Lip Tricks and Airs 


"The key to aerials and lip tricks, is always hitting the lip of the wave with the hull of your boat. That way the wave lifts you up and throws you out, where you can perform your manoeuvre. After many wipe outs it will click then you'll be flying!"               Sam Davenport, England team rider


The ability to arrive at the critical point on a wave when all its energy is about to be unleashed, and perform a manoeuvre, is one of the holy grails of surf kayaking. Many of the skills we'll talk about on this page follow some basic common themes, and quite often you'll find that as you master one lip trick, many more follow in quick succession, as the core skills remain the same.


Re-entries are the best place to start when learning to develop skills around the lip. Good timing, speed and an aggressive approach are key to performing a succesful re-entry. They can be considered as just a late top turn, however the crux of the move lies in being able to arrive at the lip just as it begins to break. 

The sequence below shows Jonny Bingham performing a re-entry on a close-out lip.

  • Look at the point on the lip that you want to hit and perform a normal bottom turn, trying to carry as much speed as possible. Ensure the turn follows an arc that will allow the nose of the boat to point back up the wave.
  • As the boat accelerates up the face of the wave, release the inside rail, keep looking at the point you've picked and prepare a beach side low brace rudder. 
  • When the nose of the boat arrives at the lip, explode off the rudder by pushing it forwards which will initiate the turn. Use the paddle as both a brace and a pivot point, and look where you want to go to assist the rotation. Try to show as much of the hull to the lip as possible.
  • The boat will now become light and you'll find that the turn is very fast and loose, given that neither the nose or tail are constrained by the wave. Push your backside away from the paddle.
  • The boat is now returning under the body - at this point you need to adapt to the descent down the wave. In this case, the boat is edged into the wave to avoid capsizing. If the boat was pointing straight down the wave a rearward lean would be required to stop the nose from digging in. 
  • Surf off down the wave! Manage the descent with braces and edging into the wave.

The next sequence shows the same skill being perfomed but this time using an approaching shoulder to re-enter off. This is one of the best ways of learning the skill as the shoulder helps with the rotation. In this sequence Aidan Brackenbury has tweaked the re-entry at the end through lots of rotation.

  • Accelerate towards the approaching shoulder aiming the nose of your boat right into the very top corner of the whitewater.
  • As the boat arrives at the lip press the rudder and rotate your upper body by looking where you want to go.  You can see on these pictures the movement of the head to pre-rotate the upper body. 
  • Getting ready to land it, be prepared to adapt to the boat's movement to ensure you have a capsize-free finish to the move.


The Pan-Am

Allthough sharing a name with the freestyle move the timing and position of a surf wave pan-am is very different. This move requires the skills that you've learnt in doing your re-entries, in approaching and attacking the lip in the same way. 

Dave Speller finds a perfect Portugese lip at the World Chmpionships.

  • Power out of the bottom turn carrying as much speed as possible in the same way you did for the re-entry. Try to hit the lip with the boat flat to the wave - this will help push the boat towards the beach.
  • As you arrive at the lip, explode off the rudder and look over your shoulder to encourage the boat to rotate. In this case, the paddler is looking over his left shoulder.
  • The boat becomes light at the top of the wave as it's released, the rider continues the rotation by looking over the shoulder.
  • Keep rotating the boat, so you are facing the wave and showing the hull of the boat to the beach.
  • As the boat lands, stay central over the boat and then spin it back round to continue surfing -  or engage an edge to carve it round. Make sure you keep your weight forwards, to avoid the tail digging in!

Here is the same manoeuvre again. This series of shots clearly shows the rider from the US East team engaging the rotation off the paddle stroke and leading the turn with the head.


Floaters allow you to travel along the top of the broken wave. This is great if you have a wave that's sectioning as it can allow you to float over the broken portion, and back onto the green wave once more. An accuracy of timing is the key to success with floaters. The sequence below shows Dan Green, making the best use of the section. 

  • Come out of the bottom turn carrying as much speed as possible, look at the section of lip you intend to float. Keep the boat more parallel to the lip than you have for the previous moves.
  • As you arrive at the lip use your rudder to steer the boat along the wave. At the same time, try to "unweight" yourself by lifting your bum out the seat, to try and lift the kayak onto the lip. 
  • Once on the lip, spot your landing and steer the boat towards it.  
  • Keep looking at the landing point, and begin to shift your weight backwards. 
  • Lean back as you descend down the foam pile, and get ready to bottom turn around the section.


As a coach, airs are probably the one skill I get asked about most. They require a more critical sense of timing than any other manoeuvre. They rely heavily on speed, so having a very fast, flat-hulled boat and possessing the ability to get it really flying along the wave is critical.

Wave Selection

In order to air, the first thing is to ensure you are riding the right type of wave. Some waves are easy to generate speed on, whereas others can be slow and sluggish, and therefore impossible to perform an aerial.

A fast, powerful wave with a clearly-defined lip lends itself to aerials, as the feathering wall allows rapid speed generation and provides a perfect launch ramp.


To get the boat running at full speed you have to encourage the generation of speed rather than just sitting there waiting for the boat to go faster.

  1. Take off close to the peak, so the wave is at its most critical.
  2. Position yourself at the top of the wave and hold a high line on the wave, so that you're riding in the top third of the wave.
  3. When you're within a bottom turn away from the point on the lip you want to hit, drop down and bottom turn, carrying as much speed as possible.

If you are able to ride the high line along the top of the wave you are in a perfect position to maximise the speed from the drop back down. The sequence below shows Philip Watson holding the high line. 

The Technique

When you are first learning to air, concentrate only on getting the boat to take off, and not on trying to change direction and maintain the wave. The crux of the move is the launch, and if you get lots of these, the perfection of the landings will follow on quickly. 

  • Exit the bottom turn carrying as much speed as possible. Flatten the boat off and keep looking at the point on the lip that you want to hit. As you arrive at the lip, unweight the nose of the boat by pulling up with your thighs and pushing down with your buttocks. You can aid this with a powerful beach-side forwards stroke.  
  • The natural tendency will be to change direction at the lip as you did for the re-entry.  Try to avoid this and just concentrate on chanelling the lip's power though the hull, to continue an upward motion.
  • Once the boat is in the air, the slightest movement can have a dramatic impact on where the boat goes.  The more accurate launches you get, the more you can learn to do whilst airborne. In this case Chris Hobson performs an inverted exit!


  • Whilst paddling out look for lips that might be appropriate to air on and paddle hard at them and practice unweighting the boat.
  • Try bottom turning without using your paddle, to encourage more drive from your fins. Then re-apply your paddle whilst still using lots of fin drive.
  • Begin your bottom turn pointing straight at the beach and see what angle you can arrive at the lip. Then try your bottom turn starting from a diagonal drop at about 10 or 2 o'clock (see fundamentals page) and see what angle is now possible.
  • Try to air your exits. Everytime you go to leave a wave, try to jump off the back of it by popping the boat up.


Provided you have enough speed, even the smallest of waves can provide a suitable launch ramp. Sam Davenport shows his mastery of the air on a peaty Northern Irish wave. 






Alternatively, if it's big and offshore, the amplitude can be outstanding. Chris Hobson gets huge air on a big North Cornish close-out. 


When It All Goes Wrong!

Philip Watson enjoys a perfect re-entry, followed by a less than perfect landing. 

Photo's by:

Pete Copp

Mick Feaney

John Watson

Mega Surfkayaks

Glyn Brackenbury 

This page has been possible through the suggestion, and kind donation of:

David Agnew