What is Hydrofoil Surfing and How To Foil Surf Safely?
Water sports, as incredibly versatile as they are, evolve continuously and improve or completely new approaches to surfing or paddle boarding are invented, leaving their fans super-excited to learn new skills.
And so, here we are talking about one of the latest inventions that can change surfing forever. And that’s the hydrofoil surfing.
If you already have some knowledge of surfing and you are looking to take up a whole new, reinvented approach to it, or you are a newbie who likes a little bit of tech surfing, then a foil surfboard will be your thing for sure.
However, no matter what you start, it is important to do it safely.
With this post, I will help you get a hold of the theoretical part of hydrofoil surfing so that you know what to expect. You will have a much better understanding of the whole foil board setup, your stance on it, and some techniques while riding it in the water and how the underwater wings work.
Additionally, it is very important to know how to stay safe while E-foil surfing since the dreaded kickflip is a real thing, and you need to know how to avoid it, so you don’t hurt yourself or other people around you.
Ready to become a foil surfer? Let’s get to it, then!
What is Hydrofoil Surfing?
This reinvented way of surfing, hydrofoil surfing, is truly the future of water sports. And I’m not the first nor the last one to say it.
Foil surfboards give you access to new waves and offshore surf breaks that you cannot usually catch with a regular surfboard. New water terrain that had never been explored before is now available, and it’s so exciting to know that an invention like this, the foil surfboard, redefined what we considered to be a rideable wave.
And the reason why experienced surfers often say that about hydrofoil surfing is that it basically does not require a big wave to get going. In some sort, foil surfboarding is like controlled aquaplaning. It gives you an effortless glide above water that no board can provide otherwise.
With that said, to include a little bit of background into the post, it’s essential to know that the first watermen to attach a foil to a surfboard was Laird Hamilton. He is a famous big wave surfer from Hawaii, and he started improvising with fins underneath boards to optimize the surf in all kinds of swells.
Then, Kai Lenny, a famous Hawaiian surfer, took it up a notch and tried hydrofoil for surfing, windsurfing, kiteboarding, and bodyboarding. These experienced surfers soon realized that this valuable tool could be used in a wide variety of ocean conditions, waves, and scenarios.
What is a foil surfboard?
Another question I often get is, “What is a foil board, and how does it work?“
So, let’s start with the basics. How do you get a foil board or a hydrofoil board? When you attach a hydrofoil under a board that extends the board into the water, you get a foil board or a hydrofoil board. When the board gains speed, the hydrofoil lifts the surfboard or kiteboard slightly above water because of the kinetic energy that is being produced.
But wait, “What is a hydrofoil?” You may ask. A hydrofoil is basically a fin with wings that long and hydrodynamically designed for this purpose specifically.
Its specific design mitigates the effects of the wind on the surface of the water. This way, the friction is reduced to a minimum, which allows you to angle at 90 degrees in less than a second.
How does the foil boarding work?
Even though this is a new invention in the surfing world, this type of mechanism is used by airplanes or even birds’ wings, so it’s basically nothing new and, therefore, easy to grasp.
Namely, because the foil is located on the rear end at the back of the board, after taking off and standing on your feet, you can go faster and elevate higher by leaning on the back foot. This way you are tilting the wing upright.
On the other hand, by leaning on your front foot, you dive underwater and decrease the elevation of your hydrofoil surfboard.
Therefore, finding balance in your stance is crucial in learning to control your E-foil board.
The Takeoff Is Key
When you are surfing on a regular surfboard, you take off at the crest of the wave and ride it down on the face, setting set up for a bottom turn. With a foil board, this is very different.
Namely, you shouldn’t be anywhere around a high wave and its top when you take off. You need to get down the face of the wave, paddling like it’s a 15-footer, and lean completely forward when you take off – something that would typically lead to a nosedive.
However, when riding waves on a E-foil board, it is almost impossible to pearl.
