One of the real advantages of windfoiling is to be able to plane/fly with much less wind than with a classic windsurf board, offering the possibility to have fun on the water on days you normally would have been sitting on the beach, waiting for the wind to pick up.
However, when you first start windfoiling, you quickly realise that some wind is actually needed to get going. Also you start wondering if the many films and pictures of people flying in “no wind” on social media may have been fake.
To get an idea of how much wind people actually need, we made recently a facebook survey within our windfoiling community. We often hear that 10-12 knots is the ideal wind to foil, and my own experience is that it becomes more technical to fly with less than 10 knots, unless you use giant sails. Using this experience, we assumed that the 10 knots threshold would be the same for other windfoilers, and asked our windfoil community if they managed to foil with less than 10 knots or with at least 10 knots.
The results were both expected and surprising. About half of the 200 respondents answered “less than 10 knots” and the other half “at least 10 knots”. We expected that most of the “racers” would answer less than 10 knots, but we were not expecting that half of our followers actually managed it. There are several factors that have an influence on how quickly you will get flying. And don’t worry, it’s completely fine if you need at least 12 knots to foil, as long as you are having fun! Flying in 12 knots probably still gets you flying earlier than what you needed before with a regular windsurf.
However, if you now manage to ride comfortably in 12 knots, you may want to learn the techniques to improve your skills and get under the 10 knots threshold.
TO HELP YOU OUT, WE HAVE ASKED A BUNCH OF EXPERTS TO GIVE US THEIR 3 BEST PIECES OF ADVICE TO HELP YOU FINALLY FLY IN LIGHT WIND:
Here are my three tips in order of importance :
1- You need to have a very dynamic mast, optimally with 100% carbon, and well adapted to your sail. It’s absolutely necessary to pump the sail optimally.
If you have a limited budget, I would recommend investing in a good carbon mast and sail, and choose an aluminium foil rather than carbon. Some aluminium foils are flying very early, like Alpinefoil or Taaroa foil.
The shape of the foil is actually more important than the material used for light wind foiling (10 knots). However, the carbon tension will make a difference in very light winds (7-8 knots) but only if you really are already comfortable in 10 knots
2- You need to find the right sail size for your body weight. I’m 78kg and my optimal size is around 7.5m. If the sail is too small you won’t get enough momentum, and if it’s too big, the pumping movement will not or may not be powerful enough.
3- Depending on your equipment, you need to find the right pumping technique: In general, the most efficient pumping technique with a dynamic mast is to do small and short movements with the rig. If you don’t have a very dynamic mast and rig, you may prefer larger and slower movements. In any case, you will start with the rig to create inertia and an aerodynamic support. Only after will you transfer the power from your upper body towards your feet and push on the foil to accelerate.
Depending on your board, you will point in different directions. With a narrow board, you will sail across the wind. If you have a larger board, you will also start sailing on a beam reach when pumping the rig, but then going downwind when pumping with your feet.
As soon as the foil takes off, you need to ride upwind again to get wind in your sail thanks to the apparent wind.
To fly in light wind you must already know how to windfoil in steady wind!
Everything lies in the transition between generating power from pumping to achieving the minimum take off speed, which includes balancing on the foil and staying light on your feet immediately after take off.
Here are the main steps to do so:
1- Pump simultaneously with the rig and on the foil:
you need to both pull with your arms and push with your feet to be more efficient.
2- As soon as you are in the air, don’t move a muscle!
When you are flying at a very low speed, you need to keep everything as stable as possible to accelerate without disturbing the air flow. If you don’t manage to stay in the air, start again with the pumping part.
3- Once you are stable in the air with a good speed, you need to keep your body upright and not have too much weight on your harness lines. The rig will then also get more wind and propulsive power.
Here are some extra tips to get the ideal light wind position:
- Short harness lines to keep your body upright.
- Boom slightly higher, for the same reason.
- Move the mast foot slightly forward on the board to be able to lean backwards more easily during pumping.
- I sometimes take out the back foot out of the footstrap to put it in a more forward position on the board. This is a small trick to help your body stay in an upright position on the board.
- Hold on the uphaul rope instead of the boom when you are in the air. This will also help to move the rig in an upright position.
These tips are shown in the video below:
There are several factors to take into consideration when windfoiling with light wind:
1- The equipment:
I prefer to have a board with lots of volume. It helps to get inertia and accelerate and I can choose a smaller sail. I use the Exocet RF91, and with a 7.8m I manage to plane with 10 knots (I weight 100 kg).
It’s better to use a sail with cambers, as it helps to keep a wing profile which is more efficient when pumping.
