Chuck Patterson, Greg Carson, Thomas Kosmoll and Russ Scully are legendary guys who keep their egos in check and put their energies into healthier pursuits like big wave charging and learning the nuances on how to foil on their stand up paddle boards. Big men all, but if you catch them in an unguarded moment, they are chattering like school kids at Christmas about this newest innovation in design to sweep the industry, stand up paddle foiling. On a recent trip to Puerto Rico, the boys got together to search down some empty peaks in order share in the energy and stoke of hydrofoiling. There are plenty of uncrowded waves in Puerto Rico if you’re willing to hunt in the land of plenty. On this day, the guys had a secluded spot all to themselves (more or less) along the coast. Here are some basic guidelines for safe practices in stand up paddle foiling, tips for technique and discussion of equipment from the guys who are committed to the advancement of the sport.
“The silence and unadulterated adrenaline when that board lifts and you’re just riding on the magic carpet. That’s the feeling of pure stoke.” – Greg Carson, Taino Divers PR
Stand Up Paddle Foiling: A whole new way to harness the ocean’s energy
Attaching a hydrofoil to a stand up paddleboard and flying over the face of a wave like a bird riding the updrafts has brought a renewed excitement to the world of paddling. Ordinary watermen and women are finding a whole new way to explore, ride and enter into a new dynamic with the ocean. Even Kai Lenny completed a 40-mi open water crossing on his foil to raise awareness about Plastic Tides. The passion for stand up foiling is real and the groundswell is growing. But, as experienced sup foilers know, foiling has a steep learning curve to it and one that needs to be respected. I asked Chuck, Carson, Thomas and Russ a series of questions on foiling to capture their great energy on the subject and their incredible download of information when they talk of it. Below are some of the tips and tricks from these passionate watermen who are leading the charge on this new sport of stand up paddle foiling. Here’s what they have to say:
The intrigue of learning to fly, float and glide over the top of the water for miles like a pelican riding the updrafts off of a wave is like nothing I’ve ever experienced before and it’s truly addicting.
Foiling is tapping into the ocean’s energy in a very efficient way. As surfers, we immediately recognize it as something cool. A while ago, when I was about 15 miles offshore on a pretty rough day, I watched in awe as a few False Killer Whales glided effortlessly, without moving their bodies, within the ocean swells at what appeared to be an amazing 16-18 knots. It was an unforgettable image. Those False Killers had their pectorals fins pointed to the side and down and their posture and tail arched ‘just so’… It took me a long time to figure out what I had seen, but there is no doubt. Those animals were tapping into the swell period to travel… They were foiling!
Foiling turns a small mushy day of waves into the day of all days. The sensation and speed you get from floating above the surface of the water is so new and exhilarating that it becomes an instant addiction. It can be challenging to find really good waves, but all of us can easily find marginal waves. The foil turns those days that used to be marginal at best and makes them super fun. Now we have a reason to chase 2-foot and mushy – how fun and easy is that?!
I started foiling because it looked insane! Following Laird and crew for years foiling just made sense that’s the next big thing. Anything in the water that gives you stoke, I have to try it. Just give me another reason to be in the ocean all day!
“Foiling turns a small mushy day of waves into the day of all days.” – Russ Scully, WND&WVS, Vermont
What are the three greatest challenges in learning to foil?
1. Finding your proper foot placement on the board over the foil when taking off before you lift off to hydrofoil;
2. Learning to understand your body movement and weight positioning to feel the foil as well as the height and depth of it as it sits in the water while gliding so that you can get the most glide out of your ride;
3. Learning to feel and read the ocean swells on a foil to allow for maximum glide.
Keeping your weight over the stringer or center line is a little tough since as surfers we are used to moving our feet around rail to rail when turning. The instant you forget this you will feel like a painter standing atop a shaky ladder, and things go wrong real quick!
