Eero Ettala, Follow Me Around, 2006
Rails have been a part of snowboarding ever since skating made its first tentative steps to the street in the early eighties. Early Mack Dawg titles like The Hard, The Hungry And The Homeless and New Kids On The Twok put rails on the map and created the ‘jibbing’ phenomenon, while the influence of snowboarder/skaters like Danny Way, Mike Ranquet, Noah Salasnek and John Cardiel gave rails credibility. Still, it was unusual to have more than a handful of rail tricks in a video part - and the idea of having a section made up almost entirely of rails was as mad as a meat axe.
During this time the back lip was seen as the Holy Grail of jibs, and although it was becoming commonplace in skating it couldn’t make the same transition in snowboarding. The increased risk of being unable to bail on such a high commitment trick meant that back lips were rare, and when they were seen they tended to be sketchy moves on small handrails or flat bars.
If you’re confused, here’s a quick lesson on the difference between lip and board slides: with a boardslide, your front leg goes over the rail, whereas in a lipslide it’s your back leg - and it is this that makes the fabled back lip so magical. There’s a big level of commitment required to get into the trick, and if you clip your tail on the way over you’re buying a one way ticket to pain town. Back lips also separate the smoothest riders from the sketchy because of the poise and balance required once you’re on the rail. If you get it right, you look in total control, get it wrong…yep, pain town, most probably with a heel edge catch to involuntary backflip.
It wasn’t until ’96, when a young crew of riders emerging in Utah took rail riding by the bars, that the back lip could be admired in all its glory. JP Walker, Jeremy Jones, Jason Murphy, Chad Otterstrom and Mikey Leblanc are just a few of the names that were showcased in Whitey McConnaughy’s gritty, locally shot films, which put Salt Lake City’s now legendary rails on the map. The result was a huge surge in jibbing progression through the late 90s that has kept gathering momentum through to the incredible rail and trick combinations we see being conquered today.
Obviously these original pioneers have to be considered for best ever backside lipslide. Brian Thien was one of the first people to step up with decent size back lips, while JP Walkers long body and rubber-like flexibility bestowed him with a freakishy smooth version of the trick; this and the fact that he was nearly peerless in the mid to late 90s make him a serious candidate. Fellow Forum-ites Jeremy Jones and Joni Malmi also had their fair share of the action, while Kevin Jones upped the ante with solid back lips on some of the most creative rails ever seen.
As with most things however, the early masters of a trick rarely stand the test of time, and the above names have - in this context at least - become victims of their own success. The new generation of rail slayers, inspired by what they saw in the films of the late 90s, have destroyed all pre-conceived ideas of what is possible with the back lip. Simon Chamberlain developed the over 270 into the back lip, and also had a hand in perfecting what JP Walker first started: nollies and pretzels in and out. There are a few examples of his skills in both Promo Copy and Derelictica. Travis Kennedy has a standout back lip through a double kink in the latest Forum movie That, and both Justin Beneé and Lauri Heskari have left their mark on the trick. All of these come very close to stealing the show - were it not for the new messiah of snowboarding, Eero Ettala.
Eero’s section in Follow Me Around includes two back lips, each of which are worthy of ‘best ever’. The first is the one you see here, and it’s a master class in how with incredible board control comes super human confidence. Eero locks into the 45 stair rail and holds firm all the way home. In a nod to Jamie Lynn’s tweaked out style, he even lets the tail of the board drift past ninety degrees - a display of just how flexible he is. If you’ve got any beef with the steepness of this particular rail then check out the second example in the same section, where Eero proves he can do the same thing down another whopping set – this time with gradient to match. Back lips may come in more technical forms, but they don’t come any more perfect than this.