Josh Kerr is standing on his second story deck in Carlsbad, CA, squinting out at the afternoon ocean. "You can actually see the waves breaking from up on the roof," he says. "But, unfortunately, the neighborhood won't let us build a deck up there."
Below us, we survey the toys spilling out of his garage: Motorized beach cruisers, dirtbikes, a dune buggy, skateboards, and, of course, too many surfboards to count. There's an RV parked out front and his wife and two kids are inside the house, unpacking after a three day camping trip just up the coast.
We're here to discuss the Red Bull Airborne France, a revamped iteration of the 90's airshows that first made Kerr famous, long before his Championship Tour and Big Wave Tour success. Now retired (from CT competition, at least) Kerr helped brainstorm the Airborne concept and together with the WSL they've made it a reality.
"Not every kid grew up ready to get coached and to travel the world and endure week long waiting periods," Kerr tells us. "So, to give them this creative platform to gravitate towards at a young age, I think it's gonna help progress our sport and help open up a lot of kids' minds."
The World Surf League: Early in your career, who-or what-inspired you to take the airshow path, versus jumping straight on the QS?
Josh Kerr: Growing up I was really into the whole action sports world: freestyle motocross, snowboarding, and skateboarding, because it had attitude. And then I started seeing video of the airshows in America, with Christian Fletcher and Ratboy [Jason Collins], and they were just punk rock and edgy, and were only concentrating on big punts. To me, that was it. That was the highest form of surfing. I didn't have a real interest in flow or lines, or linking moves together. I just wanted to do the biggest thing I could do on a wave. That's all I pushed my concentration towards, and that's how it all fell into place with me and the airshows. I won an airshow world championship when I was 17, and I still think that's my most cherished accomplishment.
Alongside the actual performances in the airshows, it sounds like you were also attracted to the personalities on that tour.
Yeah, the guys on that tour were a part of the "I don't give a f-k movement." I definitely gravitated towards that punk-rock thing at the time because it was kinda where I was going with my life in my teenage years. And it was also just so fun to watch.
Things have come full-circle now, and you're stepping into the role of event director for the Airborne, as well as being a key creator of the concept. How did it all come to be?
I've been wondering for the past five years why there hasn't been a specific air tour, because the talent level these days is just so insane. Obviously you've seen crazy moments happening on the CT, and crazy things going on in freesurfing clips, but there's been no platform for people to express themselves in that style of surfing on a world stage in a contest.
So I felt like, these highlight moments happen on the CT but they can be few and far between, so my passion moved towards, "OK, it's time to bring this [airshows] back." I felt like it had to be on the WSL platform to be able to utilize the CT athletes, along with some of the best freesurfers, all in one space. So I pitched it that way [to the WSL], and they agreed [laughs].
It feels amazing. The youth of today - to have to go from the junior tour to the QS at such a young age - it's tough. I'm excited to bring back this different platform. Not every kid grew up ready to get coached and to travel the world and endure weeklong waiting periods. To give them this creative platform to gravitate towards at a young age, I think it's gonna help progress our sport and help open up a lot of kids' minds.
Some of the best freesurfers are also the best aerialists, whose careers are more about expression and personality than points. How will this Airborne series highlight the best of both worlds?
It'll bring everything together. Obviously there are amazing talents on the CT that almost have to scale things back to compete sometimes, whereas this will encourage them to go out and just go for it. And then we'll bring along some of the talent in the freesurf world that doesn't have the desire to grind it out on the QS, because they'd rather chase air sections around the world. With Airborne, we're bringing them all into one place together to enjoy a rad freesurf style format, which will hopefully turn into a feeding frenzy.
What's the biggest challenge in combining the non-conformity of aerial freesurfing with a live competition format?
The ocean will play a part in every competition, obviously. But then again, the unpredictability of the ocean can offer up something so magical, especially when someone has their mind ready to go really big, and prove something to themselves or the world on a live platform. I feel like we're gonna see some of the most amazing airs in history.
You see it sometimes on the CT, where last minute, guys just throw Hail Marys. Now, we're giving people a heat or two where Hail Marys are all that counts.
It'll be nice to see a mix of CT and non-CT surfers compete together.
You don't get to see those names line up in the same heat, ever. So, to be able to see the world's best, together with the world's best from the freesurf world, it's gonna be epic. I'm really excited to see it go down and see what comes of it. Even just watching them hang out, feeling the vibes, seeing those personalities connect, it's gonna be fun.
The world can't wait for Filipe Toledo versus Chippa Wilson.
Exactly. Seeing those coveted freesurf guys, the ones we're all begging for their next clip to come out, in a live experience up against the world's best that we see all the time, all mixing together, it's gonna be rad.
The talent level is insane. It's a completely different realm from when I was doing the airshows 15 years ago. I have zero desire to paddle out in a heat against those guys and try to throw airs against them [laughs].
It'll be fun to have crossover athletes, too. Kalani David is gonna do the Airborne event in France, and I think in the future, we're gonna see a lot more of that, once this thing progresses. It'll be really cool down the road to see guys who are amazing skaters bring that out in their surfing and have a platform to perform it live. Like Eric Geiselman, with his skate background, he's also gonna be really sick to watch in France.
Do you think the non-surfer will relate to an air tour? Much the way a non-snowboarder or non-skateboarder is compelled by big moves in the X Games or Olympics?
I think it'll be a great draw to the general public, because they're all gonna appreciate when someone is flying above the lip of the wave. Also, it should help bring surfing back into that action sports conversation with snowboarding and skateboarding again.
I think guys are gonna start working on different kinds of airs to bring to the table during these live events. And like I said, magic can happen when you're pushing yourself physically and mentally in a live event.
The Red Bull Airborne France will take place during the Quiksilver and Roxy Pro France from October 5-10. Two remaining spots for the Red Bull Airborne France will be determined via an online submission site at wslairborne.com.