I think everyone agrees that you want to start the learning process behind a boat or jet ski with a tow rope in hand. You have to get comfortable with the act of balancing on the foil before you start paddling into waves. For that reason, it can be challenging finding two buddies to take you out for a tow (a driver and a spotter). Hopefully you find two friends that want to learn as well, then you can swap out and take turns. The other challenge is the cost of the equipment. The foil by itself is very expensive. The GoFoil retails for over $1500. Then you need a board. Its pricey. On top of that, availability is very limited right now, so just getting your hands on a foil can be tough. Finally, the balance and posture on the foil is much different than the traditional balance and posture on a stand up paddle or surfboard. You have to get comfortable with the gap of air between you and the water and the weight shift onto your front leg to keep the board and foil from breaching the surface of the water.
“The intrigue of learning to fly, float and glide over the top of the water for miles like a pelican riding the updrafts off of a wave is like nothing I’ve ever experienced before and it’s truly addicting.” – Chuck Patterson
Foiling has a huge learning curve. You need to start behind a jet ski or boat towing to learn how to fly the foil. Once you have a grasp on that aspect, then you can transfer it to the surf. Next, the balance is very acute. If you are not a good surfer, then its going to be challenging. Center yourself and keep your body very quiet. Subtle movements. Keep your weight on your front foot and the board in the water until you have made the drop and started your bottom turn and heading down the line then lift up the foil. Make sure your back foot is on top of the foil mast and your front foot is right on the stringer or center line (very important).
What are your Top Three Tips for stand up paddlers looking to get into foiling?
My Top 3 tips in learning to foil especially for an individual who has never hydrofoiled before are:
Once you’ve gotten your board and foil ready to go, I strongly suggest you start by getting pulled behind a boat or jet ski at a slow speed (8-12 mph) and ride the foil outside the wake. Make sure your back foot is directly over the center of the top of the foil shaft and your front foot is centered on the middle of the board. Lean back slowly as you come to speed while, at the same time, giving direct front foot pressure to help control the lift and weight as the foil rises in a slow controlled manner.
The most common challenge will be in keeping the foil from lifting out of the water like a bucking bronco; thus, making you fall off or onto the foil.
A critical tip when falling: Hold on to the rope a little longer as this will help pull you away from the foil before you land in the water in most cases. Fall away from the foil! It is a good idea to wear a helmet and, of course, a PFD for added protection.
Take the time to find the right kind of wave in deep enough water and away from any shallow obstacles, reef or surfers in order to begin foiling in the surf. Be sure to check the tides for deeper water. In my experience, thick coil leashes work best in keeping the leash from tangling in the foil while you’re riding. Wear the proper safety equipment like a helmet and a thick life vest. That foil is heavy and sharp. Finally, be smart and safe. Stay AWAY from all surfers, paddlers and swimmers at all times as foiling can be very unpredictable and dangerous.
Listen carefully to your teacher or friend that has been foiling longer. Put your time in foiling behind a jet ski or boat; that will give you exponentially more flying time to feel comfortable before heading into swells. While still learning, when you feel something is going wrong, don’t try to ride it out or ‘save it’; jump clear of your equipment to avoid injury.
“Pick a small glassy day at a break where the swell ‘feathers’ for a long time. This will make your session more fun than frustrating.” – Thomas Kosmoll
I spent a number of hours towing behind a boat to get comfortable with the feeling of the foil. That’s a must do for any beginner. Additionally, your foot positioning is very important. You’ll want to take the time to really study the placement of your front and back feet so that they’re always in the correct position. The foil is very intolerant to bad foot placement. When your feet are in the right position, everything happens so much easier. If not, its a constant struggle. Finally, wave selection is very important. You’ll want to find a wave that plays well with foiling. It should be crumbly, not steep. It should break in deep water and have a lot of runway between the take off point and the shoreline. Beach breaks are not always the best place to foil because waves generally break close to shore and get too shallow as you approach the shore. Finding a nice rock or reef break preferably with a big channel gives you the best chance to dial in your wave riding without running the risk of hitting bottom or injuring yourself in the shore pound.
