What I have learned as I have begun to foil

Kite Foiboarding riding is taking off.  In 2015 there were a few models out there, pros were dialing them in.  Local riders, Barry Peterson, Pete Koske, Jim Watkins, Todd Hanson and Scott Dritz were pioneering the sport here in the land of 10,000 lakes.   Racers were dialing their skills, but it wasn’t really a sport for the masses yet.  2016 changed all that.  Most manufacturers came out with a foil and many underestimated the market and struggled to keep up with production.  New foils made it easier to learn and enjoy this new sport and we all gobbled it up.

…but it wasn’t really a sport for the masses yet.  2016 changed all that.

Foiling is such a crazy cool experience.  I’ve been kiteboarding for over 15 years and this is unlike any other ride I’ve experienced.  It is truly a magic carpet ride.  Personally for me I like the fluid carving in 3D, the quiet, and the gentle nature of the ride.

There are so many different rides within foilboarding.  Ripping at mach 6 with a super high aspect foil kite, carving the 3D space, or defining a whole new type of freestyle.  The draw is different for everyone.

I do not claim to be an accomplished foiler.  I am just at the beginning, discovering my ride on this magical wing.  Though I thought I’d share some things I’ve learned so far:

…all those skills have to be thrown away to learn to foil.

Foiling is not much like riding any other board.
I’ve ridden a lot of boards and riding a wing is different than any of them.  Unfortunately all those skills have to be thrown away to learn to foil.  It’s amazingly challenging to let go of such ingrained skills, to perceive everything fresh and feel your way into the ride rather than have your body respond from an ingrained skill that you’ve honed over years and years.  If you’ve explored Mindfulness at all it is a similar concept.  Letting go of our automatic routines and truly being in the moment.  When learning to foilboard it can be a humbling experience, as not only is it new, it is completely different, but we’re fooled by how many things seem the same as all our other experiences with a board attached to our feet.

Short masts help the learning curve.
The first foil I tried was a full length system.  I really struggled with it.  I’d get going on the board, riding it flat like everyone said, then the foil would engage, and before I could stop it, the wings were out of the water and I was going down over the nose.  Or if my weight was backward, the foil would want to flip over toward me.  Eeeks!   The systems that use the varying mast lengths, like the Slingshot Hoverglide and others, really really make these early sessions much more successful and less stressful.  The shorter masts allow you to get up on foil, and if things go wrong you easily drop back down onto the water with the board to begin again.  Rides get longer and longer as you get more comfortable on foil.  At some point it makes sense to go to the longer mast to give you more room to move within the 3 dimensions.  Oh and that’s when it gets exciting.

There are beginner foils out there, sometimes lower aspect foils, that also make it easier to learn.  Definitely a viable path.  My only comment about these is that you may grow out of these foils pretty quickly.  Some offer the ability to swap out just the wing, which make sense as you grow into the sport.  Or it may make more sense to sell the whole system and buy another higher aspect foil setup.  Personally I think the path that Slingshot and others now are offering makes a bit more sense.  Offer a performance foil and shorter masts to help you move into that performance, safely and confidently.

Board shapes help
Wouldn’t think the board shape would matter right?  The board is only in the water for such a short time.  You water start, ride the board for a bit and up you go on the foil.  Once up on the foil the board shape, length, design shouldn’t matter.  Well yes that is partly true.  When you are up on foil the platform you place your feet on doesn’t matter much. Some have options for 3 straps and some only offer two.  Some have a bit of a ridge down the centerline which tells you where your feet are on the deck.  Some have pads across the entire top, some have just foot pads.  Most of these are not too significant and may be personal preference.

The differences come into play when you come off the foil, whether it be because the foil popped through the backside of a wave, or you loose power in a turn, or the water comes up to you say when slicing through waves at a low altitude.   Boardshape here matters.  Having a board with a flipped nose helps you recover if your foil pops out of the water and you go down nose first.  Flatter shorter boards tend to “pearl” in these situations.  Pearling is when your nose digs into the water.  Champhered or slightly hulled bottoms, like the Dwarfcrafts, ease the entry back onto the water, instead of wacking it when you reconnect with the water.  These advantages are also much more valuable when you are starting since the you’ll be seeking that elusive continual foil session.

…when ready, give the thumbs up to the captain and the speed will lift you up onto the magic carpet.

Riding behind a boat or jetski can jumpstart your learning
Any practice you can get without a kite will help.  You can practice water starting the board, get comfortable riding the board on the water, then, when ready, give the thumbs up to the captain and the speed will lift you up onto the magic carpet.  Work with the boat/ski operator and let them know to start off slow.  We’ve found every foil lifts at different speeds.  The main things is to let the speed lift you onto the foil not leaning back.

Straps help when learning
There is a lot of controvery over straps when learning.  Some feel you risk injury to your ankles with footstraps

I have found that straps help position the board on edge for waterstarting.  I also prefer to have straps to give me reassurance that the foil is perpendicular to the bottom of my feet.  I run them very loose.  Recently Slingshot introduced Foot Hooks that are there when you need them and allow you to move around like strapless.  I have found that I prefer straps in light winds, though like the foot hooks when powered.

Construction: Carbon,  Aluminum and other materials
My experience is mainly with aluminum foils or rather aluminum masts.  They are definitely heavier than the carbon foils and…  They are a lot cheaper.  The weight mainly plays a role carrying the rig around, water starting, and having it hanging from your feet when you start jumping.  Carbon is a bit fragile as well.  Whatever foil you get most likely you will nick it up.  They are repairable with sandpaper and filler if needed.