This is because the entire speed is at the top of the swell. So, when you are surfing on a regular board you paddle and wait for the speed at the top, and then drop in. However, on a foil if you try to do that, the wing will come out at the top of the swell. And that’s no good!
This is why you would want to paddle and stand up mid-face or even below. With a hydrofoil board you can even catch the whitewater because thanks to its mechanism, you cannot and don’t have to be high on the wave when you stand up.
It’s basically as if you want to take off with the intention of nose diving. This may sound a bit counterintuitive but trust me when you try it you will understand my point.
PRO TIP: Something that could potentially ease things up for you and help you learn a bit faster is by towing behind a boat or jet ski in the open ocean or a lake.
How do you use an E-foil?
As someone who tried it, I can safely say the feeling of flight over water is one of the most mesmerizing experiences that you can have in your lifetime. Plus, knowing that with a hydrofoil board, you can go surfing anytime, anywhere, and you no longer have to wait for the right waves to appear, is liberating on its own.
With that said, here’s how to use an e-foil:
If you have never done any surfing or paddle boarding before, I wholeheartedly encourage you to start with that prior hydrofoil surfing. Not because this is extremely hard to master but simply because those two will teach you how to feel the board and control it better before stepping on a foil surfboard.
But if you do have some experience or you simply want to start with hydrofoil surfing right away, then start by getting a feel for the board and the hand controller first. And how do you do that? Simply by lying down on the board. This way, you get to know its size and how it feels to be on it.
Then, as you feel more comfortable, slowly begin to ride on your knees.
As you master the knee riding, start to ride it by standing up slowly. Now, as you are standing up, work on getting comfortable for the ride under your feet and start exploring the different stances and when you are most comfortable in.
In all cases, do not try elevating until you feel comfortable and well-balanced on the board.
As time passes and you feel comfortable and balanced on the board while standing, begin to Lift by gradually and slowly accelerating and shifting your weight back. Do this until you get the hang of it and feel balanced.
While lifted, do not tense your body in any way. I understand that the feeling of flying over water is a foreign and strange experience to most, so your initial reaction will be to tense at first but focus on the placement of your feet and try to relax all your muscles as much as you can.
To Lift means to elevate the board above water in order to “fly over water” while allows you to surf on any type of waves. In order to start lifting the foil surfboard, you will need to:
Place your weight on your back foot. This will allow the board to Lift off the water or exit the water and lift you with it. However, once it is lifted, you will need to immediately shift your weight forward so that you balance it out and fly smoothly above water.
To remain flying on the water, you need to be above a certain speed at all times. The speed is what keeps you lifted, so if you don’t add enough speed at one point, you will get lowered or won’t be able to lift off the water at all.
However, remember that you cannot immediately start flying (or start lifting), but you need to do it slowly and gradually. For this, you shouldn’t push the throttle all the way down, but instead, you should gradually increase the speed so that you gain enough speed over time to elevate in a stable manner.
Once you get elevated, keep that speed until you feel comfortable enough to increase.
Important thing to remember is that when increasing speed, you will turn more seamlessly once you are lifted. So, you have to be extra careful as to where you are looking and where you are turning your body towards since the E-foil board will follow.
In the end, when you want to stop the foil surfboard you simply let go of the throttle.
PRO TIP: When you feel that you’ve lost balance past the point of correcting yourself and you are going to fall into the water, simply let go BUT try to jump away from the board and foil.
In the beginning there will be more situations like this, so don’t try to correct your stance or balance to avoid falling. Just let it happen. Otherwise, you risk crashing into your equipment and experiencing the dreaded kickflip which I’ll talk about below. And that’s no fun!
Gradually, as you practice more and more, you will find an easy way to fall off into the water and get back up. But until then, remember to jump off and away from the foil surfboard.
And no matter how many times you fall off, it’s all part of the experience. Get back up on the board and keep riding!
What shape and construction works best for a hydrofoil board?
