How to do a backroll

One of the great things about kitesurfing is that the period from your first petrified body-dragging experience to having things fairly well dialled, staying upwind, and working out your best 3-kite-quiver (and ordering a new credit card!) seems to take about a nanosecond. 

Then it's onto the tricks... And the other great thing about kiteboarding is that there are so many possible tricks for you to work on, and consequently there is a logical progression through them: there's no need to try a KGB before you can chop-hop so to speak!

On this 'trick continuum' the backroll sits nicely in the 'definitely possible' category.  Unlike other sports (such as windsurfing) where the backroll can take years to master, you should be able to get a backroll dialled after a few sessions: it really is easier than it looks.  You'll be flashing the logo on your board while giving the masses on the beach a cheeky mid-air wink before you know it...

Ready to roll?

As with all things kiting: wait until you're ready.  You definitely need to have spent some time at a kitesurfing school, should be staying upwind, should probably have mastered riding toeside, and should definitely have had a go at a few 'basic jumps'. 

You want a nice steady breeze and a quietish day at the beach.  If there are loads of guys out, then take a hike away from the masses.  You can't really damage yourself learning a backroll, but things can get a bit confusing and when you think that up is down or vica-versa, and your kite can easily end up in the water...

Check that your bindings are fairly tight, and if it's 50/50 between your 10 and your 12: go for the 12, backrolls are easier when you're stacked.  The move is also much easier if you can roll off a bit of chop, so try and pick a day when you're going 'out' on your 'good side' (Everyone has one!).  Don't try your first one coming in towards the beach if it's cross shore.

Hit the water...

Before beginning the backroll, it's important to remember that your aim is to keep the kite in the same spot.  A backroll is exactly that: a roll not a jump.  You can start sending the kite and going for more airborne rotations later on, for now keeping it steady is vital...

1.    Set the kite right.  You should have the kite at around 10-11 O'clock.  Slightly higher than you would have it if you're nicely locked in and cruising along.  If you're overpowered and it's lifting you then lower the kite a bit: you need to be able to edge quite hard to initiate the roll.

2.    Watch your hands.  Especially for the first few attempts, put both hands towards then centre of the bar.  This will make you much less likely to move the kite mid manoeuvre.  When you have more of a feel for it you can get it dialled with your hands in your normal riding position.

3.    Have some speed.  You don't need loads of speed, but you need to be moving comfortably with the kite locked in.

4.    Choose your spot.  If the conditions are right, then look for a decent size bit of chop to roll off.

5.    Carve.  Dig an edge in and move your kiteboard up into the wind - push your back foot fairly hard and the nose will start lifting up and initiating the roll...  (NOTE: you will have to do this more aggressively if you haven't got chop to go off)

6.    Turn your head.  Your body isn't all that clever: it always follows your head. This is probably the key part of the move: you must to throw your head over your back shoulder.  And really throw it.  This is where you have to have a bit of faith as the first time it just doesn't feel right!

7.    Pull your legs up towards your chest.  Your board should have lifted as you started turning your head, and this should feel quite natural.  The first few times you probably won't have too much time to think about your board - that's fine...

8.    Spot your landing.  As this is a roll, you shouldn't really be coming down with too much speed, it's more a case of ensuring that you do not over or under rotate.  Look down and anticipate where you'll land.  Again, your body should follow your head, so make sure you look where you want to end up.

9.    Power Up.  If your backroll has been really tight then you may be able to keep on going with your kite locked in.  If not - or if you've gone higher than expected - be ready to swing your kite down to generate some speed out of the move.

10.    Spot another bit of chop and do it again!


Your first proper backroll may well be one of the most satisfying moments of your life: it really does feel like you've arrived.  If, however, you find that you end up head first, or hearing that distinctive sound of kite-hitting-water-with-velocity, then try some of these:

I never really seem to take off?!
Make sure that you're powered up, and that you have some speed.  If this isn't doing it then try with your kite higher in the window. If you're having trouble finding chop, then you may have to wait for a good cross shore day when you're heading out on your good side and you've got something to roll off.

I get launched upward and just keep spinning?!

You're 'sending' the kite.  Your natural reaction as you start spinning is to pull the back of your bar and send the kite: this will send you upwards.  Make sure you move your hands to the middle of the bar to minimise this, and try to think about where the kite is...

I don't turn far enough and end up on my head?!

Assuming you're popping and initiating the move correctly, you need to look over your shoulder more aggressively.  Again, it doesn't feel right, but you need to really swing your head around and your body will follow.  Imagine there's a hot chick riding behind you!

I seem to over rotate and end up on my back?
Your legs are key here.  The more tucked up they are: the quicker you will rotate.  Extend them as you come out of the roll and you should slow down and land in the right spot.  Similarly, if you're not rotating far enough then tuck your legs in tighter.

Next Steps

The backroll opens the door to an entire realm of new moves... One of the main things is that it gives you the confidence to rotate and to being incorporating rotations into other moves.

The natural next step is to begin popping harder and spinning faster or higher, despite its simplicity the move has a lot of potential and can be tweaked indefinitely...  You can also start dragging a hand as you go through the move, or start working in a few grabs.

Wherever the backroll takes you - it is a kitesurfing essential and a great move to have in your armoury.  You might go on to nail much bigger and tougher tricks, but your first successful backroll will always be one of your sweetest kitesurfing moments...