Birth of the Cobra Flip: Inside the mind-bending, barrel-rolling freestyle kayak trick from Aniol Serrasolses

The cobra is the common name of the elapid snake, belonging to the genus Naja, highly venomous and capable of defensively turning its head into a hood. It’s also now the perfect label for a seemingly life-threatening, gravity-defying aerial maneuver that’s been turning heads on social media.

Aniol Serrasolses first nailed the acrobatic move that combines equal parts freestyle and freefall back in January 2019 on Chile’s Rio Palguin. The Spanish kayaker, world-renowned for pushing the sport’s boundaries and often called Cobra, quickly dubbed the eponymous downriver trick. The initial post racked up nearly 40,000 views in a few short weeks and thus the Cobra Flip was born.

But it didn’t come easily.

“I first tried it off a five-foot boof back in 2015,” says Serrasolses. “I completely blew it so I kind of forgot about it and then last summer the idea came back to me. I tried it off a 20-footer and got really close to landing it. Then I went for it again that same day and nailed it perfect.”

The move can perhaps best be described as a barrel roll off the lip of a waterfall, spinning a complete 360 along the axis of the kayak before plunging safely and upright into the pool below. But it’s not for the faint of heart or weak of waterfall will.

“It’s a hard trick,” Serrasolses says. “After doing it many times it still feels unnatural being upside down in the air. It all happens very quickly and unless you time every move perfect you’ll most likely land on your face.”

The key to it, he says, is commitment — which is exactly what the likes of uber-kayaker and two-time Kayak World Freestyle Champion Dane Jackson echoes. That, as well as a few other logic-bending nuances.

“I’ve landed a couple, including one off of Spirit Falls,” Jackson says of the iconic Washington drop. “The two biggest keys to landing it are making sure you already get through the first quarter rotation by the time you’ve started falling, so when you throw your body forward and around you get the boat past the first half quickly. The second key is delaying the finishing stroke and rolling the boat off of you at the end, just for a split second. This way you make sure the boat makes it at least halfway around or more and settles, and you can snap the second half around fast and smooth.”

Simple, right? Especially off a waterfall with a huge hole at the bottom. But even the likes of Jackson credit Serrasolses for slaying it with the new maneuver.

“There have been many variations of a barrel roll and flips over the years, but what’s so sick about Aniol’s is how he found a way to keep the bow nice and high and the rotation nearly dead straight,” says Jackson. “It’s definitely a sick trick … and by far one of the hardest tricks to wrap your mind around when learning and throwing it. I look forward to doing more.”

Serrasolses says he’s psyched for the aerobatical accolades form his peers.

“I’m stoked to see paddlers like Dane, Benny Marr and Nouria Newman going for it,” he says. “It always puts a smile on my face watching videos of kayakers around the world giving it a try. The trick is hard enough that it provides some amazing entertainment.”

That entertainment fist surfaced, at least unintentionally, on Nov. 3, 2006, when Darin McQuoid almost accidentally performed one when running a waterfall known as The Pooper on the Rio Alseseca in Veracruz, Mexico. Digging through his archives after Serrasolses’s recent execution of the maneuver, expedition kayaker Ben Stookesberry posted an Instagram video of McQuoid’s mid-flight mishap, with the description: “Darin McQuoid near execution of what we now know as the Cobra Flip.”

Serrasolses, also an avid skier, says he came up with the idea for the spinning-along-the-boat’s-axis aerial from viewing footage of a similar, high-flying sport. “I thought about it when I was watching skiing videos,” he says. “It’s pretty much a  “Lincoln Loop”-type trick applied to kayaking. I draw inspiration from all sports.”

But that didn’t make it any easier. He still had to find the right sized waterfall and figure out exactly how to throw his weight and execute the proper stroke. Here’s how he does it:

“If I’m going for one off my right side, I approach the waterfall with some speed, boof over it then lean completely to my right side,” he says. “You want to be completely upside down in the air pretty quick so there’s enough time to finish off the rotation. Then you have to reach out with your left blade to the other side and try to grab some water to help you with the roll. If your timing, location and moves are right you should find yourself landing it.”

So far he says he’s done over 15 Cobra Flips, “some more successful than others.”

– Aniol Serrasolses:

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The article was originally published on Canoe & Kayak

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