An old man's journey to a snowboard backflip

I talked in a previous blog about only needing 4 tricks in your playbook and one of those was a backflip. Its a trick that's relatable to the general public as well as snowboarders and puts a showboating marker in the ground about your riding. 

That’s why over a year ago, I set myself the task of working towards a backflip. However, I did have a few problems. One, I’m rather old and two, I have next to no real experience of flipping or being upside down. Sure I’d tried a few things on a trampoline, but taking it to a board was another matter altogether. 

The funny thing is last winter I landed my first backflip and as I reflect on this I feel the journey, the work I put in and all the people that helped on the way meant a lot more than the actual achievement of the trick. 

As I stood there with a drone buzzing above my head about to drop in on a hand built off piste jump I was just thinking I’m as ready as I can be and I just want to get this shit done. Lets skip the talking and get on with it. “Dropping…”

The Journey 

The journey properly began in January 2016. I wanted a fresh challenge and a backflip seemed like an obvious place to start. I considered them to be more ballsy than technical, so I should be able to grow a pair and start to learn them.

I suppose with most things, you think it will be a brief bit of training and hey presto you’ll have them dialled. Sadly I was in for some serious adjustments both mentally and physically that would actually highlight a lot of faults and breaks in my own riding and personality. 

Stage 1 — Trampoline

Following an attempt on a trampoline that resulted in me landed on my head I was not going to risk just having a go on my own again. I got in touch with Graham - a trampoline coach in Hemel Hempstead and booked in some private sessions. He’s a snowboarder so understood where I was coming from. I’d signed up previously for some adult trampoline courses, but the classes were very structured and did not develop much in the way of flip skills. I did not want to just learn to seat drop. I needed to skip a few steps. 

The key part of this training was getting used to being upside down. When you start it can make you feel super dizzy and you have no idea where you are. 

We started with some great basic moves from rolling and bouncing sideways to more traditional front and back flips. This was all great as it really built some solid foundations and proprioception as well as started to build my stamina and fitness. Plus the trampoline gives you the lift into the flip, so you do not need to self generate as much power to get the height for the flip. 

Stage 2 — Airbag

Once I’d completed a few trampoline sessions I was ready to try some flips on an airbag. There is a bag in Mayrhofen so during a few winter camps I tried a few flips. There was something not quite right which I could not get a grip on until James Waterman gave me some help. Basically is came down to my level of pop/ollie from the board. 

My basic flip technique was OK but I was struggling to get the board around in time to land on the bag properly. I was basically not olliing for the flip. I was absorbing at the lip. Using a trampoline had helped develop the foundation movements, but the bounce provided by the trampoline meant I did not need to initiate much power for the move to begin. This meant I needed to really work on that part of my technique. I needed to start generating the lift and power to make the flip happen. 

Stage 3 — Parkour & Fitness

Sian had been wanting to get back in gymnastics for a while, but couldn’t find anywhere that offered coaching near us. She then found a local parkour class (Paramount Parkour) that provided adult classes. She attended a few classes and recommended that I join. 

Joining these classes was a game changer in so many ways. Their classes are very structured. You have a warm-up, conditioning and then a stretch before you’ve even started to learn something. Then each class each week works on different skill sets. Flips was obviously my main goal, but I soon realised that I required way more skills to really achieve my goal. 

For instance my abs were in bad shape. I did not have the range of flexibility or strength to handle the explosive power of a standing backflip. My range of spring in my legs was rubbish. I could drop to a snowboard stance level and have pop, but lower than that I had nothing. Also being upside down was a killer. I could not do a handstand, backwards roll or even a decent cartwheel. Plus don’t even get me started on the mental game. Taking the easy path in snowboarding and coaching a lot within my comfort zone had made me mentally soft. I struggled to get the man up vibe to do certain tricks and would bottle it way too easily.

This was a wake up call. So between June and January I enrolled in the adult classes once a week and then started to bolt on extra open sessions where I could work with Sian on our own tricks. This is what made the key difference. I was getting stronger and more confident. I was able to self-generate the power for my flips and begin to really breakdown the move rather than just going for the huck and hope. As it came to January I was ready to see what I could do next.

Stage 4 — Off Piste Jump

I’d been thinking for sometime about where I could build an off piste jump that would allow me to try the trick in relative safety. It was tough to think of a spot as it had to form part of an overall plan within the framework of a winter camp. I could not go off a build some massive booter as no one else would be able to ride it.

In the end we found a great spot near where we built a stall feature. There was some wooden boards at the location so that saved a lot of build time. We took some time out on Tuesday afternoon to do the initial build and then I headed up first thing on the Wednesday with Paul to setup and film the adventure. Wednesday is campers day off, so there was no pressure for the guys to hit the jump or finish the build. Plus I knew I had a whole day to get this backflip done. 

I looked to make the jump pretty natural and not too whippy, plus we had a decent steep landing, so if I was to land on my head I stood a good chance of coming out unharmed. 

Paul had everything setup for the drone so the time was right to have a go. I have to say it was rather intense to think about trying it for the first time. There are so many unknowns, but the key was to not panic and not land on my head.

I’ll never forget the feeling of being upside down and seeing the ground below me. It was awesome even though I did not have total control over the flip. I ended up working quite hard to get the flip around, so I was opening up my shoulders a little and rotating a little in the air. It was not a major issue but it did make it a little tougher to land and ride away. 

I ended up trying to cancel out my shoulder rotation and landed my third attempt. I tried the flip 6 times before I was knackered and let the other guys get stuck into the jump, as by then the rest of the campers had turned up and were keen to hit the jump. 

Now that I reflect on the adventure towards the flip I’m really stoked that I set this goal. The journey has changed my life. I worked more closely with Sian towards a goal and together with various riders and coaches both in the snowboard scene and out of it has helped me overcome a lot of fears, build my body and shape my mental beliefs towards being able to achieve this. The journey is not fully complete yet as my ultimate goal is to pull off a flip on a park jump, but I now realised more of how I can achieve it safely and frankly I’m in no rush now as the journey is so much fun.

The key take from this is that if you have a goal then make it happen, but the older you are the more time it may take to achieve your goal as you will have physical and life limitations. 

People have busy lives and cannot devote vast sums of time and effort towards something like this. Since last year I gradually built up my training time to where I now commit 3 hours a week towards a variety of fitness and personal goals like the backflip. It may seem like a lot of time yet the journey is awesome as you’ll meet some cool people on the way and really benefit from the focus and devotion to something new. 


James Streater is the head coach and owner of Maverix Snow Ltd, providing year round snowboard instruction, coaching and personal development. He is part of a select group of professionals who hold the worlds highest snowsport qualification ISTD. Follow him on Instagram @maverixsnow