Whether your looking to get into prone foil surfing, tow-in foiling, SUP foiling, or wing foilng, the best way to learn to ride a foil is with a big wide board, big front foil wing and being towed behind a boat. For Kauai, Wailua River is the easiest for first timers, given the very flat water – no wind chop, and no waves. Other good options are Kekaha and Port Allen but wind and chop can be difficult to work around. Foil truth 1: One lesson behind a boat saves many difficult sessions in the waves.
Call or text me to find about about different options for beginners to learn to foil. Or if you are more experienced and want to change things up some, I have other options too, including wings and SUPs.
Cheers // Jeff, 8o8-278-O65O.
For foil, board and wing sales, lessons, and gear advice visit: PakaaFoil.com
What is it, gear required, skill sets needed, where to go
Although it’s been on the wind sports outskirts since at least the eighties, the hand held wing (also known as wing surfer, wind wing and maybe a few other names) just made a huge comeback when it got coupled with a big winged hydrofoil just a few years ago. With a mind-blowing pace of advancements, wing foiling first saw some early adopters in 2019, soon followed by big air jumping, and now seeing young guns performing loops and spins. Having 30+ years of experience among the various wind sports, I have to admit there is a new magical feeling to wing foiling, smoothly flowing 2 feet above the chop, and then silently gliding on a non-breaking wave, while keeping everything in balance.
What it is:
Essentially just a hand-held sail with inflatable bladders (similar to kitesurfing kites) for shape and floatability, a shorter (about 5-7’) foil board with lots of volume, and a hydrofoil set, wing foiling cuts down on the pieces and parts from its two other wind sport cousins – windsurfing and kitesurfing. The incredible marriage works so well because you can generate enough speed pumping the wing and get up on foil (translates to a smaller wing size compared to kitesurfing or windsurfing), then you only need a fraction of the wing’s push power to stay on foil, and you can easily depower the wing overhead or behind as you soar ahead and pushed along by a wave. The combo also opens up beaches that have traditionally not been kitesurf or windsurf friendly due to crowds, wind direction/strength, or poor launch area.
For the places where ‘nukin’ winds’ is not part of the regular vernacular (for the rest of the world outside of Maui, Hood River, Bikini atoll, etc) a 5 square meter (m2) wing works incredibly well for wing foiling in ~13-20mph wind for the average size 170lb afficionado, those plus or minus thirty pounds should consider going up or down a square meter in wing size depending on typical wind conditions. Definitely better to spend a little more for the latest models of wings, as the early versions have much less power, range and durability.
For the same size person, a 120L wing or SUP foil board is generally considered the best place to start along with a front medium aspect foil wing with about 2000cm2 or 300in2 of surface area. As the wind and skill level increases, riders typically are ready to drop down quickly in board and foil size, so a skilled kite or windsurf foiler could probably start on a 100L board and 1600cm2 foil, and then even progress soon to the faster high aspect foil wings. And I feel the Konrad alloy foil sets are the perfect foil to start winging, at about half the price of full carbon sets, with all the top-end quality of more pricey sets. It’s a foil set that will be the go-to for years to come. The high aspect GS1550 has been by preferred wing for most conditions and wave sizes. Local classified ads tend to have a lot of bigger board and wing sizes as riders progress and move down. But I would advise that you could go well-used (cheaper) on a first board, but it’s best to pay a little more for a quality foil system. After all, that is what your are really riding while wing foiling.
Other useful pieces of gear are neoprene knee covers (or a full wetsuit) and booties. My first board I learned on had a rougher deck pad and I rubbed an awful lot of skin off my toes and knees falling off a few dozen times and climbing back on before even standing up. An impact vest or PFD and helmet are also good ideas in the beginning.
The skill set:
For wing foiling, there are two skill sets to learn: wing handling and foiling.
