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All Time – Greatest Backside Airs

The backside air is quite possibly the best trick in snowboarding’s increasingly complex lexicon. Ironically, it’s also one of the easiest to do; however there’s doing it, and there’s doing it well – anyone who’s gotten to grips with turning and popping an ollie will have no problem jumping, slapping the hand on the heel edge, and pulling their legs up, but to do it at speed, with height and get that timeless contortion of body positioning just right… it’s a thing of beauty.

Because we love a good tweaked, backside-grabbed aerial perhaps more than is strictly healthy, we also included a couple of excellent examples of straight jump Methods. Though technically you could argue that they’re not backside airs as there’s no backside wall or rotation, they’re sick, memorable moments of snowboarding wrapped up in a similar, aesthetically arousing body movement. Plus we’re always hearing how people would ‘rather see a big Method’ than the progressive pentacorking, so forgive us for taking a liberty and going all in.

Some of these were included due to being defining as moments themselves; others for the people who have done them and the impact they’ve had on snowboarding. Whichever way you cut it, backside airs are all time and here are some of the greatest to grace snowboarding’s history…

Terry Kidwell

The birth of freestyle snowboarding occurred in a ditch in Tahoe when Terry Kidwell and a few of the local boys (including a mini-shred Shaun Palmer) dug out a transition in a snow-covered rubbish dump and started doing skate tricks there in the mid-80s. The hit was backside for the goofy-footed Kidwell and before long he’d perfected what – even today – is a well-defined Method air.

Everything that follows is traceable back to here. Inspired by Kidwell and his amigos, freestyle snowboarding – and the backside air – caught the minds of kids from Cali and beyond and it wasn’t long before the trick was honed, individualised and even immortalised by the riders or in the instances you’ll see below.

If you like a bit of snowboard nerd history, the We Ride documentary from a few years back charts the story pretty well.

Shawn Farmer – Mt Baker Road Gap – 1990

The Baker Gap is the stuff of legend. Over the years it’s been sessioned by countless riders putting their own spins above this strip of tarmac in the Pacific Northwest, but the first dude to clear it on film – thus opening the doors for the rest to come – was notorious hellman Shawn Farmer.

While it might not have been the first road gap – or even the first Baker Gap – to be landed, it was certainly huge for the time and the first we remember appearing in a major snowboard film. The fact that was in Standard Films’ Totally Board meant it was poured over by snowboarders around the world, inspiring the countless other Baker Gap hits to follow. That this Method was, in classic Farmer style, pulled this shirtless made it stand out all the more.

Craig Kelly

Craig Kelly helped to shape what the Method has become in snowboarding today. Photo: Jon Foster

One of the, if not THE, most influential riders of his generation – or any other for that matter – Craig Kelly was unstoppable in the pipe for several years before he quit and took his skills into the backcountry. As a multiple world champ his technical skills were unquestionably on point, but moreover he had a clean, soulful style that was only amplified when he trained his focus on the backcountry – including a beaut of a backside air.

Tragically it would be in the BC where Craig would lose his life in an avalanche in 2003, but the riders he inspired – from his career path to his effortless style – are legion. Everytime you see Nico Müller or Terje kick the back leg out, you can be sure that Craig Kelly is their copilot.

Jamie Lynn

Ed Leigh once made a compelling argument that Jamie Lynn has the greatest Method of all time. Considering all of the most iconic versions of this trick, there’s no denying Lynn’s place in the debate – the übertweakage of Lynn’s version has seared itself in the minds of riders since he broke onto the scene in movies like TB2 and The Garden – and he’s still charging hard to this day. But the best Method ever? That’s for you to argue over with a post-shred bevvie.

To illustrate his point, Ed used this natty windlip version from TB6 as an example. “Realising that he’s got more time than he originally thought, Jamie takes things slow. he extends his back leg and then sits there holding the grab. As he passes the apex, his leg looks as if it’s being retracted in preparation for landing. Instead it is slowly pushed back out passed the precious tweak, his free arm bent round in classic palm air style. Then, as your jaw is dropping, he neatly packs it all away, touchesdown and sets off down the rest of this huge Alaskan face. Methods just don’t get any better than this.”

Terje Haakonsen

Terje Håkonsen. Photo: Sami Tuoriniemi

With a career spanning almost three decades, it’s safe to say that Terje Haakonsen has put his Sprocking Cat paws down on more epic backside airs than anyone else. Even back when he broke onto the scene in the late-80s he was famed for going bigger than most, with a penchant for tweaking that naturally made his Methods look all time. By the time Subjekt Haakonsen came out, he’d already begun to transition away from riding the pipes in which he’d built his reputation, but it’s worth re-watching to see how frickin HUGE he went in the small pipes of the mid-90s. Of course, Subjekt was when he began pioneering natural terrain freestyle, and as a result there are some equally epic backcountry Methods in this – the front 7 to ragdoll to Method combo being particularly memorable.

Then came the Arctic Challenge with its superpipe (and, later, gigantic quarterpipe) and more huge, tweaked out backside airs blasted into the beyond followed. The only slight downside is that he doesn’t hold the highest quarterpipe air record with one of them… but we guess over-rotating one and landing a 9.8m back 3 isn’t too shabby either. And he’s still at it to this day, more than holding his own with the current crop of riders’ efforts as is evident whenever he poaches the US Open or, most recently, drops in on the Audi Nines.

