Pumped is the word after chatting with Sarah Spalinger, Adrenaline Ambassador of the Swiss watersport brand, Indiana Paddle & Surf. When Sarah is not working long hours as a doctor of cardiology and internal medicine, she’s flying (literally!) over the Lake Zürich, Switzerland. In search of the “ultimate freedom and a unique connection with nature”, as she puts it, and driven by an “innate curiosity and admiration for nature” since she was a kid, Sarah has turned her local spot into a foil pumping playground. Fascinated by the elegance, skillfulness and simplicity of the set-up, TotalSUP caught up with the Indiana’s Rider to break some myths about foiling and just start foil pumping.
So… pump foiling… No paddle, no wing, no boat, no waves! How did this adventure start?
It was November 2020 when I first saw a guy a 10-minute walk from home at lake Zürich trying a new sport I had never seen before nor heard about: pump foiling. Even though he fell repeatedly into the water and I had no idea if this would ever work – I was thrilled the moment I saw it. He let me hop on the board but I immediately had a full-blown fall on it. Wow, that wasn’t easy at all. Still, it didn’t’ matter, I love hard things. Plus, it was finally a chance to ‘surf’ without waves, wind or any other equipment, in a landlocked country like mine. I was hooked.
Pump foiling is super hard and you make it look so effortless and elegant!
Ha ha, thank you, but my first attempts definitely didn’t look elegant at all. They’re funny to watch though. I started off by jumping on a board from Zeno, a friend I met at the lake. He was so helpful and patient holding the board while I took a few fast steps and jumped on it. However, most of the time I immediately fell off. It was only when I started pushing the board myself that I got better, and other friends filmed me and gave me tips on how to stand and all. Finally I took a leap of faith and bought a set-up from Indiana Paddle & Surf, at the end of May2021, without knowing if I would be ever able to pump, or if other girls were successful.
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I think anyone who is determined can learn the sport. I have only a little surf experience and no background in windsurfing, kiting, foiling or skateboarding. The most important thing is motivation and frustration tolerance. I would suggest though, that you start with a real pump foil course or friends that know the sport and the equipment, to get the best possible start. They will tell you where to put your feet and how to minimize possible injuries.
Let’s break some myths about foiling… What are your top three tips to pump foiling…
First, Patience. You won’t be pumping long rounds after one day of training. Body and mind need to learn and memorise the movement. Start with the take-off, give the board a slide and jump and slide it into the water. Only when you’ve mastered this you can think about pumping. Without doubt, it’s hard at first. Believe that it will work, and never give up. That’s the beauty of neuroplasticity. I truly thought I will never get the hang of it! But after about 200 – 400 tries, you will fly over the water.
Second, Your equipment matters. However, don’t get too hung up about which foil size, brand or the board you use. The variety can be disturbing, nowadays there are so many options to choose from. For a beginner that can be taunting. Choose a set-up that people with experience in the sport recommend to you, preferably adjusted your weight and skills, and… stick to it. Set-up changes will be easier to tackle once you’ve mastered a few runs with ‘your’ board, but you will still need to adjust your speed of take-off, foot positioning and pumping frequency to every new set-up.
Third, Momentum. Both your body and board need some forward speed in order to generate lift. So, it’s best to swing the board from the back to the front (my way) or run with it a few steps and then jump on it, still keeping that forward movement, possibly while swinging your arms. A jetty that is about half a metre higher than water level is best, but it can work from different levels. When you have generated that momentum, push your feet down, it will generate upward movement. Then lift them, best alternatively, and you will fly.
Let’s get granular… How difficult is it to get back on the board after you fall in and start pumping again?
Good question. It’s impossible to start again once you fall in. In the ocean, you can try to paddle, take a wave and stand up. In flat water, you either need to run with the foil and jump on it (beach start). That takes a lot of mastery though. Or the preferred method is to simply paddle back to the jetty and start from there again.
Lake Zürich is your foil playground…
The scenery around lake Zürich is spectacular. You can see the snow-covered mountains from afar, all the while city life is buzzing in the centre. The lake area on the so called ‘gold coast’ (Goldküste) of Zurich is so pretty with a big park and a few natural houses on stilts. I like to call them the Maledives of Zürich. When you see the sunset while pumping you think you are somewhere tropical, and in winter it fells like surfing in Norway. I can’t complain, for sure. Fun fact: I transport the entire set-up with my bike. It’s an eco-friendly sport for sure.
What is the SUP and foiling scene like in Zürich?
SUPs have been around for a while and are popular. Now the pump foiling scene is growing fast, and we have a cool community, mostly consisting of men but there is also another girl, Anja, and a thirteen-year-old boy! We like to organise fun events, barbecues and are planning to do some races. Some guys from our group are total cracks and shape their own boards and foils which is amazing!
What are the first impressions when they see a girl shredding?
Often foilers attract a lot of spectators. Some people think it is motor-driven, and some even want to touch and properly examine the material. It is truly exhilarating to witness the amazed faces and curiosity of people. Before mastering it, I was also given a lot of well-meant advice that sometimes was a little funny, like ‘why do you stop and fall into the water?’, ‘I think you are too heavy for the board’, ‘why don’t you use waves or go to the ocean’, ‘I think you are doing it wrong’. Not so late ago, a man came to the jetty and was asking for the guy he had seen pumping from afar, because he probably thought a girl wasn’t capable.
It’s all about training and interest. Probably people are just not used to girls doing a sport that looks kind of futuristic and technical.
Could you tell us more about your collaboration with Indiana and becoming the brand’s Adrenaline Ambassador?
After getting better and pumping, Maurus Strobel, Co-Founder and CEO of the brand, approached me. He has been super cool and helpful in providing me with demo gear. In return, I get to show up at events and promote the sport.
What’s your Indiana board and foil set up?
I still use mostly the same set-up I started with. The only thing I switched is the stabilizer, which I changed from 420 to 370 – it turns easier and is a bit less stable. The board is the Indiana 90 Kite / Pumpfoil Carbon, which I love. It is quite short and therefore easy to push and manoeuvre. The foil is the Indiana Dockstart/ Pump Foil 1100 complete. It is probably the easiest foil to start with, as it has an impressive lift and good stability. I am 62kg, heavier riders are even better off to choose this setup. I chose the 1-degree angle adaptor (two included in the package) and set the stabilizer in the middle position. In the future I want to try a frontwing with less volume, for more glide.
I’d love to get more into jumps and tight turns, just tricks in general. Foiling waves of passenger ferries is fun too, however my home spot isn’t ideal for that. Plus, I am hoping to learn switching from regular to goofy while pumping, to balance out the legs, as the back one gets more tired. Not sure about wing foiling, but I’m definitely keen on trying it.
Many people are so curious to try out the sport. Therefore, my friend and I have created pumpfoilers.ch, a platform which shares tips, educational videos and offers beginner lessons in the Zürich area and beyond. Pump foiling or flat-water foiling, has huge potential I believe.
Thank you very much for your time Sarah and sharing your knowledge… Keep pumpin’!