LEARN HOW TO WINDFOIL: 10-STEP BEGINNER'S GUIDE TO FOIL WINDSURFING
Windfoiling has taken the windsurfing world by storm in 2017 and is now is on everybody’s mind. You may have been sceptical about the whole foiling thing, but the fact is that everyone that has tried foiling has only positive things to say about it. '
This is a true revolution for windsurfing, offering a whole new dimension to the sport. Are you also tempted to try foil windsurfing and be able to ride full speed above the water with only 7-10 knots of wind? You are not the only one!
If you are a complete beginner, this article will hopefully give you a better understanding of what windfoiling is, how it works, and give you some guidelines and tips on how to choose the right foiling equipment. Light wind windsurfing has become fun again, like in the good old days. It's time to learn how to windfoil, so follow the guide!
Windfoiling was a niche until last year, as only few people have had the chance to try it, due to the scarcity of the products available, and the very high price of the equipment.
However, Horue launched a windfoil collection at a reasonable price in 2015 and many brands followed the movement, well aware of the increasing success kitefoil was having.
A true foiling revolution happened in 2017, with many brands offering windfoils for the greater public. Horue is still one of the leading brands, but the large windsurfing and kitesurfing companies have now been investing in R&D to develop their own windsurf foil concepts, making the discipline available to everyone.
Foil windsurfing is technology driven and we are still at its infancy. As everybody wants to foil now and all brands want to be part of the game, we can be sure that things will change at a rapid pace, and we will see many innovations and exciting products in the coming years.
10 things everybody should know about windfoiling:
Is it hard to learn how to windfoil?
What are the best weather conditions when learning how to windfoil?
Is windfoiling dangerous?
What are the different parts of the foil?
Regular windsurf board vs windfoil board?
How should I position the footstraps on a windfoil board?
What kind of sail do I need to windfoil?
How to carry your windfoil?
How to pump to get flying on the foil?
How to do a foiling-jibe?
1- Is it hard to learn how to windfoil?
Quick answer: No.
Windfoiling is relatively easy to learn, especially if you already know how to windsurf. You may find the first runs difficult, as you need to get used to controlling the foil with small body movements. After a while, you will finally understand the influence of your body weight and find the right position on your board. The time needed to get flying is usually 2 to 4 hours, and you should manage to have a relaxed flight after only 4 to 5 sessions.
Moreover, windfoiling is far less physical than funboarding. As you are flying above the sea, there is no friction on the water’s surface, and the hydrodynamic drag is minimal. The propulsive force needed when sailing above the water is thus much lower than in regular windsurfing. In other words, you will need smaller sails for the same wind conditions, and you will not be physically tired after a session. This makes windfoiling suitable for everybody, regardless of age or gender.
How to get high?
The key in managing your first runs in the air is to be light on your feet, understand how to position your body and use your body weight to control the foil.
When you are foiling, your body is upright on the board, as there is very little traction generated by the sail. This enables you to literally stand above the foil, and control the height with your feet and body weight. Move your body backward and press on the back foot to lift the nose of the board and get higher. On the contrary, move your body forward and press with front foot to go down.
2- What are the best weather conditions to learn foil windsurfing?
Windfoiling is the perfect weapon where there is not enough consistent wind for traditional short boards. Windsurfing full speed in 8-10 knot conditions with small sails is no longer a dream. This is because you just need enough wind to pull you up on the foil. You will then generate enough apparent wind to increase your speed up to the foil cruising speed, which is usually about 20 knots. The best windfoilers are now even flying at an average speed above 30 knots!
While 8 knots is a real target, it becomes very technical to get flying under 10 knots. When learning, we would recommend starting with a wind range, between 12-15 knots and a relative small sail (5 or 6 m2). That way you will easily experience the lift given by the foil, and the rig will be light and easy to manoeuver.
Under, the perfect conditions for learning: light wind and no chop:
3- Is windfoiling dangerous?
Windfoiling is not a dangerous sport. At first, you will definitely experience some “catapults”, reminding you of your very first experiences on a funboard. Don’t be scared, those crashes shouldn’t be too aggressive as you will generally have a very low speed starting out.
