While Josh Kerr is retired from Championship Tour competition, he's still working closely with the WSL, and was one of the key creators of the aerial expression session happening alongside next week's Surf Ranch Pro.
We caught up with Kerr about what we should expect during the world's first expression session in an artificial environment - the Surf Ranch Pro Air Exhibition - and also get his thoughts on how much aerial surfing will factor into winning the maiden CT event in Lemoore, CA.
The World Surf League: As it relates to the upcoming Surf Ranch Pro, how important is having a solid air game?
Josh Kerr: With a fixed platform like at The Surf Ranch, the guys who can finish off a wave with a huge air, where they've already gotten really barreled and done a few big turns out the back, that'll be the point of difference that will get them to the final or get them the win.
Whoever is on their game with their airs on that end section is probably gonna win the event. Filipe [Toledo], Italo [Ferreira], Jordy [Smith], Gabriel [Medina], and Yago [Dora] would be my picks.
Do you think it's possible to win the event without going above the lip?
I think it'll be really tough for someone to win without that point of difference. Aerials are a part of being the complete package, and I definitely think you'll need them to win.
I was watching the Founder's Cup live, and I was really impressed by how much better everyone got as the event wore on. We're gonna see that again.
The surfers who make the final day will have had a fair bit of time on the wave, and the more they get used to it the more we're gonna see them push themselves. It's gonna be interesting to see what Filipe does, that's for sure [laughs].
If you need a big score at The Ranch, you have a few minutes to prepare. You might have it in your head that you've gotta do an air to get the score, but you can't forget about the 40 seconds of wave before the section at the end.
So, it's a tough headspace to be in. You have to sit there and prepare and map out a routine from start to finish, and then block out all the noise and be on point the whole way.
In my opinion, there's no way you're gonna get a nine point plus score unless you throw something crazy. Guys will be throwing some Hail Mary airs, that's for sure.
How about on the women's side? Which ladies have an advantage in the air?
There's some impressive women aerialists. I've seen Lakey [Peterson] push it, Silvana [Lima] push it, Carissa [Moore], too ... those three are probably the top picks on the air side.
Oh, and Courtney [Conlogue] as well. She has a solid air game.
They'll all be throwing some stuff down, and as they get to the pointy end of the draw, a good air is a huge point of difference and a big leg up for the women that have an air in their back pockets.
Having surfed The Ranch a few times yourself, what's the learning curve like out there when it comes to trying airs?
The left is a little easier. That inside section isn't as fast and hollow as the right is, so I think it's a little easier to time, which is probably an advantage to someone like Yago or Medina on their forehand.
But, at the same time, we've seen guys land flips going backside, and that's definitely a big point of difference, if you can land one after going huge out the back.
That said, there's a couple different spots on the wave to do an air. Its just a big risk to do one straight off the bat when you only get a few opportunities. It'll be interesting to see how everyone approaches their waves in this event.
We've never seen a skate-style expression session in a controlled environment, what do you expect to see?
I'm looking forward to it. Throwing Albee [Layer] and Chippa [Wilson] together with the guys from the CT - to put them all in the water at the same time, for the first time, I think we're gonna see some stuff we've never seen from that wave, for sure.
It's gonna be really exciting to watch. I can't wait to see them feed off each other and see what they come up with out there in a live atmosphere, with the crowd hooting and all of the noise.
It'll be an epic little expression on Friday after the days competition and before Blink and all of that. I can't wait to watch. Chippa is bound to put up some highlights.
Watch the Surf Ranch Pro live daily September 6-9 on the WSL website and app, and on Facebook. For ticket information visit wslsurfranchpro.com.