ingFoiling (flying above the water whilst balanced precariously on a carbon/alloy upright with Spitfire-esque wings below generating lift) isn’t exactly a new concept. All manner of waterborne craft have had the foil treatment; windsurf foiling having been around for years.
With bespoke manufacturers producing necessary tools, and cottage industry entrepreneurs dabbling, it’s only been of late that windsurf foiling (or wind foiling) has reached commercial acceptance. As ever higher performing materials are needed for all windsurfing equipment, mass market hydrofoils have suddenly jumped into everyone’s consciousness.
My foil journey began (slowly) in 2016. Dabbling tentatively only of late has the bug taken hold. Learning any new skill sees a period of failure. A lot of crashing dents confidence – especially if your regular windsurfing shenanigans have reached a certain level. I’m certainly no pro but a bunch of moves are in the bag. A quiet word with myself, mainly consisting of expletives and ‘man up’ dialogue, saw me set about properly learning the art.
During first forays I’d been atop what felt like a pretty technical board to ride. The foil itself was supposed to be one of the easiest to use, and great for light winds. Its huge front wing, and long, upright (foil mast) caused apprehension, that’s for sure. How the hell are you supposed to balance a yard above the briny? What you know about windsurfing can’t be applied here. Foiling’s a whole new ball game with different forces and muscle memory needing to be understood and developed.
The first obstacle is what sail size to rig. Foiling happens in much lighter winds than traditional planing windsurfing. The AFS-1 AHD foil I’m using can work in just six knots! Following a few false starts with sail choice it’s become apparent my minimum wind strength is 12 knots. I can foil in slightly less with a bigger rig but I prefer the less cumbersome nature of the 5.3 square meters rig—although I may change my tune in time. Switching boards to an AHD Sealion Wings 7.6ft has also seen better results.
Looking at the photos, the beady eyed will notice this sled is sans footstraps, allowing my feet to shuffle and find optimum trim position, pushing through my toes and down as opposed to lifting. Staying inboard and not on a rail is just one fundamental difference with wind foiling.
I quickly learned that your harness isn’t needed as much. In fact, once up and foiling you can unhook, flying effortlessly above the water with no excessive sail force. In standard windsurfing mode this simply wouldn’t be possible – not full power planing at least.
Flying is a highly addictive sensation. As you rise up and release all drag disappears, silence takes over and chop/flotsam becomes a thing of the past. No more bouncing along and being jerked around as you buck over bumps.
Gybing on the foil is tricky (at time of writing I haven’t mastered this yet). It’s also worth mentioning that the more a foil lifts the faster you go. Stopping can be sketchy as you can’t easily come to land. And the golden rule is: don’t let go of your boom. This way you shouldn’t come into contact with the foil during a crash. If in doubt wear a helmet …
Rather than a conclusive foiling ‘how to’, this article is more about my experiences to date. I’m constantly improving with each session. One thing’s for sure: we are only scratching the surface in terms of where windsurf foiling will go. After years of playing second fiddle to other disciplines like kitesurfing, windsurfing, albeit in foiling mode, is back on the agenda. There’s a sense of revolution – much like those early windsurfers and stand up paddle boarders experienced. Sub-20 knot windsurfing is now more appealing and the need for big cumbersome rigs is no longer a thing. By using the same sail you would use for windsurfing in higher winds, foiling becomes more accessible and cost effective.
In the short term we’ll agree that cash outlay is significant – foils aren’t cheap. Although the industry moves quick and we’re seeing lower priced kits coming to market. You don’t need a brand spanking new board either. As long as a deep tuttle fin box is in place then a decent secondhand sled will do.
If you’re looking to re-invigorate your windsurfing and/or looking for more performance in lighter winds then I can’t recommend wind foiling enough. Try it, you might like it!
Tez Plavenieks is freelance writer specializing in action sports and travel. He edits, writes and produces content for a variety of different outlets both online and in print.