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Top tips to start foiling from the get-go from NSP Rider Alexandre Bicrel

Staying true to the vision of creating high-performing, affordable, durable gear and with hundreds of testing hours dedicated to the innovative R&D process, NSP is rapidly growing its foil and wing quiver. TotalSUP caught up with the NSP Team Rider and a SUP-racer-turned-foil-phenom Alexandre Bicrel to chat about flying high for NSP and sharing some foil hacks in the process!

Photo by Franck Berthout

Hi Alex, congratulations on your epic performance last year and the French Vice SUP Foiling Champion title! How have you been holding up through the next wave of COVID-19 pandemic?

Hi, thanks for having me! Actually, I had the chance to escape France during this last wave of COVID-19 pandemic and fly to Hawaii for a month. So as far as I am concerned, December and beginning of January have been full of wind, beautiful and warm weather, lots of wing foiling and surfing!

Transition to foiling… The sport has exploded and more SUP riders are getting involved. How did you get into foiling?

First time I tried foiling was approximately in 2017. I remember, at the time, I had an old Kai foil from GoFoil and was trying to get up while downwinding…. It was a nightmare and I couldn’t keep flying because the foil was too small. But then, I got on a bigger foil later in my trip in Hawaii, did my first downwinder, and fell in love, got addicted to this sport and to the flying feeling.

Ever since, I think everyone who tried foiling at that time, knew it was kind of the next big thing. After this trip, I kept foiling and improving at home, SUP foiling in the waves, downwinding when conditions were good enough and then in 2018, the wing appeared on the market.

Winging opened up whole new opportunities for the world of foiling. We could go faster, with smaller foils, we were able to go upwind and then do a downwinder with the wing in the neutral position, thus not needing to have a paddle, and push like a freak to get going.

Photo by Laurent Nevarez

And the wing helped so many people get into foiling. I mean, when you’re on Maui and want to go foiling at Kanaha or someplace else on the north shore, the average age is more around 50-60 than 20 haha! And it’s so beautiful to see so many people having the time of their life on the water. Every time I was crossing someone, we were exchanging smiles and you could tell that everyone was happy and joyful. That’s what winging is about, sharing beautiful moments and spread happiness on the water.

Photo by Franck Berthout

More recently, competitions began to pop up in different places of the world: the M2O on foil in 2019 (before the pandemic), a few Euro Tour events that allowed the Foil Division, the WingFoil World Tour Events and also in 2021, the very first French Downwind SUP Foil Championships in Brittany.

At these Nationals there were around 17 males and 2 females for this first year. But I think (and hope) that in the coming years, thanks to the wonderful organization of Amaury Dormet and Greg Closier, the crazy weather conditions Brittany offers and the joy that SUP Foil Downwinders bring to you, many more riders will attend this event!

Alexandre on the way to become the French Vice Champion in SUP Foiling | Photo credit: Laurent Nevarez / Yves Marie Quemener

Could you tell us more about your collaboration with NSP?

I’ve started riding for NSP in 2017 when I was seventeen years old. Now that I am 22, I help developing the foil range with NSP (boards, foils and wings).

At first, we began this collaboration thanks to SUP, both SUP racing and SUP surfing. At the time I was really focused on SUP racing, participating in international events such as Molokai 2 Oahu, Maui 2 Molokai, Gorge Paddle Challenge or EuroTour events. The best result I ever got was an 8th place overall at the Gorge in 2019, and two world champion titles in 2 and 3-person team relay in 2018 and 2017 at the M2O.

Photo by Erik Aeder Photography

Unfortunately, because of my studies, I had to work hard and make choices. In 2018 and 2019, I wasn’t able to train as much as I used to, nor compete as much as I wanted to. And at the same time, foiling was kicking off. That’s how my collaboration with NSP moved from SUP racing to foiling.

Right now, we work with Alain Teurquetil, on board shapes, trying to develop new foil models and while I was on Maui last month I had the chance to try some new wings.

Working on the foil gear, testing, developing, doing research is very different compared to competing  but I love it! You understand how the product works, you think of ways to improve its performances, you think about new designs, and that’s why I enjoy most.

I am currently enrolled in a Design School (a double diploma with my Business School) and hope that the skills I will learn in this school will help me in my work with NSP.

What’s your NSP foil and SUP gear of choice?

My favourite weapons are the Surf Foil Pro combined with the 1250 high aspect foil. I love this combo, it enables for great rides especially in the waves, and the foil is a pumping machine and still pretty manoeuvrable! What I like about this set up, is that you can put straps on it, and in the waves, it allows for airs, backflips, “off-the-lip” foiling haha!

Photo by Franck Berthout

Wing foil, paddle or tow?

