At the time, aerial surfing was progressing in quantum leaps and capturing the imaginations of surfers worldwide through surf films and magazine spreads, but it hadn’t been adopted by the World Tour surfers of the time and was still considered a fringe subculture.
They were humble beginnings, but the concept of the Airshow still held promise to both the surfers and the Surfing magazine crew, and they managed to continue adding events and create a sort of fast-and-loose aerial tour in the years that followed.
Fast forward just 4 months after their Storto’s meal and Barron and Snead had assembled some of the world’s best punters in Santa Cruz for the first-ever air-focused surf contest, tentatively titled, “Surfing Magazine‘s First Annual Battle of the Tricksters,” (in their coverage, they thankfully ended up going with the much more concise “Air Show”).
Ironically, the anti-establishment air events may have caused the top pros and the World Tour judges to take airs more seriously and integrate them into competition, eventually eliminating the need for Airshows in the first place.
There’s no doubt the Airshow events gave these surfers a platform to showcase their talents in the air, and that for a moment they achieved a kind of cult following in the surf world, but the Airshow movement wouldn’t last.
Others would argue that the main reason for the Airshow’s demise was the fact that airs had gone mainstream, with premiere punters like Andy Irons and Taj Burrow at the top of the World Tour rankings year after year.
By 1997 it was known as the Surfing Magazine Airshow Series (SMAS) with multiple events and a world champion crowned at the end of each year.
A few weeks after Kerr’s celebration in Huntington, the WSL would announce the full list of invitees, which included both top-tier competitors like Italo Ferreira and Jordy Smith as well as wilder freesurfing characters like Albee Layer and Chippa Wilson, who probably would have fit in just fine competing against the original Airshow gang.
In 2017, during the Portugal event in the back half of the season, Kerr announced that it would be his last year as a World Tour surfer.
“The ASP [Association of Surfing Professionals, the precursor to the World Surf League] at the time didn’t reward aerial surfing,” says Snead.
Just a few years later, when the Quiksilver Airshows got underway in Australia, Kerr would get his first taste of aerial competition, and it was immediately clear he was a man apart with an incredible talent for flying high and a knack for thinking outside the box when approaching sections.
Airborne winner and World Tour competitor Yago Dora is the embodiment of aerial prowess merging with surfing’s competitive mainstream in the new era.
At the same time, baby-faced Floridian and future GOAT Kelly Slater had just earned his third world title at the end of 1995, and while he didn’t win his titles with airs, his flight patterns in “Kelly Slater in Black and White” and the early “Momentum” films helped legitimize airs to a wider surfing audience.
At just 17 years old, Kerr won an Airshow World Championship and cemented himself as one of the best up-and coming aerialists in the world.
It marked the end of an era, both for Kerr and for Airshows as a whole, while Kerr’s World Tour ascent would mark the beginning of something new.
As the Airshows were beginning to wind down, Kerr’s competitive ambitions were firing up, and after battling to qualify through the ‘QS and a few on-again-off-again years on Tour, Kerr finally planted his flag in the top 10 in 2011, where he would stay for years as not only the Tour’s most consistent aerialist, but one of its hardest chargers as well.
Kerr knew that if a revived Airshow was going to legitimately push the progression and impact surfing in a meaningful way, a few things needed to happen.
Read more here: Surfer Mag