above the lip of the wave, with your back leading the rotation, as opposed to your chest, effectively making the landing blind.

It also required Layer to ride away down the face of the wave backwards which is not only counterintuitive, but also means fighting against how the board was designed to work. Imagine trying to write with your wrong hand, and the pencil turned upside down so you’re scrawling with the eraser, not the lead.

Of course, surfing being surfing, the first 180 degrees of the rotation don’t count, so what Layer did, in just about any other board sport, would be considered a backside 720. Hell, in snowboarding, it would probably be called it a backside 1080, including bottom turn as the first part of the rotation.

All of which makes Layer’s history-making NBD even more incredible. But if you’re still not sure, to put it into perspective, Brazilian enfant terrible Gabriel Medina landed a backside 360 – a full half turn less than Layers, and one in which he could spot the landing easier and ride away facing forwards – in a World Surf League competition in May this year. The back three was the only trick in the run, and it scored a perfect 10 from the watching WSL judges. Fluke? No. Medina also landed a backside 360 in October 2015, and also notched up a perfect 10 for it then as well.

Kelly Slater – a pro surfer you may have heard of – stuck a clean frontside 540 in free surfing after a competition back in October 2014 (see below), so spinning one-and-a-half times is not unprecedented. However, as has already been mentioned, Layer’s back five was effectively landed blind, upping the difficulty tenfold.

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So, it looks like Layer has got a certified comp’ winner in his trick bag, if only he can pull it out in competition. However, it looks like it’s no mean feat landing the back five, as Albee Layer explains.

But how did we get here? How did surfing go from that vision of folk in the 1950’s and 60’s standing on long boards, hanging ten, and cruising waves into shore like we’ve all seen a thousand times on Endless Summer, to dudes whipping around in the air, high above the crest of the wave?

Would you be shocked if we told you the first person to land a rotation in surfing was a gas fitter from Norwich who was on holiday in France who rented a board, paddled out, and stuck a frontside 360 purely by luck. Of course you would, because that’s absolute bollocks.

It was, of course, our cousins in Hawaii in the early 1970’s that are credited with being the first to not just get airborne, but to start rotating above the lip of the wave. It was something they started to add to their arsenal as they started attacking and slashing waves, as opposed to simply gliding on them like the rest of the surfing world was still doing at that time.

“Boards were shaped to be curved, thin weapons designed for full on aerial assault”

By 1973, Hawaiian Larry ‘The Rubberman’ Bertleman was smashing 360’s into the air, and changing the way people would see surfing forever. Within a few years came what were seen at the time as radical board design in the form of Stinger tailed boards, and with them, aggression on the waves ramped up. This continued to grow into the 1980’s, although surf purists still saw aerials as some unlikely combination of childish trick, and an offence the purity of surfing. These purists, were, to borrow a phrase from the leader of the free world, on the wrong side of history.

The 1990’s saw things pushed even further, with the shape of boards altering again – becoming curved, thin weapons designed for full on aerial assault. Thanks in part in the success of Kelly Slater, a hint of Baywatch, and a light dusting of Kelly Slater on Baywatch, surfing exploded. The world was watching, just in time to see Californian Timmy Curran land the worlds first 360 Alley-Oop – an airborne 360 where the surfer effectively rotates back into the direction of the wave.

As the decade went on, rotations in the air were not just the preserve of a select few, but a must-have move for any surfer who wanted to remain competitive on the pro circuit.

And today? The top level surfers have to be accomplished at just about every kind of riding. They have to excel equally well ridding the deepest of barrels, to spinning high in the air – and landing as cleanly as your grans best china. The likes of John John Florrence (so good they named him twice) and the aforementioned Medina are leading the way with incredible manoeuvres.

But it’s Albee Layer – a man who sounds like something you forgot from your geology exam- who’s just landed yet another game changer.

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