The Red Bull Airborne France is the first WSL air contest of the modern air era. We'll see Championship Tour standouts matched up against freesurf stars with little-known air specialists and eclectic characters thrown in for good measure.
It's one hell of a cast of characters coming together to compete in a leaderboard style format. Six man heats. Four hours in total. Best air wins.
We wanted to hear two different perspectives on the event, so we rang up CT rookie Yago Dora and freesurf standout Chippa Wilson to ask them a few questions about the first event of its kind.
World Surf League: First of all, Chippa: When was the last time you competed?
Chippa: [long pause] Ummm, I have no idea. It's been a long time [laughs]. I've surfed a few heats at home for the local boardriders, but an actual event? It's been years. I can't even remember.
What are you guys most looking forward to about this Airborne France?
Yago: The level of surfing. Everyone has a really big variety of airs these days, and I think this event is only gonna push the evolution of surfing. Everyone is gonna go huge on every air. They're not just gonna try to make simple airs to make a heat.
Chippa: The waves, hopefully. I'm looking forward to surfing some punchy beachies with that onshore wind that picks up midday in France. Other than that, just being around a whole new scene that I'm not really apart of, ever. That should be interesting.
Would you say CT guys have any advantage considering their competitive experience? Or do you think the leaderboard format sort of evens the playing field?
Yago: I think CT guys are at an advantage. We're more used to performing in a shorter period of time. So I think we're more ready to make things happen in less time [laughs].
Chippa: We'll see. I just hope there's no hassling, or any of that shit. That will throw the whole vibe off instantly for me [laughs]. But it will be interesting to see if the guys who have it [competing] embedded in their heads, if they can kind of let some of that go.
We got a glimpse of how the leaderboard style format can work at the Surf Ranch. How'd you guys like it?
Chippa: It was sick. And in France, it's six people in the water at a time, with the comp finishing in four hours. So it'll happen really quick. I just hope there's plenty of waves, plenty of opportunity for everyone to go really big.
Yago: I thought it was cool. I liked it. A lot of the times [in a CT] you're surfing good, you're maybe one of the best that day, but you come up against the guy that's the one to beat, and you lose. But if you weren't against him early you would've made the final.
With this format, it helps the actual best surfers of the event make the final. And for airs, it's even more fair. We don't need the waves to be perfect. Especially in just a few hours, there's always gonna be ramps.
This is the most diverse group of surfers that have ever been brought together for a WSL event. Who are some of the surfers you guys are looking forward to competing against?
Yago: Everyone, really. I just met Hector Santamaria a few weeks ago in California and I'm really excited to watch him in competition. He's a funny guy. And he just does whatever's in his head when he's surfing. I think that's the most interesting part: Getting guys from the CT, and getting guys like Hector, together, in the same event.
Chippa: I saw a couple of wildcards that I hadn't seen too much of on instagram recently, and some of the airs they were doing were mental. I feel like everyone is gonna go nuts. I'm just excited to be there, to see what goes down. It should be a good environment.
Josh Kerr was saying he thinks the combo of a competitive format and the pressure to perform is gonna result in some of the biggest airs we've ever seen. Is that what you hope to see out of this?
Chippa: Yeah, 100 percent. With the way the format and judging is structured it's gonna make people go big, because that's all that matters. Two little air reverses isn't gonna cut it.
Yago: Definitely. Everyone is gonna try the biggest air of the day. I love when there are other guys trying huge airs when I'm surfing, it makes me want to go bigger and bigger. It's gonna make people do crazy shit [laughs].
Do you think this event, being the first of its kind in the modern air era, will be a challenge for the judges, scoring super technical airs versus big punts?
Yago: It's tricky, cause it's really personal preference. Some people like a big straight air more than a really technical air. So I guess they have to take all that into consideration.
Chippa: That's what I'm a little worried about. But it's in good hands. Kerr is solid, and he'll point the judges in the right direction. When it comes to airs, they're pretty easy to break down. I think it's easier than trying to judge eight turns on one wave versus eight turns on another.
There's this notion that freesurfers can't perform under pressure. Do you think this event can help put that to bed?
Chippa: I guess so, yeah [laughs]. I don't really look into that stuff, or really care. Any good freesurfer can land as many airs as they want under pressure. It's the same pressure as when you're filming for a part and you want to nail a trick. No matter what you're still tripping out. I put as much pressure on myself to film a clip as I would if I were to compete.
Yago: There's this idea that those guys don't have a big make ratio, but they do. If they get two tries at two good ramps, they're gonna land something, for sure. That's what they do. Those guys are all really good in the air. So people will see that in this event for sure.
Yago, do you have any concern with surfing in an event like this alongside a CT, where you might be more prone to injury?
Yago: No. I'm just gonna approach it like if I was freesurfing. I love doing airs, and I can't really hold myself back when I see a good ramp anyway.
Will you guys go into the event with certain airs in mind?
Chippa: It depends on the conditions. Mostly the wind. That's the biggest thing. And Hossegor has insane left wind in the afternoons so that should be really cool.
Yago: Yeah, its all about the conditions. I gotta see the waves first. But I usually just decide once I'm on my feet [laughs].
What do you think about crowning a World Champion on an air tour? Is that something you'd be excited about pursuing?
Yago: Definitely. This is gonna push the level of our sport. You see snowboarding and skateboarding on halfpipe, they only do big airs. I think surfing should have that too. It's totally different from the CT. It's another thing that surfing needs to have.
Chippa: For me personally, I'm not sure. But there are so many kids that are insane at airs, so it'll be radical to see an eventual qualifying series and a world tour for progressive surfing. Not saying the current CT isn't, but this is just a different approach. I feel like it'll push the sport.
I just really like making video pieces and working with creative people, so I'm 50/50 on how much I'll pursue it. We'll see. I'm really hyped on this first one in France. I think it'll be really exciting.