SUP Foil Downwind Tips – Getting started with SUNOVA’s Marcus Tardrew

SUP foiling is a rapidly growing part of Stand Up Paddling with more and more paddlers learning to fly. As more paddlers learn how to make the most of their new skills Downwind SUP Foiling has seen a huge growth in popularity, particularly down under with their perfect ocean swells proving a great way to combine the paddle and the foil.  Marcus Tardrew, foiling aficionado and board designer at SUNOVA gives us his top tips for getting started in this exciting and fast-growing part of our sport. Over to you, Marcus

Marcus Tardrew flying on his SUNOAV Aviator

Hey, I’m Marcus Tardrew, board designer at SUNOVA, foil designer at Code Foils (coming soon) and also the foil brains trust at Perth’s biggest foil shop, named “The Foil Shop”.

I have been downwinding on SUP for around 15 years and the last 5 of them on SUP foils. I have completed the iconic M2O a handful of times and was also the first Aussie to do so in the foil division. I learned to downwind foil on a surf SUP converted into a foil board using a GoFoil m280. Thankfully, for newcomers things have changed quite a bit since then!

If you have mastered prone, wing or sup foil and now you want to get into the exploding downwind scene? Don’t be fooled, it’s not just for the Elite foiler. Anyone can do it with the right gear, conditions and determination.

Let’s talk about what you’re going to need to get into this.

Marcus Tardrew flying on his Aviator – Video from James Casey.

SUP Foil DW boards

Basically the longer and skinnier the board the easier it is to paddle up onto foil which is the first box you need to tick. I would suggest no shorter than 7’0 and as skinny as you can comfortably stand on in a windy ocean. If you borrow or demo a board from your local shop, don’t test out the stability in the local river and assume you’re going to be fine in the ocean.

The SUNOVA Aviator

Width is your main factor for stability however you do gain stability with length also. The other big thing to note with length is that longer boards will paddle straighter. Most newcomers to the SUP paddling side of things struggle to go straight, especially with foils that are placed forward in the boxes. On box placement, you will want to make sure that the boxes are placed correctly for your brand of foil. If the board has longer than the standard 10″ box there’s a good chance it will be OK.

If you can demo boards from your local shop, spend some time figuring out the size right for you.

SUNOVA Aviator SUP foil for downwind fun

SUP Foil Downwind Setup

Personally, I think bigger is better, I learned on a huge slow foil and it doesn’t matter if it’s slow. You need to learn the skill of fading off bumps to link up new ones and a slow foil forces that to happen. So It’s not a bad thing, That fading is basically a lot of what downwinding is and as you get better and use more efficient foils, you’ll turn it into surfing the link-ups. But when you start you need to be able to paddle up and the easier you can do that, the more time you will spend on foil and the quicker you’ll start to master the art.

Having said all this I do think there are some big foils that are better than others and at this stage, I think the Axis 1300 is a standout. It has a high aspect so it is fairly efficient, but has a great low end. It has a huge range too, meaning it’s capable of not only slow speeds, but you can wind it up to a decent pace.

I’d suggest a decent-length fuselage. The ocean has a lot of energy going on and it will be lifting and dropping you all over the place compared to surfing a wave which is a simple clean energy line. So possibly go one length longer than you would use in the surf.

For tail wings you want something with some area but not stupidly thick. If we were to stay with Axis as an example, I’d be looking at a 450ish progressive over the old super low aspect tails.

As for the mast, I think 75cm is a pretty sweet spot. Longer will be harder to paddle up because of the added drag and shorter will be too easy to breach in the learning period.

SUNOVA Aviator ready to fly

What Paddle for SUP Foil Downwinds

Which paddle is an interesting question. We have been playing a lot with different shapes and sizes out with the Code Foils crew, more on that in a second.

To start I’d say be very careful about going really big. Supping can be hard on your shoulders and we all want to be doing this when we are 80, right? When you are learning you’re going to paddle up hundreds of times more than the accomplished DW foiler and those huge blades you see out there are going to put you more at risk of injury when you perform as many sprints as a learner does each session.

Once you’re paddling up easily and staying on foil for longer periods then things can change. The crew I foil with are different. It’s not about long skinny boards for these advanced guys. I’m the smallest of the bunch and use the longest skinniest board at 6’10 x 18. The closest in size to me quite often uses his 5’9 sinker!! What we noticed is that the big blade doesn’t work well with the small boards. You need higher reps to get them up and going because they have less glide and the bigger blade doesn’t help with that.

To summarize, bigger blades work great with long slippery boards and smaller blades seem to match the shorter surfier boards better.

A flock of Aviators at the SUNOVA factory

SUP Leash

USE ONE!! Why wouldn’t you!! Your board is your floatation device so you don’t want to lose it. I use a coil waist leash.

PFD or floatation device

I’ve started using a PFD not only because it’s safer but I can take my phone with me in case of emergency

The Aviator Downwind SUP foil board from SUNOVA in action, YouTube footage from The Foilers Club.

7 Quick Tips to get you started with SUP Downdind Foiling

There are plenty of instructional videos available everywhere so I won’t go too far down this rabbit hole but here are some tips

1. Practise your flatwater paddle-up. Check out Jeremy Riggs YouTube videos on flatwater paddle-up, the guy’s a legend. For a more personal coaching approach, sign up with James Casey, also a legend, he will go over videos of you and explain what you’re doing right and wrong.

2. Do some flatwater sessions before the ocean to build good technique. Maybe try and catch some boat wakes if you can. Paddle with your paddle and pump with your legs. Jeremy Riggs has displayed the importance of the leg pump many times on social media.

3. Don’t look behind you when choosing a bump to paddle up on. You’re not going to paddle onto a huge bump you see coming. You’ll be paddling up on a smaller wedge and you will do it by feel. When you feel a decent little wind bump go under you, you will feel the tail sink, start paddling now, not once you’re pointing downhill. By that stage, it’s usually too late.

4. If you’re paddling onto foil but the bump has overtaken you, fade right or left (left on our coast) and keep going. You can quite often do a paddle-up link-up to get going. Just don’t try to paddle up the back of the bump that has overtaken you.

5. Once you’re up on foil, ride along the bumps, in the top part of the bump, not down them, you don’t go straight down a wave when you surf and it’s the same principle for downwind. You’ll just end up in the no-energy zone (the trough). spend as much time in the high parts of the ocean, not the low parts.

6. Pump with your legs. Never just paddle to drive forward when on foil, pump your legs. You create more drive from the legs than the paddle once up.

7. Try to relax, and feel your foil and how slow it can go when tapped into the ocean energy. The more comfortable you can get at riding slow in the right places is a great skill to have with downwinding.

Good Luck. If you make it you will have climbed the Everest of foiling!

If Marcus has piqued your interest and you want to take on the challenge and rewards from SUP Foil DW-ing then check out the SUNOVA Aviator range of boards, designed by Marcus. There are three boards in the range that will suit the ability and ambitions of every prospective DW SUP foiler. You can find out more about the SUNOVA range on their website and social media channels – Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

YouTube video footage from James Casey and The Foilers Club. Images from YouTube and SUNOVA.

About the Author

Chris Jones

Chris is the driving force behind SUP My Race, a distance challenge group for Stand Up Paddlers on Facebook. He is a super-keen paddler who has been on the water for nearly 10 years now and shows no sign of stopping. When he isn’t logging data on his laptop he can be found on the lakes and coastal waters in south west Sweden.

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