IS FOILING THE FUTURE FANTASTIC?
In Issue #87, KW editor Jim Gaunt considers what all the fuss is about foiling.
The most frequent question I get asked at the moment when someone finds out that I edit a kitesurfing magazine, is, ‘So is this foiling thing going to last then?’. Their concern is usually over whether to commit to finding ways to finance a purchase – if it’s really the next big thing, rather than a short term fad.
Well, I’m no master, but I have spent enough time now riding a few different foils to understand the appeal. The first (and still the best thing about foiling for me) is that I look at the forecast very differently. 12 – 16 knots are now absolutely game on, and powered. I’m looking for green colours, not just red, purples and pinks on Windguru. There are many more greens.
I don’t need to marry the foil up with a big expensive foil kite in those conditions either. I can get going on my regular nine meter SLE quite happily in around 14 knots. If you already own a 12 metre, you’ll find lots of use for it in 12 – 16 knot winds with a foil. And importantly, there are set-ups now specifically geared towards beginners, incorporating shorter masts for example, but that won’t hold back your progression.
I have a friend who’s been kitesurfing intermittently to a good level for several years. He still windsurfs keenly and he sails too. He’s very proficient in all sports and I was surprised when he recently asked me what foilers actually do when they’re riding? I imagine many of you therefore have the same questions.
Once you’ve overcome the spectacle of seeing them floating above the water, there’s then not much to see when you watch most amateur foilers. I have however noticed a much keener interest from the older local residents walking along our beach since I’ve started foiling. ‘Jesus!’ they’ve exclaimed. I think I’m progressing, but that’s taking it a bit far…
It seems like it’s the ultimate activity for the lawn mower, but I still thought it was a strange question to get from my friend who, as a windsurfer spends large proportions of time blasting back and forth with a big smile on his face in-between carve gybes and the odd jump.
There’s a lot of subtlety to get used to in terms of trim on a foil, and to then maintain that trim as you manage your speed. As the wind picks up you’ll then begin to negotiate chop to prevent the board clunkily bottoming out into the top of the chop. It’s a fun game that appeals to your inner sailor, but is there more to it beyond ballet and finesse?
Tacking at speed and exiting the turn still on the foil takes balance, excellent kite control and commitment. Some riders are finding that there’s lots of loading-up potential with a foil for boosting. The efficiency and transference of power, particularly coupled up with the lift and float of a foil kite, makes for some lovely air time.
Perhaps the thing I’m enjoying the most though, as well as mastering turns and increasing the elegance and flow in my riding, is ripping up and down the coast at previously unridden angles in flatter waters than I’ve ever been used to.
The foil is incredibly efficient, so once you’ve actually learnt to get up and going with little power, you can then maintain your speed with very little power in the kite. I’ve also recently had a couple of swim-ins from trying to push the light wind boundary a little too far.
It seems natural for us to explore each end of the wind spectrum. In the same way that we want more and more wind for bigger and bigger boosts on our twin-tips, we also want to be able to ride in less and less wind for the ultimate flat water experiences (and for more time on the water). So my word of warning is to be realistic about the lowest wind speeds that you can comfortably ride in.
But where do I think it’s going? Well, I think as impressive as the speeds reached by the top racers are, speed experiences can be relative. What will become important for us is manoeuvrability and control. After-all, the foil is really offering us endless powder terrain. Some of my amateur kiting friends have got so hooked that they are now hungrily researching the market for foils that will work well in 20 knots and beyond, and perhaps negotiate wave rides, too.
Surfboards were first used only by the hardened wave heads. Now, even for many who don’t live anywhere near good waves, they are the preferred board of choice, whatever the conditions.
It seems to be the same with foiling.
One other thought I have is that we’ve all come this far in terms of committing to the sport, but time and conditions don’t always line up. Foiling increases our chance of a positive alignment.
I can honestly say that I’ve never tried or pursued a discipline of kitesurfing and not enjoyed it. I just seem to like being pulled around by a kite. When I think about it, my quest is even simpler: to accrue a quiver that allows me to get on the water as often as possible. My improvement is affected in all areas the more I do that. A foiling tack also really helps wave performance, both in terms of turns, kite handling, leg muscles and wind awareness. Whatever it is… it’s all good.
So, my answer to the question is: yes, foiling is here to stay. And if you find yourself having the time to kite more but are often hampered by lacking conditions, can you afford not to foil?
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