Albee Layer’s Backside 540: The Video & Interview

About a month ago Albee Layer landed his — and the world’s — first backside 540.

It was a trick he’d been trying for a year and a half, a huge weight off his shoulders and a giant leap forward in the progression of aerial surfing. Buuuuuuuut nobody filmed it. Oops. Fast-forward to Friday evening and, after a month of beating his body and mind in pursuit of landing the trick again, Albee sticks another one. This time was bigger and cleaner than the first and, wouldn’t you know it, the cameras were rolling. We spoke with Albee on Saturday about the historic trick, why John John didn’t land it first and how Kelly responded to the clip.

Interview by Taylor Paul

SURFING: Tell us about yesterday.
ALBEE LAYER: We saw that it was going to be good for Lanes, the wave right next to Ho’okipa, and by “good” I mean washing through and really windy and every now and then there’s a good section. That’s where I’d gotten the closest so far, and where I landed the one that no one filmed. We got out there in the afternoon and it was me, Matt [Meola] and [Kai] Barger, and my friend Marlon. They had a couple good airs but there were a lot of wash through sets. It’s pretty easy to get frustrated and just go in on those days ‘cause you can get washed in, paddle all the way back out, get washed in again, paddle back out and not even catch a wave. And that’s kinda how it was going for me most of the session. Then Matt cut his foot trying an air and he had to go get stiches. So him, Barger and Marlon went in. Then Kain Daly paddled out, which is funny, because Kain’s been there for this whole uphill battle of trying this trick, so once he paddled out I almost felt the vibe improve a little bit. Before that, I hadn’t caught a single decent wave and I was just mad, getting washed around. Closeout after closeout. Then finally, this nice little wave came, with a nice section, and it just sorta happened.

What did it feel like to ride out of it? I saw you put your hands on your face…
So I landed backwards, and was kinda tip-toeing and did little air drop and I was like, “Oh my god please don’t fall right now.” I thought I was going to fall like three times, going, “Oh fuck..oh fuck..oh fuck…” Then I was still standing and it was like, “Shit, there’s two people filming, it’s probably on footage…I’m done.” I was just so relieved. That was the biggest thing, there’s just this huge monkey off my back. When I did the alley-oop five I was like pounding my chest and screaming. But with this one, I went into a deep relaxing state like, “yes…done!”

Why were the two different?
I probably tried the alley-oop fewer times. And there was so much hype that Julian was going to do it, so when I did it it was sorta like, “Wow, I beat Julian.” People barely knew who I was at that point, so it was kind of an underdog win. Whereas this one, well, John was kinda trying it, but he was so focused on contests this year. I don’t know, it didn’t really seem like anyone else was trying them, so it just became this personal thing.

You talk about the monkey off your back, but it doesn’t seem like anyone else was putting pressure on you except yourself.
Well, it was just like amongst our little group [the Maui guys], they’re just like, “Albee, come on, you have to do this. You’ve gotten so close so many times it just has to happen.”

What did it feel like when you landed your first one and nobody filmed it?
[laughs] It was pretty funny. I mean, it was pretty shitty [air]. I rode out for like two seconds and the wave doubled up and went underneath me. But it was like, “Whoa, I think I just did it.” And my friend Morris was right there and he was like, “That was it!” And I looked in and saw Dan [Narkunas] sitting there with his head down, waiting for his card to clear, because I had just paddled out. I was like, “Damn it!”

In retrospect, do you think it wasn’t meant to be seen, because it was kind of a half-landing?
It was definitely landed, but the one I did yesterday was better. Cleaner landing and just better all around. At the time, I was just stoked I did it, but then I tried for the next four days to get one on footage and was just wrecking myself. Spinning that fast and slapping the water and getting whiplash, it’s harder on your body than trying a normal air. So after already doing it, I was pretty bummed.

It seemed like there was a little bit of a competition going between you and John John on this trick. Was that something you guys were talking about?
We talked about it all the way back during our first trip to West Oz, for Done. He showed me a clip of him over-rotating a backside spin, and I showed him one of me doing the same thing. So it started a bit of a battle. I mean, I think if he put half the energy I did into it he probably would have made it, but this year he just shifted his whole focus onto contest surfing. Which personally, I just hate [laughs], thinking about the progression he could do for surfing.

Do you mean that if he put the same energy into doing new tricks as he does into contests he’d be progressing the sport more?
Yeah…like, ten-fold. I would love to hear someone try and argue me on that. You can see it, even when he was doing his movie. When he was focused on getting the best clips, he’d get the best clips. And because of that everyone would try and surf better to keep up. He was showing everyone what was possible. He won the world title, and that’s amazing, but he pretty much disregarded his air surfing, or at least trying new ones.

Is that something you think about doing, elevating the entire sport? Or are these trick progressions just for you?
A little bit of both. It becomes a personal battle, you want to prove to yourself you can do it. But I absolutely want to progress surfing in whatever way I can. I don’t know why, I was trying to think about that the other day — what is the point of progressing a sport? I don’t know. But surfing’s given me all my dreams, so I just want to help make it cooler, I guess.

How long have you been trying the backside 540?
I tried the random one here and there for the last three or four years, but this past year and a half I’ve put a lot of time into it, trying it pretty much every time we surf good backside air waves. At the beginning of the year I got really close, then the next thing you know I didn’t surf a wave that wasn’t Jaws for two or three months. I tried more at the end of the season, but my body and brain were just fried.

After you landed this one, did you send John John the video? What did he say?
Yeah, I whored it out pretty hard and sent it to a bunch of people. [laughs] But I wrote John to congratulate him on winning Haleiwa, then I was like, “Guess what?” and sent him the clip. He just wrote, “Fuck you.” [laughs] Then he wrote “Wow, you finally did it.” And that was it.

Did you send it to Kelly?
Yeah, he said, “8.3.” [laughs] And I said, “7.83.” And then he said something like, “You coulda done two more floaters, that wave kept on peeling.” And then I told him, “My mom said that, literally, without being sarcastic.” And he said, “You thought I was being sarcastic?” [laughs]

Ha! World champ of minimizing other people’s accomplishments.
It was a pretty funny conversation. He’s a clever human, that one.

Why did you decide to release it on @huckleberrysurfco?
It’s a fin company that I’m partnered on with my buddy Ross, from San Diego. And then Dege [O’Connel] and Dan [Narkunas] are part owners, and Monyca [Eleogram] rides for us, but will probably own a portion. Anyway, we’re getting close to having our first big order of fins in and really making a push for the whole company, so I just wanted to get some more eyes on that. Figure if we get some more followers it’ll make things a little easier down the line.

Well, congrats Albee. We’re proud of you.
Thanks, man. On to the next…

ALBEE LAYER BACKSIDE DOUBLE SPIN from TAKE SHELTER PRODUCTIONS on Vimeo.