In the last few years the rise of the hydrofoil in all aspects of water-based board sports has been huge. While foiling has always been on the fringes of watersport for the last couple of decades, it took Rush Randle in 2001 to strap an old aluminium foil attached to a surfboard with snowboard boots to capture everyone's imagination – it looked ridiculous! And also pretty dangerous – whether kite foiling or not.
Once the preserve of elite athletes leaving mere mortals slack jawed at their antics, many of the top brands now produce foils that are aimed at entry level riders in specific sports; bringing that magic carpet ride within reach of everyone including kitesurfers. Slingshot made the biggest leap forward in foil accessibility by offering a short mast option which gives the rider the chance to feel how the foil responds to rider input and to get the sensation of flying without the heavy crashes that come from a lofty position on a longer mast! The other aspect of foiling is that the entry cost has become lower and more affordable. In the last 2 years we have seen the price of a kitefoil setup drop from £2,500 to around £1,000 and with the introduction of alloy instead of carbon we have also seen the durability improve.
How to choose the best kite foil for you –
There has been a lot of misinformation or product recommendations to the end consumer in the last years, as we have seen both kitesurf and windsurf retailers trying to sell foils from catalogues with little or no understanding of the sport.
Foiling is a new category and requires a deep product knowledge and a good level of foil riding to be able to steer customers in the right direction, as this can be the difference between someone experiencing the joy that comes from foiling, to those that become frustrated with their progression.
The basic anatomy of a hydrofoil is pictured here in this image –
- Front wing
- Rear Wing
Foils are also now built for different riding styles; coming in a range of Mast Lengths, Wing shapes and Aspect Ratios.
Low Aspect Foil – For the majority of riders you will be looking at the low aspect ratio wing, this means that the foil will generate lift at lower speeds. this a good thing as it means you do not need to be so powered to generate lift in the wing ie: flight. This will be noticeable with the wing shape as they will tend to be a deeper, lower aspect ratio (Short / Fat). Now do not let the Lower aspect ratio, wind put you off as it will also be pretty good for wave riding, as it will have more stability. There will be a point though that the foil will top out hit its maximum speed, and you may want to change the foil at this point and move to a Higher aspect wing.
Medium Aspect Foil – There is a Category that sits between, Low aspect and High aspect ratio foils, and that’s Medium aspect. The bonus of this set up is that you will have a slightly longer mast than the entry level which can sit between 15cm and 70cm depending on brand and package you have purchased. What is fast becoming the norm though is that the Medium aspect foil will tend to sit on a 90cm mast with a mid aspect wing. The result of this is it will give you a perfect balance between speed and stability for general riding. You may find it a little twitchy for out and out wave riding but it has you covered for 90% of your foiling.High Aspect Foil – The High Aspect ratio wing is what you will tend to see being raced. Racing or simply out and out performance is really where the whole hydrofoil discipline has come from with the top guys and girls hitting 30knots plus in just 6-10Knots of wind. The major difference between the higher aspect ratio foils is the wings; the front wing will be a lot longer and thinner, providing more lift at a higher speed. Lift is not the only by product; glide and stability also come with more lift. If you think about aeroplanes, the higher aspect wing is more like a Glider. Many high end foils will also have a tunable rear wing which can also increase performance and reduce drag, this in turn will give you higher speeds and better upwind angles. Coupled with a higher aspect low drag kite you will find yourself hitting some serious speeds.
Wave Foiling – Pure wave foiling has really been driven by the surf market and we are seeing a big shift towards, 40-60cm masts and exceptionally large / low aspect front wings, these will give you unrivaled stability and the ability to foil in around 6knots on a 11m kite! There will be limitations to the the short mast, but with foiling being so customizable at the moment you can basically just change your mast lengths and attach to the same wings. Something worth considering when choosing your foil set up.
Kite Foiling Boards –
Kite foiling boards are not all made equal and nor do they work for every rider. Advice here is what sets us at the Kitesurf Co apart from every other kite retailer, we kitesurf, we kite foil and have ridden at huge selection, as there are many factors that can change the ultimate board choice you make.