Ingemar Backman – King of the Hill Riksgränsen – 1996

In 1996 this was the stomp heard around the world and, as Pat Moore said at the 20-year anniversary, it “redefined what was possible on a snowboard”. At the time Ingemar Backman was a young Swedish rider who’d been turning heads thanks to his pushing the limits of switch riding, and already had a good Method on him thanks to having explored Rikgränsen with Craig Kelly.

So when he rolled into the 55DSL quarterpipe contest in Riks, he wasn’t exactly an unknown, but as he hiked a few metres higher than where the rest of the riders were dropping, he was about to cement his name in snowboarding’s history books.

With She’s Lump playing over the PA he dropped, tailslid a rock, got in the speed-tuck and launched himself skywards to create an image the likes of which defied belief in 1997. 12 mag covers followed, as did an opener to MDP’s Stomping Grounds, and the legend of Ingemar’s Backside Air was born.

Heikki Sorsa – The Arctic Challenge – 2001

One of the riders who would have been an impressionable grommet at the time Ingemar launched himself in Riks is Heikki Sorsa, who in 2001 eclipsed Backman’s record with one of his own legendary backside airs that he boosted at that year’s Arctic Challenge quarterpipe contest in Oslo.

In this case what spurred young Heikki on was his one-upmanship with an even younger rider, who’d been steadily going bigger on the 10m-high monster trannie. Heikki remembers: “I wasn’t thinking I was gonna break the record or anything, I was just competing with Shaun White that day. I just hiked up 10m higher and just went straight down. That was pretty stupid [laughs].”

Ross Powers – Salt Lake City Olympics – 2002

Snowboarding had debuted at the 98 Games in Nagano, but it was arguably the 2002 incarnation in Salt Lake City that captured the imagination beyond the core – not that the core have ever been fully captured. This time round halfpipes had grown and the SLC one was near perfect, allowing riders to send it harder and bigger than most people had ever seen, but it was Ross Powers – the eventual Gold medal winner – whose gargantuan first hit, tweaked out to perfection, was above and beyond anything this hack, at least, had ever seen.

Video evidence is surprisingly thin on the ground, so you’ll have to make do with the second worst video on the of it we could find on the internet (above). The worst? That would be this. Praise the lord for Mark Gallup being there.

Hampus Mosesson – The Battle – 2005

The Battle was a yearly contest held in Sweden for several years where they would invite teams from around the world to ride in a kind of Ryders Cup of snowboarding. They also built some of the most insane features seen at that time, crammed into an old ski jump stadium in Falun (aside from a 1-year jaunt up north to Riksgränsen), and even now the setup still looks bonkers.

2005’s edition saw Swedish rider Hampus Mosesson on a tear. At the time Hampus had been making a name for himself with his contest riding and appearances in movies from the likes of Robot Food, but nevertheless we floored when we saw photos (yes, it was 2005) of him boosting this backside air to the moon off the hip. At the time we’d never seen someone go so big on a hip. He deservedly won the session’s best rider award, not unsurprisingly.

Mads Jonsson – Hemsedal – 2006

In 2006, the season after Mads Jonsson had rolled into Hemsedal and put down the longest front 3 in history, he headed back to confront another monstrous pile of snow. This time it was a hip that shaper Lars Eriksen had carved out for him, and in terms of sheer scale it was perhaps the biggest we’d ever seen.

“Hips have always been one of my favourite obstacles in a park,” Mads said when we interviewed him back in 2007. “It’s a rad feeling to be at the climax of the air when you’re not going up or down, just focusing on holding the grab steady.” And with the airtime he took on those backside hits, you can bet he had a lot of time for focussing…

Shaun White – US Open – 2016

Say what you want about Shaun but you can’t deny he’s got an insane pipe backside air on him. Like Ayumu Hirano, we reckon all those years of skating very have given him the trannie-knowledge to milk every last centimetre of amplitude out of his hits, and when this is applied to a first-hit straight air it translates into something truly mind-boggling.

Though Shaun’s Methods are perhaps not quite as aesthetic as some other riders’, the sheer fact that he did this one almost four times overhead out of a superpipe, even sneaking in a cheeky crossbone, deserves nothing but respect. Pause the video when he’s at his apex: fucking bonkers.

Christian Haller – Nine Knights – 2016

Christian Haller. To. The. Fucking. Moon. The axe is 10m, and Hitsch even went bigger than he’s going in this shot. Photo: Sam Oetiker

A veteran of chasing the pipe circuit, it’s been clear for years that Christian ‘Hitsch’ Haller has a fine nose for tackling large transitions. But when we rolled into Watles in 2015 for the Nine Knights hip session we wouldn’t necessarily have put our money on it being him who went highest – if fact it was Peetu Piiroinen or Werni Stock (due to their hip flights the previous year) that we were expecting to dominate the altimeter readings. But midway through an insane session that had Peetu, Werni, Simon Gruber and Sebbe de Buck trading increasingly lofty airs, Hitsch dropped, milked some extra speed out of somewhere, and went into orbit. 11.3 metres, and a world record.

Check the end of our highlights edit from the Nine Knights session there as he launches himself above the deck, and into snowboarding folklore.

Which wraps up our stroll down a memory lane of backside airs nicely. Only one question remains though: to grab between or in front of the bindings?

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