Gusty winds are gusty winds
Having ridden in South Padre and here, I’ve discovered, just like all kiteboarding, steady winds are the holy graile.  With a foil though, I think the efficiencies of the system smooths out changes in the speed because any tension is almost immediately turned to speed, so you don’t “feel” the gust as much.  When heading into a lull, the opposite happens in your relationship to the kite vs a twin tip.  On a twin tip, the board slows down first, the kite continues to race forward and soon (if not sining aggressively) you plop in the water.  On a foil board in a lull, your momentum carries you forward ahead of the kite, which is good because it puts the kite deeper in the window..and if the lull isn’t too large carries you through.

Weeds are not your friend
Last year Scott Dritz took the initiative to map our the weed beds on Waconia, for a good reason.  When you are on foil and you hit a weed bed, you go down, many times with the weeds wrapping around the foil, making the weed bed like a big green monster trying to gobble you up.  Escape isn’t impossible but can take work.

You will feel even a single weed on your foil as a vibration up through the rig.  If in the right place you won’t even get onto the foil.  Most foils are fairly swept back which clears weeds but there will be times where you need to plop down in the water and rotate your board up and your foil out of the water to get the weeds off.  Also usually when you are on foil you will slice through the random weed out there.  While initially weeds were thought to make foiling a no go for Minnesota, it hasn’t proven to be a major obstacle.

Foiling will give you a much more fluid and light flying experience down into the single digits

You will ride more and you will get skunked more
Having a foil in your quiver means you will ride more days period.  While you may be able to mow the lawn a bit on a big board and big kite in 10-15mph wind, Foiling will give you a much more fluid and light flying experience down into the single digits.  The number of days with winds like that far outweight the higher wind days.

I have found I am riding more, and I am getting skunked more.  If you head to the lake when the forecast is 20-30mph and it only ends up being 15-25mph we barely notice and rig a bit bigger kite.  On the otherhand, if it’s forecast for 10-20mph and you head to the lake hoping to foil, it may only be 5-15mph (or 20-30).  If it’s more 5mph vs 15mph, you’ll be sitting on shore, even with your very cool foil.

While 6-8mph is ridable on a foil in coastal areas, the winds are much more inconsistent in our region.  Mille Lacs and Superior may be the closest we have to this kind of steady winds.  I have found that base winds of 8mph usually include lulls to 4mph or less and gusts to into the low teens.  For me I like to have double digits (with lulls into the high single digits) to get a good ride.

Kite size
I started out riding my foil with my Rallys.  Worked great.  They are easily to control and keep their position in the window, they drift pretty well and the relaunch is great in light winds.  I tried to use the 12m in the lightest of winds but quickly was overpowered.  Over powered on a foil isn’t much fun.  Putting the kite high creates a fairly unstable ride, having a small tug from the kite down in the window makes things much more stable.  I then tried the Wave SST, and find that its superior drifting capabilities really are great for foiling.  Like being on a wave, you want that kite to just sit deep in the window and still behave even when going almost directly downwind.  I find my two kites I tend to use the majority of time are the 10m SST and the 6m Rally.  There is something insanely odd about rigging down as the wind comes down to head out on your foil.

There is something insanely odd about rigging down as the wind comes down to head out on your foil.

Kite type only sorta matters
I think it’s important to stress that you don’t need to buy foil specific kites to enjoy foiling.  I have a demo pool of kites, that is why I use the SST.  The SST is great in waves and Foiling, but is not a great freestyle/freeride kite.  The Rallys are great kites for foiling…and so many other things.  Usually kites that are designed for one thing, really only do that one thing well.  If you don’t want two quivers, use your existing quiver and enjoy whatever board you are on.   Once riding you may find you want to focus on racing or commit 100% to foiling and then may choose a different quiver.

Is foiling dangerous?  It can be, but the choice is yours.  If you start on a system that offers short masts, and you use straps (loose), the chances of you getting near the foil is pretty minimal.  If you choose to fly in reasonable conditions until your skill mature, you’ll minimize your chance of injury

Helmets are a really good idea.  Full face cages are a great idea, especially when learning.  As always if you’re not comfortable with the conditions, sit this one out. Also, if you’re going down, don’t hesitate to pull in and have the kite eject you from the potential yard sale with a sharp object.

You are the necessary ingredient
Kiting is unlike any other thing I know.  You are the necessary ingredient between two wings, each in a different medium and neither flying without you in the middle.  Pretty cool and unique concept.

I hope any of this doesn’t discourage you.  Foiling is an amazing experience and it opens up so many more ridable days in Minnesota.

2017 is already showing the growth continuing.  Foil SUPs, Foil surfboards, and Foil windsurfers are hitting the market.  It’s great seeing all the innovation in this relatively new type of board.

Foiling will never replace other aspects of kiteboarding for me.  I think I will always love loading up a twin tip and boasting big, or playing in real waves on a directional.  There are times I want to feel the water.  But for those times that the texture on the water is chaotic, or the wind is light…I will foil.


About the author


Tighe Belden has been riding the wind for over 30 years. He has been active in the windsport community for over 3 decades, as an instructor, event coordinator, creator of Lakawa and now End of Session, and stokes people on the latest gear as a Tech Ambassador for Slingshot Sports.

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