Science Lesson: why it’s important to distinguish between flips and spins

Posted: January 20, 2014 in Essays and Musings, Media, Science Lesson
Tags: , , , ,

I was excited to hear slopestyle get mentioned on the radio.  PRI’s The World previewed some of the events that will premiere at Sochi, and they asked a snowboarding instructor what to expect.  Now I don’t know if he was trying his hardest to avoid lingo and oversimplified things, but he said there will be “double backflips”.  When was the last time you saw a double flip at a slopestyle final?  At first I thought he was referring to the double cork, but he also said “corked maneuvers” so my guess is that he wanted to talk about spins.

Most people will probably think confusing spins and flips is an easy mistake.  However, a 720 is a completely different move from a double backflip.  Physics doesn’t have to be your strong suit (it’s definitely not mine) to see that.  When a snowboarder flips, they’re rotating around the X-axis.  For 360s, 720s, etc, the rotation is around the Y-axis.  As a result, the approach has to be different.  For a flip, the snowboarder leans back to generate torque whereas they have to start rotating their body during take-off for a 360 (due to conservation of angular momentum).  This also explains why backflips are generally viewed as easier.  The ramp helps give the snowboarder the pop upward.  On the other hand, they have to generate enough angular momentum to spin 360+ degrees while making sure they don’t veer off-course because they’re traveling in a completely different direction on the same axis.  In short, double backflips and 720s shouldn’t be confused for one another because of the physics involved.  Also, the judges will give you a totally different score.

I am glad the interviewee made a distinction with corked tricks since the physics for them is totally different.  Check out this Sport Science feature on the double cork 1080:

Since the video feature Shaun White, I would like to conclude with another point of inaccurate reporting. This weekend I kept seeing headlines about Shaun’s “new trick” or even “first-ever Cab double cork 1440 in competition”. Although it may be his first “YOLO flip” landed in competition and a new trick for him, Iouri Podladchikov did it at X Games Tignes Superpipe competition 10 months ago:

If we want to get super technical as to who did it first in competition, Shaun’s slopestyle teammate Sage Kotsenberg gets that honor. He did it at the Billabong Air and Style three years ago. You gotta be specific when you’re reporting!

  1. […] Science Lesson: why it’s important to distinguish between flips and spins […]

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