However, you should take some precautions and wear a helmet and an impact vest (read about the best impact vests for windfoiling here). We also recommend wearing a wetsuit and boots even in warm climates, in case you kick the foil with your legs. To be on the safe side, do not waterstart at the beginning, because you might hurt yourself by kicking the sharp edges of the foil in the water. It’s better to uphaul the sail.
When falling, make sure not to fall on the sharp foil by keeping your hands on the boom, no matter what. Thanks to the low speed, you should fall smoothly in your sail far from the foil, without significant damage or concerns. Check out this sequence of windfoil world champion, Thomas Goyard, holding the boom when falling (yes, even world champions can fall!).
We also strongly recommend applying a nose protector, mast protection and/or a deviator on your board. These accessories are not very expensive and will prevent your mast from smashing the nose of your brand new windfoil board. Which would be such a shame…
4- What are the different parts of the foil and their specificities?
Each brand has its individuality and the main differences between them are:
- their construction (carbon, alloy or other materials)
- the aspect ratio
- the performance
Carbon foils are stiffer and lighter, and are known to be faster and more efficient. However, they are more expensive. Alloy or stainless steel have the great advantage of being much cheaper while still offering high performance. They are great alternatives to start with. Note that some alloy foils, like Neilpryde’s one, may produce a whistling sound in the water. Read more about whistling foils and how to get rid of it here.
The mast (or keel):
The mast can be compared to a long fin. It should be as stiff as possible to offer good stability on the board and better performance.
There are different length of masts. At the beginning, it is a good idea to start with a short mast (70 cm), as it may feel a little less scary. You will fly just above the water, which is also positive when you fall. The problem with a short mast is that you will easily take the front wing out of the water when the wind picks up or in choppy conditions. You will experience the equivalent of a spin-out, which is when the foil will stop flying and immediately fall down on the water with a possible brutal crash.
When you gain confidence, you will most likely prefer switching to a longer mast (90-95 cm). You’ll be about to better control your height on the foil, and keep the front wing under the water. You will also ride through the chop more easily.
The size and shape of the front wing is maybe the most crucial part. A large front wing is optimal for light wind conditions and beginners, but as soon as the wind picks up, it will be difficult to control the board (It’s exactly like when you put a long fin on your slalom board in strong wind conditions, the board gets more difficult to control).
A small front wing will generate less power, and it may be harder to get flying (i.e. you will need more wind or more pumping to generate more speed). However, it will go faster and be more stable in strong winds.
A thick front wing will generate an early lift and will be more stable, but slower than a thin one. That’s the reason why hydrofoils made for surfing often have bigger front wings than windfoils: their goal is not speed but control and early flight.
Some foil brands, offer several front wings in their package: Large wings for light wind conditions, and small front wings for stronger wind conditions, easily interchangeable when wind conditions shift.
The “stab” works like the back wing of a plane: the angle of the stabilizator will give you the lift on the foil, and the ability to fly.
The most advanced foils offer the possibility to adjust the angle of the stabilizator:
You would increase the angle of the back wing when it is light wind, to help you fly earlier.
If the wind is strong, you will need to adjust the stabilizator with less angle, as the increase in speed will lift the foil naturally and the back wing’s role will only be to “stabilize” the board, which is how it got its name.
The fuselage is a long piece between the front wing and the back wing.
The longer the fuselage, the more you will get lift power. Preferably choose a normal fuselage and leave long fuselage for the experts, as it’s a bit trickier to control. A long fuselage also increases the risk of injury, as you may kick the stab with your feet due to position of the foil, being far out behind your board.
Many windsurf brands have now launch their own windfoil collection with dedicated windfoil boards. These boards can also be used as a regular windsurf board, especially if the wind picks up and the foil becomes difficult to control.
These are the general features of a windfoil board:
Small and wide (about 250 cm x 75 cm)
Lots of volume (about 150 L)
Particularly wide at the back of the board
Footstrap position ideal for windfoiling (see point 6)
While it is always a great experience to windsurf with a brand new board, you can also windfoil with a regular windsurf board. However, there are some features your board should have in order to get an optimal experience with your foil:
Find a large freeride board, minimum 75 cm wide. Big boards offer more control and stability than smaller boards, and you need to be able to uphaul the rig instead of waterstarting at the beginning (see point 3).
The board should be as short and light as possible and be wide on the tail. A light wind slalom board usually has these characteristics. An old formula board would also do a great job.
