By James Casey-
The past 12 months have seen a rapid evolution of hydrofoil surfing. It all became popular this time last year, when Kai Lenny posted footage of himself hydrofoiling his stand up paddle raceboard downwind.
Since then, things have progressed and from its debut on stand up paddle surfboards, it is now attached primarily to regular surfboards. Downwind hydrofoiling is yet to really take off, but hydrofoil surfing has well and truly exploded.
Why has the surfing side taken off and not the downwind side? Well it is quite simple. At the moment, with the current hydrofoils, you need really good downwind conditions to get your board up and on the foil. Basically the surfing side is easier and more accessible.
Personally, I am hoping equipment can catch up and allow for easier access to open ocean swell foiling but it is a tricky prospect.
The board sizes have gotten smaller and smaller. As more people test and try things out, they have come to realize that once you are up on the foil you want the smallest possible board. Of course, this is a bit of a balancing act as you still need to be able to catch the waves and/or swells. If you didn’t need to catch the waves, you would use something similar to what the kiteboarders are using. Sushi tray-sized boards, which give them minimum weight and maximum manoeuvrability.
There is still a bit of a debate as to whether the shortboard or SUP surfboard is better but it seems to just come down to personal preference. After seeing what Dave Kalama and Keahi de Aboitz are doing on their SUPs it definitely seems like SUP foiling will always just be another option to versatile foiling.
In Australia, I was one of the first to be hydrofoiling. Over this time, I turned a few heads and got asked a lot of questions. Interestingly, the most asked question was, “is it hard to paddle with the foil on your board?”
The answer is no, not really. While the weight of the foil doesn’t help paddling, the actual shape assists paddling into waves. I have caught waves on a 5’6 shortboard that longboards couldn’t even paddle into. The hardest part about paddling with the foil is that after an 800m long ride you’ve got to paddle that 800m back out to the take-off spot. Not a bad problem to have really.
The best part about hydrofoil surfing is that people are genuinely stoked to see what I am doing. A far cry from the glares and funny looks I get when I am out on my stand up paddle board. While this is cool, I don’t know if it will last. As more people take to the sport it is our responsibility to do it in a safe fashion. Basically, there are waves that are good for surfing and waves that are good for foiling, we have to make a concerted effort to keep these as separate as possible.
Basically, don’t go out where there are hundreds of other surfers. Find a spot where surfers aren’t active and take your foil board out there. I have found places all the way up and down the east coast of Australia that are epic for foil surfing and most of the time I was out the back with no one else in the lineup. If there were others out in the lineup I made sure I was taking off from a different position, either wider than everyone else or inside of everyone else, so there was no risk of any unwanted collisions.
Now, where to go from here? The foiling revolution started downwind and has moved to surf breaks. Personally, I hope the whole open ocean foiling trend takes off and the shift towards surf breaks slows down. Kai has shown what is possible in the open ocean by doing channel crossings on his foil board and even setting an unofficial record for Molokai 2 Oahu on a surf SUP foil board. Finn Spencer showed that it is definitely faster if there is wind in an actual race at Paddle Imua a few weeks ago. This raises the question of whether hydrofoils will even be allowed for Molokai 2 Oahu this year.
But enough on that, what about performance? It all started on fat rolling waves and people surfing away from the whitewater. Then guys started to rebound off the whitewater and progress onto top turns. Then we saw guys add straps to their foil boards and land solid airs like Dave Kalama, then the younger crew did it and now Zane Schweitzer is trying backflips. The next frontier I guess is getting barrelled on the foil board. Has it happened yet? Is it even possible? Originally I thought not, but who knows?