Foiling – Easier (and MUCH more versatile) than you think…
And it’ll have you grinning for years 😊
“I can go foiling pretty much anytime, regardless of what the wind, swell or tide is doing.”
Marcus Tardrew, Sunova Board Designer, Foil Record Holder and SUSS Team Member
Do you want to get into foiling, but keep telling yourself it’s too hard, too impractical or too expensive?
Well, this article is just for you! Written by a beginner (who has been coached by the best) and just a few steps ahead of someone who is yet to get started. I’ve found that learning to foil had me grinning from day one. In this article I’ll dispel a few myths about foiling (like that it’s too hard ) and I’ll share my #1 tip for all beginners. But first, where did foiling come from? How did it explode onto the scene?
The Origins of a Hydrofoil
It’s handy to think of a foil like a mini glider airplane; it’s got a big front wing, a small tail wing and a fuselage. With a bit of speed, the foil’s wings create lift just like an airplane and lifts the foil board up via the mast. Once the board takes off from the water, the drag experienced reduces dramatically (by at least 50%). Therefore, a whole range of waters sports enthusiasts and engineers have been sticking hydrofoils on all manner of craft for years.
From jet skis, to cycle-powered canoes, enthusiasts have known that foil technology has the potential to reinvent any game.
The Foiling Explosion
Foiling opens up a whole new world because of the reduced drag, enabling you to;
- Surf a wave faster, longer (arguably way more radically) and to pump your way straight onto another one.
- Race much much faster! Kai Lenny blew our minds in 2016 when he completed the Maui to Molokai in record time.
- Add a ‘wing ding’ and foil forever when the breeze is on.
- Dock start and ‘thieve’ boat wake. Jump off a dock and pump your way out onto an infinite wave… the wakes of passing boats (to the sheer delight of everyone on most boats).
- Note – Not all boats appreciate foilers ‘thieving’ their wake. Generally speaking, private vessels full of friends love a random foiler popping up. They look at foilers the same way they look at dolphins! The passengers on a ferry might be amused, but the driver will get anxious, so stay away. Boats hosting Buck and Hens parties are the absolute best.. or so I’m told.
Anyway, as far as I can tell, it was the freak of nature, Kai Lenny,that really ignited this sport because he was winning races, surfing, kiting, windsurfing and SUPing with a foil and reinventing every game.
The Absolute BEST Way to START
Get behind a boat.
If you don’t have a boat, here’s how to get on one.
- Find a friend or a friend of a friend with a boat.
- Say “Hey, I’ve got one of those foil boards… it’s like that board that levitates over the water. Wanna go towing behind your boat? It’s super fun and I’ll bring a 6 pack.”
Everyone wants to have a go, or see someone have a go. So every person I ever asked said, “YES!”
This is my first session behind a boat. Not bad, right?
HOT TIP to make this extra easy. Get a big board and a big foil. A board so big that you can stand on it without moving. This way, you can begin getting towed and already be on your feet! Big foils generate lift at slower speed. That means you’re learning at a slow, controlled pace. Be sure to read THE NUMBER ONE RULE below.
The GOAL Behind the Boat
Ditch the rope! From the very beginning, you’ll feel the energy of the boat’s wake. Learn to surf an infinite wave, pumping and gliding your way all along the wake. You can see in this video how slack the rope gets.
Quick Note About Author’s Skill
My name is Joseph Andrin and if I was to brag, I’d say I am an intermediate at SUPing, surfing and kiting.
No Boat? How to Get Started Without a Boat
Start at the finish.
Where is it that you’d like your foiling journey to take you? Do you want to dock start and ‘thieve wake’? Or maybe prone foil surf? Perhaps you want to SUP foil race? Or SUP foil the swell?
Begin with that!
When I went foiling behind a boat, there were crew on board that had never surfed or been wake boarding. However, as the technique to foiling is so different, these people did just as good as ‘experienced surfers’ (if not better). See FAQ below. In any case, be sure to follow the NUMBER ONE RULE below!