If you were thinking of converting your old board into a hydrofoil board, I gotta stop you right there! Thing is, not every board shape can be converted into a hydrofoil board. The perfect shape and dimensions of a hydrofoil board will be a flat and short one.
This is because the board is only in contact with the water for a short period of time. Otherwise, it is lifted most of the time. This is why, the back of the board needs to be flat, especially because the connection to the foil should be at 90 degrees.
The Foil board setup
Thanks to the structure or fuselage that blends steel, aluminum, and fiberglass at the perfect ratio, the hydrofoil surfboard can be lifted off the water even at low speeds.
Thanks to the ingenious foil design, these boards can be used to surf, race, or cruise around leisurely.
But, How Is The Hydrofoil Connected To The Surfboard?
Most foils out there are connected to the board through a 4 screw plate mount with two tracks (actually US box mounts, like the ones you find on a longboard) spaced at 90mm apart.
The highest amount of the load in the setup is exerted on the connection and the box mount. This is where most boards might fall short.
Ideally, find a foil board that has a solid PET honeycomb sandwiched with carbon fiber on both the inside and outside as part of its unique construction. This way, the two tracks are fused together with the foam and carbon fiber, which creates a connection that is more solid and durable than the other foil surfboard setups.
This kind of design delivers optimal power distribution from the foil to the board for the most efficient pumping and control.
Where you attach the foil to the board will depend on your weight and height, as well as the typical waves you usually ride.
With smaller waves, if you are a small surfer and would like to get an extra lift, then position the wing forward in the box.
The same goes for larger riders who want an extra boost in elevation. You should move the wing forward as well.
With that said, if the waves are bigger, then you should move the plate system farther back on the tracks.
Where can you buy a foil surfboard?
There are several manufacturers of ready-to-use foil surfboards, and there are many tutorials on how to construct one yourself.
This will largely depend on your skills and budget above all, so make sure you do your research so that you can make an informed decision based on your needs and preferences.
However, I have to mention that there are two types of foiling on the market:
The boards for prone surf foil boarding are usually quite bulky. This is because you need a lot of volume for the first few paddles and in order to get into the wave early.
That said, a foil board is much stiffer so that it can allow for a direct feel of the foil and efficient pumping.
As for the surf foiling, the kite foiling boards also do have some volume to ease up the takeoff. The bulkiness also enables the board not to sink in or dive on touchdowns.
For this, the carbon fiber material is the best because it offers the optimal balance between weight and stiffness.
How expensive are foil boards?
This will largely depend on the manufacturer, the design of the foil surfboard, and of course, the materials used hence the quality. So there are boards that go up to $12,000 or even more and some that are way below that price point.
If you are a water sports junkie like I am, surely you remember the rise of SUPs. The initial period when they first started getting popular, they held sky-high prices and no board was below $1000, but now you can get them for half that price or even less (sure, if you’re looking for good-quality, prices matter, still).
It is very likely that the same thing could happen with hydrofoils too, but it remains to be seen. After all, they are slightly higher-tech designs that aren’t as easy to manufacture, but the prices may still fall in the following years.
There’s also a concept that goes around called “Fly before you buy” or “Try before you buy” by some E-foil makers, which may seem like a cool option before spending so much, but that may not be wise for everyone.
You see, if you are a complete newbie and you want to start with foil surfing right off the bat, you could expect to suck at the beginning. This is pretty normal. So, when you try an e-foil board before buying it, your experience will probably suck too.
This is because compared to SUPs, the learning curve with hydrofoils is much steeper. This means that once you buy it and try it for the first several times, you will definitely get the hang of it. But the first time will surely be way off, and no one can stand on one for the first time.
So if you actually buy one, you are committed to learning and fighting off the failure that comes with the first several tries.
How difficult is foil surfing?
As I mentioned before, the learning process has a steeper curve when hydrofoiling, and even though the period in which you master this activity will differ based on your preexisting skills and overall fitness, it is universal that beginnings are hard, but you will progress at a much faster rate.
Consistency and patience are the most important things overall for anything that you are trying out for the first time.
