Although you can try a grabbed strapless back roll as soon as you feel comfortable riding strapless, there are a few key manoeuvres I’d suggest to get comfortable with that will help cut down the time it takes to actually learn to land and ride away from a back roll:
Regularly landing standard ollies at medium to high speeds, getting several feet in the air without having to grab the board, are the first tricks to get in the bag. Getting the board into the air is obviously important to do back rolls, and the higher you can get on the take-off without losing the board, the more time you’ll have too complete the rotation.
The grabbed strapless aerial transition is the most important skill though as it will teach you how to hover under the kite by slowly arcing it over head for the duration of the trick. You will also learn to get comfortable flying the kite with one hand as the other hand will be busy grabbing the rail of the board. Ariel transitions are the main stepping stone to many advanced manoeuvres, such as grabbed back rolls, bare-foots and even strapless kite loops as they all require very similar kite movements throughout the trick.
15 – 25 knot wind conditions with regular sloppy, choppy water or small side shore waves are the ideal conditions for learning grabbed strapless back rolls. It’s important to be nicely powered, or even slightly overpowered, on a ten or 12 metre kite. Be careful not to overpower yourself too much though or you’ll have trouble to hold an edge before popping and will be setting yourself up for a serious slam session.
Larger kite sizes are less twitchy and often provide more hang-time than smaller seven or eight metre kites. There are therefore easier to learn moves that rely on hovering under the kite. 15 – 25 knots is the most ideal windspeed for learning almost any new trick, because you have power in the kite, but don’t get slammed and dragged (overly hard) if you make a mistake.
Choppy conditions are particularly good for back rolls because they produce ramps and kickers that allow you to easily pop the board upside-down in the air and initiate the backwards rotation.
COMING INTO THE TRICK:
Ride along at a medium / fast pace on a tight reaching angle to the wind (a ‘tight reach’ is so you’re just about heading upwind). You should be nicely powered with the kite around 10 o’clock in the wind window. Scan the water in front of you and look for a nice piece of chop to use as a kicker. Ideally you’re looking for a small piece of chop or wave that’s slightly upwind of your line that you can carve into and hit just as it begins to gain some shape, but before the lip begins to throw.
The rail of your board should be engaged and you should have even weight on both your feet. Your feet should be in the standard ollie position with your back foot right on the tail of the board, over the fins, and your front foot should be near the center of the board to create a relatively wide stance.
Your front hand should be off the bar and preparing to throw your body into the manoeuvre before then grabbing the rail of the board once you’re in the air. Put your back hand near the center of the bar, either just behind the center-line or with the center-line running between your index finger and middle finger (having your hand in the middle of the bar will hopefully reduce much accidental steering as you get used to the rotation).
As you hit the kicker, sheet the bar in as you begin to send the kite from 10 o’clock towards 11. Bend your knees and put weight on your heels as you carve into the kicker. Pop the board while you carve further into the wind as you hit the kicker to initiate the backwards rotation. Your weight should be on your heels while hitting the kicker. If done correctly the kite should begin to lift you away from the water as you send it towards the apex of the wind window.
At this point you will need to grab the board to prevent it from being left behind while the kite accelerates you upwards. Keeping knees bent, grab the windward rail of the board between your legs with your free hand and look over your front shoulder. It’s really important that you don’t ‘push’ much against the board with your heels. Rather, the board should be resting on your heels as the rail grab supports the board and holds it in position and your body’s core should be nice and tucked up, helping the rotation.
Looking over your shoulder in combination with grabbing the rail will open your upper body in the direction of rotation and swing you around under the kite. Maintain that position through the rotation once you’ve got it locked in.
As you reach the highest point of the jump, the kite should be approaching 12 o’clock. Maintain the rail grab and keep looking over your shoulder but begin to sheet the bar out to prevent the kite from being sent too far past 12 o’clock during the descent. Sending the kite too far too early can cause over rotation, rip you away from your board, or cause an accidental kite loop. Sheeting out will also slow the backwards rotation slightly, allowing you to gain your bearings and spot a landing.
Even though it will slow down the rotation, sheeting out at the top of the jump will drop you quickly, so sheet the bar in again when you’re a few feet off the water. That sheeting action should send the kite behind you and towards two o’clock (or 10 o’clock if you’re doing this on the other tack) in the wind window. Sending the kite before touchdown will pendulum you beneath it and create a hovering effect that will allow a soft, smooth landing. If done correctly, you should hardly have to bend your knees on the landing. To exit the back roll with speed, once you have securely landed on the water you can continue to pull harder on your back hand to complete the kite’s down loop.
Not having enough bar throw depower can cause major problems when learning strapless back rolls. If you can’t sheet out enough to get a clean shut-off of power at the top of your back roll, you’ll often either over rotate or lose the board. It will make things much easier if you have a bar that allows you to extend your arm all the way without hitting the stopper. Almost all over-rotation problems with back rolls are linked to sending the kite too early – and the more power your kite holds, the more it is susceptible to accidental steering and powering up through a turn.
Grabbing too far towards the nose of the board is another common mistake while learning back rolls. If you grab anywhere in front of where your front foot is planted, the board tends to swing out beneath you when you come in for the landing. A nose grab can be a stylish variation on the back roll once you have it mastered, but to get started always grab somewhere between where your feet are planted.
Finally, remember, if all else fails and your kite keeps ending up at the edge of the window and dropping you from the sky, or you’re landing with no power, then just keep pulling and finish the down loop as you come in to land! That final bit of drive as the kite under loops is often the finishing touch.