Windsurfers and kitesurfers will have a leg up on the wing handling, and a little beach practice will probably be enough to get the basics. Otherwise, it’s best to practice the wing handling on a 160L+ SUP (but not too big that you can’t sink the windward rail to head upwind otherwise attach a center keel fin like a daggerboard) and/or on a skateboard in a big parking lot. Two key points for windsport newbies: 1. Keep your back to the wind, and 2. Front hand on the wing controls direction (move the wing forward of centerline to turn downwind, move the wing backward to turn upwind), and back hand controls the power (pull back hand in for more power). Once you can generate power, gaining speed on the board, pump the wing to go faster, and practice your footwork. After you can consistently head up wind, you are ready to move on to the next skill set.
Conventional wisdom says the easiest way to learn foiling is behind a boat on flat water with a big foil SUP and big front wing. Once you are able to come up and stay up on foil (in control!) for a minute and steer the foil with just your feet – using only heel/toe pressure, then you are ready to put the two skills together with the wing foil board and the wing, preferably in flat water at first.
Another skill to learn early is to switch stance. Surfers generally are less comfortable to switch from regular to goofy stance or vice versa. Kitesurfers riding twin tips have no problem switching. After a jibe, switching your feet does help with heading back upwind. Although not required, toe side riding with your torso turned to hold the wing is the other option for those some flexibility and with yoga skills.
Where to go:
On Oahu, Kailua or Waimanalo beach is a great place to learn. Like kitesurfing, long sandy beaches are best where the water is over chest deep just off shore and has consistent onshore winds. Other options when first learning is do a downwinder with a buddy. Park one truck at the downwind spot and then transport all the gear in another truck to the upwind launch spot. For Honolulu, a lot of town wing foilers learned at Lagoon Drive by HNL airport doing downwinders. Most other spots on Oahu are not beginner friendly, and you definitely need to stay up on foil navigating shallow reefs as well as be able to head up wind without a problem.
On Kauai, Anini or Hanamaulu is probably the best place to learn. For Anini, you may have to maneuver around turtles and snorkelers and make sure you are near high tide for launch time. Hanamaulu and Kalapaki seem to work best on certain more easterly winds. And for Salt Pond and Poipu with the typical side-off shore winds, you have to be ready for a hefty paddle back if the wind drops or your upwind ability is not spot on.
I should also mention Damien Leroy’s Youtube channel coming out of Florida that have been consistently great for wing advice. Damien Leroy Youtube
Foil the flow and let’s get flying! Feel free to contact me for any gear advice, lessons on Kauai, or when you are ready to level up your game with a new foil set, wing or board. If you’re on Oahu, be sure to check out the gear at Gnarwall Surf Shop in Kailua, above Cinnamons.
Australia’s first foil manufacturer, Konrad www.konradboarding.com has finally arrived in Kauai and Oahu, Hawaii. Paka’a Foil is excited to be the first US dealer and distributor. Engineered for maximum efficiency and industry leading durability, Konrad is poised to fly. Complete foil sets along with prone surf foil boards and foil SUPs are available now, with cheap inter-island shipping. Free tow training and lessons available with purchase on Kauai!
An awesome choice for a lifetime foil set from beginner to expert, the Konrad FLYR foil easily upgrades to smaller or larger wings. Can also choose full carbon mast and fuselage (weighing in under 8 lbs), all with guaranteed forward and reverse compatibility. Small wing works well for most foil surfing, medium wing for most foil SUP, and larger wing for wing surfing, tiny waves, or flat water pumping. Some other features include:
1300, 1600 and 1900cm2 Medium Aspect ‘surf-style’ interchangeable front wings. High Aspect foil wings also available for more advanced riders.
Machined mast, fuselage, and base mount with proprietary coating to reduce corrosion and increase stiffness
Ultralight full carbon fuselage and mast also available
Premium M8 Titanium hardware with torx head screws and deep shaft wing connection for rock-steady fit, that won’t back out
The Wing GLDRs boards bounce off the water and are perfect for wing surfing or SUP – available in sizes 5’0″ to 6’8″.
The prone surf boards are carbon wrapped, ultra light and engineered for rapid take off, available in sizes 4’4″ to 5’4″.