With that said, in the next part, I am talking about the most common – potentially dangerous – mistake foil surfers might make and how to protect and stay away from hurting yourself.
Are foil boards dangerous?
I don’t want to frighten you away from hydrofoiling, BUT, a big, hairy BUT (no, not the “double T” kind, you perv), you just have to be aware of the dreaded kickflip.
I have already mentioned it a couple of times earlier, but here I’m going to discuss it further and explain to you how it can happen and, therefore, how to avoid it.
When you get to stand up and lift off on your foil board, the first few tries before you learn how to control it, it will lift faster than you think. At that point, you might try to control it, but you won’t always succeed in the beginning. This is when you need to keep your board down, flat on the water, not letting it fly. As you speed up, you will feel as if someone is lifting you out of the water, so you have to have a firm, balanced stance in order to control it.
Namely, the dreaded kickflip is when your foil surfboard lifts off the water at the top of a wave and breaches violently, flipping onto its side.
At that moment, you will proceed falling down, potentially landing on top of the board and the metal hydrofoil. If you ever find yourself in this situation, jump straight to the side of your E-foil board and let it pass you at a safe distance.
But as they say, “Prevention is the best medicine,” how do you avoid the kickflip and keep the board as far from your face as possible?
The key lies in your front foot.
As I said before, transferring your weight on the back foot will lift and speed up the foil board while leaning on the front foot will decrease the elevation and slow it down enough so that you can control it better.
Keep Your Distance
You have to know how to keep your distance from the board.
This isn’t so much for saving yourself from the kickflip as it is to stay away from the sharp metal wing beneath the surface that aims to cut everything in its path.
This is why in places like France and Australia, there is a ban on hydrofoil boards in crowded waters.
Additional tips&tricks for hydrofoil surfing
Find a safe spot to practice
Nothing is more frustrating than trying to learn hydrofoil surfing and having people or boats constantly cutting your path. Plus, not to mention the dangers of hitting yourself or someone else with the blade underneath.
So, find a spot where nobody else is at, and you will be more motivated to continue going even after you fall down a dozen times.
With a hydrofoil surfboard, you are able to ride every little wave you come across—something no surfboard can say about itself.
This is why, for beginners, finding find a spot with small waves in the one-to-two-foot range is preferable for learning to foil board without the proprietary dangers.
You should place the traction pads exactly where your feet should be. This way, they can work as a guide to where you need to stand.
So, find a sweet spot, ideally having your back foot over the mast or even a bit behind it, and ride away.
As you surf, if you want to start pumping or make a tight radius turn, you will need to step back a little bit, and you’ll be right on the kicktail.
As for the width of your stance, aim for a shoulder-width stance with a lot of front foot pressure for optimal control.
Entering the Water and Paddling Out
When entering the water, hold the board like a standard surfboard, and grab the foil’s wingtip with the other hand.
When you are in chest-deep water, start paddling out like if you do on a regular board. Foils create extra lift and will project you through the wave so that duck diving will be effortless.
Pop Up and Ride
As you spot an incoming wave, start paddling until you catch it. The takeoff process on a foil board is identical to that of surfing.
When you stand up on your feet, apply a little bit more pressure on your front foot as the wave gets steeper.
When you have your traction pad installed in the right place, you won’t have to think twice about where to put your foot down.
Of course, in the beginning, hydrofoil surfing will seem a lot different than regular surfing because of the difference in the stance and the wave catching in general. On a foil surfboard, you adopt a squat stance while keeping your chest vertical and your shoulders wide open so that you maintain the right balance, and you don’t fall.
But don’t worry, even if all these seem pretty confusing, hydrofoil surfing is relatively straightforward once you get the hang of it. As always, if you have any other questions regarding foil surfboards or anything else water sports-related, I’m happy to help!
In the meantime, I’d love to connect with you on my Facebook and Instagram account for more cool tips and recommendations on paddle boards and kayaks.
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