Joseph’s NUMBER ONE RULE When Learning To Foil
“Your objective is to stay in control. Keep the board down on the water and only allow the board to lift of the water for short moments. NEVER ride your board like it’s a rodeo.”
My number one rule when learning to foil is that before you begin you need to make a covenant with yourself and it goes like this;
“I _____ (name) solemnly swear to _______(God/myself/my family/the universe/Allah etc) that I will have huge amounts of fun foiling.
Therefore, my number one priority is to maintain my well-being and physical condition.
I swear to
Do my best to maintain control.
Make it my highest priority to keep my board between my body and the foil.
Do everything withing my power to ensure that the only thing the foil ever touches while in use is water.“
If you’re reading this and you don’t get it, that’s because you haven’t experienced just how terrifying it is to fall towards a foil…
The Only ‘Problem’ With Learning to Foil
Falling towards a moving foil is absolutely petrifying and it could really hurt.
I’m truly grateful that I was lucky enough to get started without injury. What I wish for any beginner, is the good fortune to at least fall a few times without getting hurt. Then, the determination to follow the number one rule so that you don’t get hurt.
I honestly feel this is incredibly fun and within anyone’s reach, so long as you don’t get deterred by an accident. So I’d like to recommend the following tips;
- Make the covenant specified in The Number One Rule with yourself
- Aim to ‘not foil’ when getting started. Whatever form you are learning, make it your goal to keep the board on the surface of the water as much as possible at the start. As soon as the board lifts off the water, put your weight forward to send it back down. Allow yourself to slowly build time ‘flying’ instead of aiming to fly.
- Bail the moment you are out of control. My coach Marcus Tardrew has helped me understand this clearly and it’s been a valuable tip I have forwarded to others. Be it behind the boat, or surfing, when you feel out of control, BAIL! Do not treat the out-of-control board like a rodeo and aim to stay on, as things get ugly fast.
The first step to learning how to foil is learning to fall with confidence.
Do I need to know how to surf to learn to foil?
No. The technique is totally different. That said, when learning to surf, you actually learn a lot of things along the way. You learn how to read the waves, about rips, even how to swim. How to hold your breath. You learn to pull yourself into foetal position when dumped by a wave. These skills ARE very useful. If you haven’t surfed before and want to go straight to foil surfing, I’ll give you the same advice I give aspiring surfers. Learn to feel comfortable in the ocean WITHOUT a board first. Body surf. Get dumped. Duck dive. Swim. Enjoy playing in the surf a lot without a board first. Then get a board.
Isn’t the equipment really expensive?
Yes. And no. I come from a kitesurfing background and got the same question there. Yes, the initial outlay is expensive. However, you can use the equipment so much that it’s really valuable. Having a foil surfboard will send your wave count literally through the roof. It will also send your time on feet through the roof. And you’ll be able to use the same board, behind a boat. And you can change a few bits and put it on a SUP. Or a downwinder. This equipment is super versatile.
Will knowing how to wake board help me foil behind the boat?
No. As before, this technique it totally different. People seem to insist that in order to foil, you need to first learn a hundred other things. From DIRECT experience, I witness a person who had never surfed or wakeboard learn to get foiling behind the boat quicker than someone who could do both. The transferable skill, balance, helps.
Is it hard on my body?
No (if you follow the number one rule). When we went behind the boat, a 60 year old man who recently suffered a stroke was succeeding. He currently wouldn’t dream of wakeboarding but could easily foil.
Won’t I outgrow my equipment fast and then have to buy more?
No. Get the right equipment the first time. Not too advanced because you may struggle for years (and maybe give up/develop bad technique). Pretty much, the easier, the better. It takes a LOT of skill to max out the use-able range of good equipment. Pros often use ‘beginner’ gear and have an absolute blast! Even if you do ‘max-out’, you’ll love to keep your first set and slowly add more pieces to your quiver as you need it in the future.