Contact me to demo on Kauai or check the gear out at Gnarwall Surf Shop in Kailua, above Cinnamons. 8O8-278-O65O www.pakaafoil.com
While I was purchasing a new Hoverglide foil it, the awesome Oahu Slingshot dealer, Jeff at Offdalip, told me about a guy at my work in Kauai, Jon, that was also learning prone foiling – that is paddling into a wave on a surfboard with a mounted foil. Prices had dropped big time on foil kits, and right I was purchasing a Slingshot aluminum kitesurf foil ($900 delivered) with extra 24″ mast, I figured this was a pretty solid modular
system. So Jon and I headed out on the boat to try some more tow training.
We tried my setup first – hoverglide attached to 7’4″ fish. We both struggled. We switched out to his foil Cloud IX S24 surf foil attached to 7’4″ fish, and he was getting good long rides on foil. I was starting to get to hang of it as well. We could be going a few mph slower with the boat, and the bigger wing also was much more stable. So next big lesson: big wings are better for learning.
Soon after I dropped another $500 on a carbon fiber 84cm Slingshot Infinity front wing, the saving grace was that it just bolted onto the hoverglide system I already had. But if you you’re keeping tabs I was now at about $1700 invested in just the foil kits.
Next major muscle movement in my Learning to Foil Odyssey, was when I found out about Foilmount to stick a foil track system on any board. 160 bucks later and I stuck the track mount on my old 7’4″ fish go-to travel board. Conveniently, my buddy got a bigger boat as well. So one more trip on the river and one on the ocean, and I was still struggling. What kind of worked was kneeling or laying on the board with towrope in hand, and then with boat pulling at 4/5 mph or so, I would stand up. When I was ready I would signal for a speed increase. Come to find out every foil wing combo has a lift speed. So a standard kiting foil lifts a rider at about 11 or 12 mph, a much bigger aspect ratio SUP or surf foil lifts at 8 mph. I noticed when we got to about 13 or 14 mph I felt like I was going way too fast and out of control, which I’m know led to some yardsale type falls. And with the added mast height, the falls from when the wing breached the water gave me some whiplash. So my body threw in the towel fairly quickly on these sessions.
Lesson: shorter mast height is better for learning and the body.
Soon after seeing videos of local Hawaii surf gods Laird Hamilton and Kai Lenny a couple of years ago and being a competent kitesurfer, I decided I wanted to start my odyssey to learn foil boarding – that is standing on a surfboard that is raised a couple of feet above the water by a hydrofoil wing. Forward motion could be achieved by multiple different options: a kite, a sail, a boat, a paddle, a wave, a small motor, etc. I, of course, took a very scattershot approach to figuring it out.
The first big barrier was the hydrofoil cost. Full carbon kits can run about $2k. Then you’d have to buy a special board -another $1k on top of that to mount the hydrofoil mast. Clearwater Foils seemed to be the first guy to break the mold on minimal and low priced equipment setup. He just started glassing some pinewood and over the course of couple of years, figured out some wing shapes that worked as well as the techniques to put it all together, then mount it on a basically a plank. I got one of his kits used, already glassed for $200, front and rear wing are glassed separately and bolted to the fuselage/mast piece. Shipped to Kauai was like $90, I think mostly because the guy that packaged it up kluged together a Frankenstein box of different sizes and shapes to fit each piece, rather than just finding a box big enough to fit all the pieces. After spending several trips to the hardware store, I drilled through an old beat up Liquid Force twintip board and bolted the mast to the board.
The next big barrier was how to start. General consensus is that the best way to get the feel for being on a foil is to get towed behind a boat. So, I got a friend to pull me behind his 14 foot zodiac with a 25hp outboard on the Wailua River. Being well over 200 lbs, the boat barely had enough grunt to pull be out of the water. I think over the course of an hour, I spent about 1 minute on the board, and 10 seconds on the foil, the rest of the time was falling or plowing through the water. Several nights of ibuprofen later, I slowly figured out, “Gonna need a bigger board.
I kept expecting to try the setup kiting, but never had the planets aligned sufficiently to try it again. There is only a few places on Kauai that have a deep enough sandy bottom, protected from waves and have regular wind. So my next try would have to wait. Grab some popcorn, this epic movie details in glorious technicolor, my first ride on a new Clearwater homebuilt hydrofoil.