A freerace sail is also preferable, as they are generally more powerful than race sails.
For the foil, there are many differences - in particular for the wings. A thick and wide wing will take off more easily.
Damien Le Guen jibing - Photo: Sulvie Beekandt
2- The technique:
The goal is to make the board accelerate as quickly as possible. Use large pumping movements to get maximum power from the sail and to release some weight from the board which helps the foil to get in action.
You should also take a step backward and put your front foot in the strap before you start pumping. This will help you to stabilise the board and avoid parasitic movements during the manoeuver.
The back foot will enter the footstrap later or you can also place it just in front of the strap in very light wind conditions, this will release some weight off the back of the board (WZ comment: same advice as Benjamin Tillier earlier).
3- Your weight:
Your body weight has a real importance. A light person will fly much quicker, especially if he/she has the right technique. The weight impact on the performance is even more obvious in windfoiling than in classic windsurfing.
Read also the inspiring story of Clube Katanka and how windfoiling has become a game changer for this light wind destination! In the video under you ca see Marcello Morrone of Club Katanka (9.0m) passing by a formula board (12.5m)!
Here are Bastien’s best pieces of advice:
1- A very dynamic pumping:
You need to have both amplitude and quick frequency in your movement, and do so with the largest sail you can.
Racerboarders are used to this kind of pumping. Freeriders and waveriders may have to learn this technique as they usually only pump the sail and not really transmit the power to the fin or the foil.
A sail with cambers will obviously generate more power than without cambers.
2- Sailing downwind
3- Transmit the power generated by the pumping to the board:
The new generation of freeride foils (like the Neilpryde Glide) have rounded front wings which enables you to also pump with your feet, as surfers or SUPers do.
I usually start foiling when the anemometer shows 10 knots on average, so sometimes it can be less. My 3 best pieces of advice to plane early are:
1- Choose the right equipment:
With winds under 10 knots you really need to pump hard and it’s better if you have a 7.0m sail at least. When I started, I had only one sail, a 7.8m which was both versatile and light. Now I manage to fly in 8 knot winds on average, thanks to my Severne Hyperglide 9.0m. It’s just magic!
For the foil, I use the Select Profoil windfoil and it’s really a light wind machine. The Select Profoil is a powerful race foil, which is ideal to point higher and fly earlier, but there are other foil brands like Naish or Slingshot which fly very early even with very small sails. Other foils like the Neilpryde F4 carbon are better to ride faster and with stronger winds.
2- Another important factor in how early you start planing is how the water surface is. Flat water will make it easier to start flying, while it gets more difficult to fly early in choppy waters.
3- Last tip is to ride upwind. As you sail faster than the wind, you will want to sail close to the wind in order to get more wind and power in your sail.
(GBR 32 - Bug Fins & Foil)
Here are my top 3 tips to fly in light wind:
1- Kit selection:
If you want to fly in little wind you still require an amount of forward speed to generate lift from the foil.
A larger sail minimum of 8.6 up to 10m for less than 10knots.
A wider board, same principle as regular windsurfing: it gives an earlier planning, so a formula board works best here but narrow towards 90cm would be good also.
2- The pumping technique:
Most foils have a zero angle of attack when under your board. During pumping you want to get back into the front footstrap as early as possible to lift the nose and angle the foil upwards creating more angle on the wings profile.
This would encourage more lift. Driving through your legs to pump the foil at the same time as the foil will get you flying early.
3- Tuning your foil for the conditions:
Lighter winds mean you can run a larger front wing if you have the option.
This means lower speed for take off. Then you can also adjust the rear wing angle of attack to allow earlier lift but this has an effect of increasing drag so you won't be as fast.
KEY LEARNINGS FROM THE EXPERTS:
The experts have talked and given us their best tips to fly in light wind. The advice from our experts are both convergent and complementary.
It’s now your turn to put it into practice. Try it out and come back to this article again until you finally nail light wind flying. It will reward you with new amazing sensations and may double or triple your riding time on the water.
Here is a summary of the best tips from our light wind experts:
Learn to fly in stronger winds before you try to windfoil in light wind!
A spot on flat water is preferable
Choose the right equipment: Large sail preferably with cambers (but not too large), a dynamic mast (high percentage of carbon), a board with enough volume and a foil with a large front wing.
Practice your pumping skills: Accelerate by going downwind and pump with large but quick movements with the front foot in the strap, and transfer the generated power to the foil through your legs.
The moment that you start flying, you need to accelerate by heading upwind again and not move too much in order to keep the gear as stable as possible.
Keep the sail and your body as upright as possible.
Have a good flight!