Kite foiling boards with volume –
Volume in kitefoiling boards is vital, this is what makes the board float so what are the pros and cons of volume you may ask. Firstly if you are setting out on your new foiling adventure volume is important as it affords you time to ride the board without it foiling, it also keeps the board visible once you have crashed (there will be a few crashes in the early stages of your progression – sorry but true!). If you ride in a location that requires you to ride out through some shore break or swell then the volume will help massively. Also if you are a heavy rider then volume is also helpful to keep your board from sinking before it foils. The downside of volume in a foiling board can make the board feel a little bit like a ‘cork’, bobbing on the surface of the water. Also if your having issues getting feet into the straps and getting the board on its edge then the extra volume can work against you creating a little bit of an issue. Ultimately, the answer for the majority of riders is that we would always suggest a foiling board with some volume in it, as it will give a better platform for learning to gibe and tack later on down the line as you progress your riding.
Kite foiling boards with low volume –
These foiling boards are generally cheaper than a volume orientated board and are made in a similar construction to that of your twin tip giving a more durable, hard wearing board. Often referred to as wake skates and billed as dual purposes boards, the Cabrinha Special Agent is a great example of this type of foiling board, these are an entry level foil that is both durable and easy to learn on. These low volume foiling boards are great for travel and you will not have any issues with it getting damaged on a plane.
Surfboard Convertible Foiling Boards –
Surfboard Convertible boards have grown in popularity and are becoming more common place in brands product ranges over the last couple of seasons. This simply down the efficiency which comes from being able to travel with one ifoil, one surfboard and your 3 favourite kites on holiday. The surfboards are pretty much the same as you would buy to surf, they are a slightly heavier construction in order to deal with the stresses of a foil but ultimately there is very little or no performance sacrifice.
Foil Mounting Systems –
Most people start off by taking their existing directional kiteboard and mounting their new hydrofoil to it. The boards obviously need to be adapted to take the hydrofoil. Most hydrofoils have a rectangular flat plate at the top, and uses 4 screws to screw the hydrofoil onto the board like this:
This box has been used by many brands of kitefoil from the beginning because it was already much used in windsurfing as well as in race for kitesurfing.
The box shown in this picture is a standard tuttle which is longer. It is mostly used for windsurfing or very thick boards to provide better anchorage.
This box format is nevertheless one of the hardest to push connect of these non-beveled edges. It needs a lot of force on the foil to insert it in the board, this is not ideal, especially if the board rests on a hard surface like tarmac. The advantage of this model is the low height of the case (in its standard version) which allows it to be installed on boards with little volume.
The Plate system:
This is one of the strongest since the various forces exerted by the foil on the board are distributed over the whole of the plate. This system offers a surface that is more important than any box, it is therefore much more resistant. This system is used by Alpinefoil, Slingshot, F-one, Cabrinha, Naish and many other top brands.
Before you start to Foil:
Before you venture into Foiling we would suggest on getting some advice from someone that actually foils, don’t get baffled by shops/ site who claim to know a certain product is the best for you because the catalogue tells them or its on a deal. There are a few things you can do before starting out on your foil mission.
1: jump on a Indoboard and hang ten! Foiling is all about weight transfer, its not like riding a twin tip or surfboard! So forget about edging to start with.
2: Get some safety gear, Helmet, Shin pads, and Impact vest as it hurts! There is just no way around that you are going to take some heavy wipe outs so come prepared!
3: Make sure go out on the same size kite as you would normally with a Twin tip to start with. Believe me you want to be able to forget your kite whilst you get your head around foot positioning on the foil.
4: As a general rule the Back foot sits above the foil and you keep your weight on the front foot, the moment you transfer the weight to the back foot the foil will start to rise up..
5: Think about the Foil – its basically and Aeroplane underwater and your feet control the Lift. Back foot pushes the Tail down, which makes the nose of the plane rise, The front foot levels the Plane out!.. that’s all you need to know! Now go foiling.