(Same as above)
Can you each think about some aspect of foiling that you have figured out that has added to the overall value of your experience?
I’ve found it extremely helpful to add a surf stomp deck pad just behind where my back foot needs to be. This way, I can slide my foot back until I hit the kick pad; thus, keeping me from having to look down every time I take off on a wave in order to accurately place my foot above the foil. I also like to add an arch bar deck pad from the front foot to help with foot placement there as well. This front pad allows me to really grip the board while turning and pumping in deep open ocean swells.
Once you are ready to take the foil out into surf, pick a small glassy day at a break where the swell ‘feathers’ for a long time. This will make your session more fun than frustrating. Obviously, the break should be uncrowded too.
Those guys are both right. Finding a small board makes it easier to get up and ride on the foil. Because of the added stability of the foil’s weight, paddlers can get away with a lot less volume than they would normally paddle. Then once you’re up on the foil, you don’t want any more board area than you need. Smaller is better. I also think the positioning of the foil fore and aft plays a big role. The really nice thing about the surface mounted foil (like the Naish model) is that you can slide the foil back and forth to fine tune its positioning. However, the Tuttle box mounted GoFoil is fixed based on the placement of the box. Once the box is in, there’s no way to adjust the position of the foil. I feel like I installed my Tuttle box too far back near the tail which makes it a little harder to get it up on foil because now I need a little more speed to get the board out of the water.
I like a short leash because when you fall, it pulls the board sideways and doesn’t allow the board to stay up in the flying or foil position. Also, the coil leash is good because you do not get the leash tangled around the foil. I have an 8ft coil leash.
How does this newest innovation in the stand up paddling world reinvigorate your passion for stand up paddle surfing?
Chuck: Stand up foil surfing is an amazing mix of physics, flying and understanding the flow and energy of the ocean. It has opened my eyes in a whole new way that I am excited about to ride endless swells in the ocean. Most importantly, let’s all BE SAFE, SMART and RESPECTFUL while enjoying this new amazing ride!
Learning how to foil has been about as much fun as learning how to stand up paddle after surfing for a long time; it is just another great way to experience the ocean. Foiling opens up a lot of new uncrowded breaks to the imagination. Waves that didn’t seem like much suddenly become a foil paradise.
Its just super fun to learn a new trick or in this case a whole new spin on a favorite sport. The foil is a perfect compliment to stand up paddling because it fills that need for something fun to do when the waves are too small to get excited about sup surfing. Most of us see small surf way more frequently than we see bigger surf, so to have something that makes you this happy and excited on the days when you might not even go out is a huge win. Aside from that, the speed and raw feeling of flying down the line on a cushion of air is something that you just can’t experience any other way. Once you start getting comfortable catching waves and flying down the line with that quiet hum of the foil beneath you, its all you want to do.
“Once you start getting comfortable catching waves and flying down the line with that quiet hum of the foil beneath you, its all you want to do.” – Russ Scully
It has been one of the greatest challenges in the surf that I have attempted. There’s nothing more rewarding than starting out in so much frustration and then finally overcoming it and just getting over that hump. Then, with each day you start gaining more confidence. Probably one of the most important parts of foiling is learning to pump the foil. That generates your own speed and helps you connect the swells and find the energy in the wave. Also, handling the speed once you pop up onto the foil is very important and takes a while to get comfortable.
The silence and unadulterated adrenaline when that board lifts and you’re just riding on the magic carpet. That’s the feeling of pure stoke.
To learn more about foiling and the specific products mentioned in this article, you can go to Naish Surfing’s webpage on the Malolo Hydrofoil and Starboard Sup’s webpage on the Go Foil. Take the tips from the pros here and start slow, stay SAFE and ENJOY the ride!