The quickest way to learn foiling is definitely behind a boat. At first, you need to go slow but still have a little tension in the rope so that you can find the right placing for your feet on the board. Foiling might be a little tricky at the beginning, one might find hard to control the foil, but if you give it enough time, you will see how beautiful this sport is and how you can become addicted to it.

But I reckon foiling is not easy the first time you try it! You just have to practice, fall over and over again, and after a few sessions, you will figure it out. One thing is certain too, if you want to start, you need a big board with a lot of volume and a big/easy foil. It will help you lots.

Photo by Samuel Véducheau

It’s difficult to say which one is my favourite type of foiling. Because, connecting 30 waves when surf foiling is awesome but doing 360s or other jumps with the wing is awesome too, and then SUP downwinding over 16 kilometers is also great! Once you try it, you just want to go on the water, whatever the conditions!

Photo by Franck Berthout

Could you break down these three types of foiling?

Tow behind a boat:

When you want to start foiling, you have to try it first behind the boat. It’s better because it will generate a steady speed, creating a tension in the rope and then you would only have to focus on your board and the foil beneath it.

For the first timers, being on your knees helps lower your centre of gravity and would bring more stability on the board. In terms of gear, having a voluminous board and a big foil is the best way to get going at first.

For this, you want to be on calm water with no waves, no wind, one person driving the boat or the jetski and another person looking out for you and putting tension in the rope as well.

 

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A post shared by Alexandre Bicrel (@alexandre_bicrel)

Wing Foiling:

Once you know how to handle the foil beneath the board, you can start with the wing. Contrary to what one could believe, it’s better to start winging when the wind is strong. This way, the wing stays above your head, and you don’t encounter problems to get up. The next thing is, you need to be on the front of the board for sure.

 

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A post shared by Alexandre Bicrel (@alexandre_bicrel)

When you’re foiling, your stance is definitely not the same one as when you’re surfing. You want to make sure you have a nice distance between your feet, your weight is a little bit more on your front foot, and then you just wait for the wing to pull you up above the water.

Turning is not easy at first, it takes a few sessions to get it dialed in. But what you can and you should do at the beginning, is to go both goofy and regular, so that you get your body used to riding both ways.

You also should avoid beachbreaks, waves and shorebreaks when you first try wing foiling, you could just damage your gear.

SUP Foiling:

For SUP foiling, I would give a little bit the same advice as in the two other situations. When you start foiling, you need to feel comfortable and stable on your board, so that’s why you want to have volume at the beginning. Someone weighing 70-75kg would go for a 105L board maybe.

When SUP foiling, you definitely need to start in small and mellow waves that are going to push you slowly and just give you the right amount of speed you need to get up. Avoid barrelling, hollow, fast waves when foiling…

 

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A post shared by Alexandre Bicrel (@alexandre_bicrel)

The length of the paddle is also important, as the board is not really stable due to the huge fin beneath it, you might want to have a shorter paddle in order to give a lot of strokes at the beginning and generate speed before the waves gets to you. A shorter paddle will be better for stability and increasing  the number of strokes. The size of the foil depends on each person, their weight and preferences.

Your three top foil spots?

My very first favourite foil spot is called “Ka’a” on Maui Island, and one of the best foil spots I have ever seen. The wave breaks on the outer reef and roll in all the way to the shore with just the wave and no white water, perfect for a mile-long glide.

My second one is a region: Brittany. It’s one of the best places for downwinding. Whatever the wind direction is, you can almost always find a way to go on a downwinder. Weather is not always warm and sunny, but it’s a beautiful place, with translucid waters and some really beautiful landscapes.

Finally, I would speak of my home spots in Medoc. In the Summer time this place is awesome because it offers a great variety of conditions: small waves in the morning perfect for longboarding and surf foiling and north winds in the afternoon lovely for a wing session.

What’s next?

Now I am studying in Paris for the next year and a half, but I have a few projects I am excited about. I’ll keep on working with NSP on new products and new range as I’m doing back and forth almost every week to run some tests and train. I hope to be able to compete in a few different competitions, such as Wing Foil World Tour events, or the M2O (if it happens) and I really look forward to attending the Foil SUP Championships again.

Photo by Samuel Véducheau

Thank you very much for your time and good luck with the 2022 Season!

To find out more about NSP, visit nspsurfboards.com and follow the brand on Instagram and Facebook

Follow Alexandre Bicrel on Instagram 

About the Author

Anna Nadolna

Anna is the Founder of SUPer Whale, a Cambridge(UK!)-based emerging watersports brand and a stand-up paddleboarding community. She is a certified SUP Flat Water Instructor accredited by International Surfing Association (ISA). Anna is also a digital marketing, storytelling aficionado and a growth hacking enthusiast.

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