The fin box should be a deep tuttle type, which is the standard for foils. Most of the new slalom freeride boards now are “foil ready”, i.e. with a reinforced fin box. If your board is an old one, it isn’t guaranteed that your fin box will be able to handle the pressure generated by the foil or not. You just need to try, and eventually reinforce the fin box if it is not strong enough, or invest in a new board.
6- How should I position the footstraps on a windfoil board?
The position of the footstraps is very important in windfoiling. As your body position is more upright than in regular windsurfing, you will need to centre your feet on the board to have a more comfortable body position.
Some freeride boards already have extra footstrap inserts centered on the board. If not, you can ask your local surf shop to apply some new inserts on your board.
The back strap is less important. If you are just starting out, we even recommend removing the back straps completely from the board. This will give you more flexibility and the option to figure out where to put your weight and where to place your foot on the back of the board. It will also give you much more space at the back of the board to move around and get started, without being locked in the standard strap position.
Philippe Caneri from Horue showing us the right body position
7- What kind of sail do I need to windfoil?
Sails are less important than in regular windsurfing at the beginning, as long as you can generate enough power to get the foil out of the water. Any kind of sail will do, but you will preferably use a light and small sail as it will be easier to handle. When learning, you will concentrate on control, rather than going fast.
In general, you should choose a sail that is 2 square meters less than you would use in regular windsurfing. The sensations are completely different: when in windsurfing, the thrill is to test the limits with an overpowered rig, and the ultimate in windfoiling is to have a rig which feels so light in your hands, that you could even ride without a harness.
As a rule of thumb for beginners, if there is enough wind to waterstart with your sail, you will feel overpowered on the foil. You’d be better off in choosing a smaller size.
Some brands like Loftsails and Horue have developed specific sails to windfoiling. The idea of these sails is to get flying as quickly as possible, with lots of power generated by effective pumping, and to make the flight comfortable by improving the stability of the equipment throughout gusts and lulls.
A board with a foil is not as easy to handle as a regular slalom board with a fin. An easy way to carry your equipment to the water is of course, start with carrying the sail and then the board, and assemble them in the water.
However, it may be difficult sometimes because of stones, shorebreak, tides or currents. In these conditions, you may prefer to carry both board and sail together.
One way to do it is to carryi your gear on your head, facing the wind:
Carry the equipment facing the wind
Here is however the easiest way to carry your gear in our opinion:
Roll the board completely upside down, with the foil pointing up towards the sky.
Grab the board on the opposite rail and support the board on your hip/harness.
Carry the gear to the water. Try to orientate the equipment in order to get help from the wind to carry it.
Here is how most people would start planning on a regular board:
Place your feet in the middle of the board
Wait for the wind gust to start pumping
Pump hard and push sideways with your back foot to generate power on the fin
Hook on your harness
Put your feet in the footstraps
The technique is somehow similar with a foil, but here are 7 tips to get you flying earlier:
1-Do not wait for the wind gust, it’s a light wind day! You need to take an active decision on when you want to get flying on your foil, independently of the wind gusts. Being passive on our board will not make you fly.
2- Place your feet a bit more towards the upwind rail of the board instead of in the centre.
3- When you are ready, start pumping 2-3 times to power up your sail and start to get moving.
4- We recommend putting the front foot in the strap as soon as possible. Getting the foot in the strap will help you move your body backwards, and put more pressure on the foil.
5- When in the strap, make 2 new big pumps, the first one to “load” the sail, and the second to lift you up on the foil, by moving the whole rig backwards, and get your body weight on the back foot. Push vertically with your back foot instead of sideways. The idea is to sink the tail of the board in the water to generate lift together with the pumping movement. At the same time, you will create a rolling movement as your feet are on the side of the board.
6- As the speed increases, place your back foot in the strap and only then hook on your harness. The reason is that you should find the balance and get full control of the foil before hooking on the harness. You may experience brutal falls in the sail if you hook up too early and without full control of the gear.
7-Your foil is now getting in action and the speed increases, but the board is still touching the water. What you will need is to push firmly and vertically on the back foot to lift the nose of the board. This will generate enough lift to pull you out of the water.
Sebastian Kornum shows us his pumping technique here:
10- How to do a foiling jibe?
Did you master the first 9 points of the list? Congratulations!
You are now ready to try next step, the foiling-jibe!